The Budget 2014 presented by Finance Minister Edward Scicluna last week provided no major surprises related to initiatives in science and technology, in a way extending the ‘steady as she goes’ attitude professed by the previous administration. The most important announcement concerned the introduction of tablet computers in the Maltese educational system, which had been promised by the major parties during the electoral campaign earlier this year.

The Budget 2014 document says: “A pilot project to introduce the ‘One Tablet per Child’ initiative will be launched in line with the National Literacy Strategy. The pilot project will study both the hardware and software to test educational solutions. In 2014 a select number of schools will be participating in this pilot project with the support of product and service providers from the ICT industry. During this year needs analysis research will be carried out to identify the teachers’ digital competences and discuss the necessary training needed to ensure the success of this project. It is envisaged that via this pilot project, students become computer-savvy from a younger age.”

A sum of €80,000 has been voted under the Ministry for Education and Employment to conduct these pilot projects.

The Budget Speech contained references to two initiatives which were actually taken on by the previous government, one related to life sciences and the other to digital gaming.

Malta Enterprise is collaborating with the Ministry for Health to continue working on the Life Sciences Park in San Ġwann, which is expected to open in October 2014.

“The Life Sciences Park is an innovative project which will enable scientists to conduct their research while also providing a place where companies specialising in biotechnology and medical science can operate. This project will enable the Maltese economy to shift towards a more knowledge-based economy consisting of high value-added sectors,” the Budget document explains.

Another San Ġwann project being taken over from the previous administration is the establishment of a so-called creative digital hub as part of the new Government’s commitment to “achieve a diversified and balanced economy … and boost the information and communications technology sector by providing jobs and accommodating investment in the digital field”.

Some of the new initiatives by the new administration cover science and technology research. An application for the European Social Funds programming period 2014-2020 will be prepared to set up and co-manage a managed seed capital fund to finance knowledge-intensive start-ups. The ESF funds requested will amount to €11 million over a five-year period. It is expected that €10 million will be directly available as start-up grants and will help finance between 50 and 100 knowledge-intensive start-ups. The rest of the funds will be used to finance the setting up of the fund itself. In relation to this, the Government will commit €300,000 over a period of three years as a proof of concept fund needed to ensure that promising University of Malta final year and masters’ student projects emerging, among others from Faculties of Engineering, Science and ICT, as well as medical and health sciences, can be given the opportunity of being developed further post-graduation with an eye to creating viable prospects for eventual business incubation. This measure is expected to encourage the creation of more knowledge-intensive start-ups in Malta.

The Budget document makes a reference to the new National Strategy on Research and Innovation 2020 which is being finalised right now, with a government contribution of more than €3 million annually towards a hybrid venture capital fund. Furthermore, the Government is also going to launch the Innovation Voucher Programme as well as post-doctoral research and innovation courses and foreign placements for both Maltese and Gozitan researchers to give them the opportunity to pursue their studies in international research institutions. In addition, the Government said it is going to invest €8 million to initiate works on an Interactive Science Centre at the Malta Council for Science and Technology (MCST) which had been in the planning stages over the past couple of years.

In Budget 2014, the Government has committed itself to issue new ID cards and eID cards, something which the previous government had failed to deliver despite its promises.

In recent years i-gaming has become an important sector in the local digital economy and the Budget Speech makes a reference to this, in the process renewing the commitment to support this industry and making an effort to transform Malta into a digital gaming hub.

An interesting initiative is the launch of a support scheme to facilitate the digital transition of cinemas in Malta and Gozo.

i-Tech has been reviewing the annual Budget Speech in terms of science and technology for the past few years and it’s worth noting some trends that emerge across the years.

In his Budget 2009 Speech, the then Finance Minister Tonio Fenech announced that the government intended to publish plans for the provision of high-speed ‘fibre-to-the-home’ internet access which is available on fibre-optic cables. These plans have not yet been published five year later and the new Government seems to be still working on the strategy. It’s expected that these will be mentioned in the new strategic plan for Malta’s digital economy which is being drawn up right now but there is no direct mention of this in the Budget 2014 documents.

Once again Smart City Malta missed a mention in the budget speech following the strong public relations campaign at its inception six years ago. Its place seems to have been taken by a focus on i-gaming and digital gaming.

Independent journalism costs money. Support Times of Malta for the price of a coffee.

Support Us