The structure and basis of operation of Estonia's research and development (R&D) system are established in the Research and Development Organisation Act (RDOA).
The Government of the Republic:
- prepares national R&D development plans;
- submits them to the Riigikogu (parliament);
- approves national R&D programmes;
- ensures the cooperation between the ministries and enacts legislation.
The key document setting out the research strategy in Estonia is the Estonian Research, Development and Innovation Strategy 2014-2020 (RDI): "Knowledge-based Estonia 2014-2020". This document states the research policy objective to be 'updating the pool of knowledge', while the objective for innovation policy is to 'increase the competitiveness of enterprises'. An Implementation Plan for achieving the objectives of the Estonian Research and Development and Innovation Strategy 2014-2020 is also available.
The "Estonian Research Infrastructure Roadmap” deals with investments of national importance. It is compiled every 3-4 years by the Estonian Research Council and contains a list of new national important research infrastructure units, or of those in need of modernisation.
Other documents that provide a research framework are the Operational Programme for using EU Structural Funds 2014-2020 and the National Reform Programme "Estonia 2020" (a reform programme describing the objectives established to improve competitiveness and activities needed to achieve these objectives.)
The key transport planning document is the National Transport Development Plan 2014-2020. This provides an integrated planning approach for sustainable development of the transport sector, including the plans for both international passenger and carriages of goods.
The two central organisations responsible for R&D policy are the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Communications and the Ministry of Education and Research. They are responsible for most research funding streams and horizontal policies. Ministries collaborate with The Research and Development Council which is an advisory body to the Government of the Republic and makes the final expert decisions on all major R&D matters and policy documents.
- The Ministry of Economic Affairs and Communications is responsible for planning, coordinating and executing research and development activities within national technology and innovation policy related to business, and transport policy. Specific administrative bodies in the Ministry (Civil Aviation Administration, National Road Administration, Railway Inspectorate and Maritime Administration) are responsible for formulating long-term strategies, outlining policy priorities, and planning major investments in the transport sector.
- The Ministry of Education and Research implements national research policy, organises the financing and evaluation of the activities of R&D institutions and coordinates international research cooperation at the national level. The Ministry is also responsible for the planning, coordination, execution and monitoring of research policy related to the activities of universities and research institutes. The Ministry is advised by the Research Policy Committee. The Ministry governs the following research and development institutions:
- Estonian Biocentre
- Estonian Literary Museum
- Institute of the Estonian Language
- Tartu Observatory
The instruments of financing Estonian research and development activities are:
- base financing;
- research grants;
- national science programmes;
- financing of centres of excellence doctoral schools;
- covering the expenses of research and development infrastructure
All information about Estonian R&D is available on the Estonian Research Portal, which is the public section of The Estonian Research Information System (ETIS). This is a national register which incorporates information on R&D institutions, researchers, projects and research results. At the same time, ETIS is also used as a medium for the submission applications and reports as well as the revision and approval thereof.
The Estonian Research Council is the main research funding agency for Estonian research and is responsible for institutional and personal research funding in Estonia and providing support for participation in Horizon2020 and other EU programs. In order to achieve common goals there is also the Estonian Academy of Sciences Membership which includes Estonian scientists, research associations, societies and institutions. Research libraries are designated by the Government of the Republic. The task of research libraries is to collect, store and process research information as well as to make it accessible for research purposes.
The Estonian Transport Administration was created on 1st January 2021 through the merging of the Civil Aviation Administration, Road Administration and Maritime Administration. The Estonian Transport Administration unites all modes of transport and a developer of a safe, comfortable and fast traffic environment.
Transport research can be funded in several ways in Estonia:
- Transport research is mainly financed by the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Communications and the administrations under its control, for instance, the Estonian Road Administration.
- The Ministry of the Environment and the Ministry of Education and Research also provide funding for transport related programmes but on a smaller scale.
- International funding is provided by the European Union.
- Public funding is available for both priority research topics for businesses (through the Competence Centres Programme) and for applied research, not differentiating or prioritising specific areas of research.
- The Estonian Development Fund is a state-run public institution that invests into young and growth-oriented technology companies together with the private sector. The fund is aimed to invest into knowledge-intensive and high-technology Estonian companies that are in launching stage, offering management-related support to the relevant operators.
- Enterprise Estonia - promotes business and regional policy in Estonia and is one of the largest institutions within the national support system for entrepreneurship, providing financial assistance, counselling, cooperation opportunities and training for entrepreneurs, research institutions, the public and non-profit sectors.
- Individual research grants are financed by the Estonian Science Foundation in order to support high-level initiative research, new ideas and studies.
- There are also some national and regional programmes to finance transport-related projects. For example, the Estonian National Road Traffic Safety Programme (2016–2025) aims to increase road safety and decrease fatalities in traffic accidents.
For transport research, funding is mostly allocated to projects on infrastructure assessment, which should be considered more as consulting projects and feasibility studies.
Current ongoing national programmes:
- Baltic Research Cooperation Programme (2014-2021) - enhances research collaboration between research and development institutions of Baltic states and donor countries Norway, Iceland and/or Liechtenstein;
- The Road Safety Programme (2016-2025) - aims to increase road safety by enabling movement of people and goods in an accessible, convenient, fast, safe and sustainable manner, as well as decrease the number of road fatalities and serious injuries in traffic accidents;
- Applied Research in Smart Specialization Growth Areas (NUTIKAS)- aims to contribute to growth in the research-intensity;
- RITA - is used by the Estonian Research Council to support socio-economical applied research based on the needs of Estonian state. The aim is to increase the role of the state in strategic management of research and the capacity of R&D institutions in carrying out socially relevant research;
- Mobilitas Pluss programme - facilitates internationalisation of research, mobility of researchers, the next generation of researchers, and international cooperation;
- TeaMe+ programme - a European Regional Development Fund financed programme for popularizing STEM fields (natural sciences and engineering). TeaMe+ partners include the Estonian Academy of Sciences and the Estonian Newspaper Association;
- National Environmental Monitoring Programme - a programme to develop the tools necessary for the administration, publication and use of monitoring data, according to user needs.
International research and development cooperation programmes and partnerships of the European Union relevant to Estonia are:
- Joint Technology Initiatives (JTI)
- Contractual public and private sector partnerships (cPPP);
- Joint programmes based on Article 185;
- Joint Programming Initiatives (JPI);
- European Research Area cooperation Networks (ERA-Nets);
- European Cooperation in Science and Technology (COST);
- Competitiveness of Enterprises and Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (COSME)
- Knowledge and Innovation Communities.