From the world’s most powerful laser through to the extra-resistant glass used in over 4.5 billion smartphones, Lithuanian innovation is impacting research and product development globally. So, it’s not surprising that the 2018 Bloomberg Innovation Index ranked Lithuania 8th globally for ”tertiary efficiency,” a category which includes enrolment in higher education and the number of graduates in key innovation sectors. Companies are currently assembling international-quality research teams in Lithuania at highly competitive costs, and there is strong and committed governmental support for R&D.
The Ministry of Economy and the Ministry of Education and Science are the main institutions responsible for the formation and implementation of innovation policy in Lithuania. The other institutions involved in coordinating and implementing R&D and innovation policy in Lithuania are:
- The Research Council of Lithuania, which consists of a Research Fund and a number of expert committees. The council’s role is to be an expert institution, implementing R&D policy and providing competitive funding.
- The Agency for Science, Innovation and Technology (MITA), which is the national organization for the implementation of innovation policy.
- The Research and Higher Education Monitoring and Analysis Centre (MOSTA), which operates as an advisory institution. It monitors and evaluates research, higher education and innovation, and other related activities, and provides evidence-based information and guidance.
The fundamental strategic documents that set the guidelines for innovation policy in Lithuania are:
- The Science and Innovation Policy Reform guidelines that were issued by the President's Office and adopted by the Parliament in 2016. This important policy reform initiative was launched to provide significant impetus to the country's innovation performance.
- The Innovation Development Programme 2014–2020. This programme was drafted with a view to mobilising state resources for two purposes: firstly, the improvement of Lithuania’s innovativeness, and secondly, the continued development of a competitive economy that is based on high-level knowledge, advanced technologies, skilled and well-qualified human resources and smart specialisation. The strategic goal of the programme is to enhance the competitiveness of the Lithuanian economy through the development of an effective system that promotes economic innovation.
- The Smart Specialization Strategy, which is the main programme of state support for R&D in Lithuania. The following R&D and innovation priority areas are defined in the Smart Specialization Strategy: energy and environmental sustainability; agro-innovation and food technologies; health technologies and bio technologies; forming an inclusive and creative society; new production processes; materials and technologies; transport and logistics; ICT.
In order to fully exploit Lithuania’s scientific potential, Open R&D Lithuania, a new platform that brings together the main actors in this field, was launched. This network consists of 14 Lithuanian universities, 13 research institutes, and 7 science and technology parks. These institutions have united their high-level R&D intellectual potential, infrastructure and resources in order to provide science-based solutions to problems in business and society. This concentration of resources facilitates the creation of new technologies and products, the provision of R&D services, and the growth of the competitiveness of all the partners involved.
Support for R&D and innovative technology sectors has been made a national priority. As a result, between 2006-2013, Lithuania invested EUR411 million to develop its R&D infrastructure and science valleys. Another EUR679 million will be put into the further enhancement of Lithuania’s R&D capacity over the period 2014-2020.
Research Excellence in Lithuania
Lithuania has been planting seeds which are now bearing fruit, thanks to its longstanding focus on two areas: developing talents and professionals in scienctific institutions, and investing into modern R&D equipment (more than EUR300 million has been invested in the last 7-8 years).
The most significant achievements of Lithuanian researchers to date have been in the fields of biotechnology, life sciences and lasers.
The most important factor in the success of the Lithuanian laser industry has been the continuous and diverse collaboration between researchers from scientific institutions and engineers from the private sector. This collaborative approach has become the foundation for constantly growing expertise in cutting-edge laser technologies. The products manufactured by the Lithuanian laser sector are extremely diverse. They include every kind of laser, along with optics, electronics, mechanical laser components, assemblies, elements and more. Lithuania accounts for more than half of the global market of pico-second laser spectrometers. These are widely exported to European countries, the USA, Australia, and Asia.
The laser manufacturing sector in Lithuania has recorded 15–20% year on year growth. Lithuanian laser products are exported to over 100 countries around the world - the largest clients are laboratories and research centres in the EU, the USA and Japan.
Lithuania is known for its world class researchers. For example, Prof. Virginijus Šikšnys from Vilnius University, working with Emmanuelle Charpentier and Jennifer A. Doudna, is credited as one of the inventors of CRISPR-Cas9, a precise nano-tool for editing DNA. These so-called DNA scissors allow scientists to correct disease-causing mutations and use gene therapy to cure serious diseases, such as muscular dystrophy, sickle-cell anemia, and some forms of blindness and cancer.
Another example is Prof. Arminas Ragauskas, a scientist at Kaunas Technology University who has invented two devices for measuring intracranial pressure and blood flow. His inventions enable the fast and safe diagnosis of traumatic brain injuries, strokes, glaucoma and brain tumours. Ragauskas' innovative measuring devices are important tools for treating intracranial injuries, which are among the world's deadliest killers.
Lithuanian universities and research institutions offer study and employment opportunities to foreign researchers at all levels of their career, from doctoral students through to high level researchers. The Research Council of Lithuania provides a wide range of funding tools for research competence and skills development. It also works to promote international cooperation and activities to internationalize research. Foreign researchers are encouraged to work in Lithuania and, together with Lithuanian researchers, to participate in projects funded by the Research Council of Lithuania and other initiatives.
The Center for Physical Sciences and Technology (FTMC), the largest non-university research institution in the Baltic States, offers PhD studies in physical and technological sciences. These study programmes are open to international students, and talents from Japan are very welcome to apply. Joint project collaboration is also promoted, and the FTMC looks forward to arranging exchanges not only of students, but also of scientists and engineers who have already graduated.
As most research is performed in public universities and research institutes, these are also where most research jobs are available. Many of the positions available are published on the EURAXESS webpage.
Research in Lithuania is primarily financed on the basis of quality competition. Financing comes from the state budget, foreign funds (mostly EU), and several institutions.
The Research Council of Lithuania (RCL) is the principal national institution providing competitive R&D funding in Lithuania. Every year, the RCL publishes more than 30 calls for proposals. Click here for more information.
Lithuania also offers a wide range of direct and indirect public support for business R&D and technological innovation, aimed primarily at boosting private investment in R&D. State support includes grants and subsidies, financial engineering schemes, public innovation support services, and R&D tax incentives on corporate income tax. In Lithuania, business R&D and innovation support schemes focus on funding R&D, procuring R&D services, and providing (mainly soft) support for innovation. Funding for innovation is mostly focused on startup and equity instruments. Click here for more information.
The Research Council of Lithuania is the EURAXESS Bridgehead Organization in Lithuania. The EURAXESS network in Lithuania has 5 members: Kaunas University of Technology, Mykolas Romeris University, Vilnius Gediminas Technical University, Vilnius University, and Vytautas Magnus University. EURAXESS provides incoming researchers with up-to-date information related to mobility services.
In 2018, Lithuania launched a new programme aimed at attracting internationally-recognised foreign researchers to carry out research in smart specialisation areas and encouraging them to establish themselves in research and higher education institutions. These researchers are given a range of opportunities through this programme, including: implementing high-budget research projects; putting together and leading a research team; transferring knowledge and experience; and introducing advanced research methods and new practices. The programme is coordinated by the Research Council of Lithuania.
For employment opportunities, and to participate in projects coordinated by the Research Council of Lithuania, foreign researchers should apply directly to their chosen university or research institute.
Research Cooperation and/or mobility with Japan: success stories
In May 2016, the Agency for Science, Innovation and Technology (MITA) joined the CONCERT-Japan programme. This programme aims to enhance international cooperation between European countries and Japan in the fields of scientific and technological research and innovation. Projects funded by the programme must include at least one partner from Japan and two partners from two different European countries. MITA became the 8th partner of the programme, which also has partners in France, Hungary, Slovakia, Norway, Spain, and Turkey.
MITA took part in the programme’s 5th call for projects, made in April 2018, which was focused on “Advanced porous materials". One of the most highly-rated projects for this call involved Ferentis, a Lithuanian company, as one of the participating institutions. The other partners in this project were from the University of Tokyo (Japan), the University of Hamburg (Germany) and the University of Santiago de Compostela University (Spain). MITA plans to fund Lithuanian participants with a total preliminary budget of EUR100,000.
State level research cooperation between Lithuania and Japan is mostly based on bilateral agreements related to research implement and funding organizations. These include a Memorandum of Cooperation in the field of Science and Technology between the Ministry of Education and Science of the Republic of Lithuania and the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sport, Science and Technology of Japan for the enhancement of institutional networking and partnerships (2018), and a Memorandum of Understanding between the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science and the Research Council of Lithuania for joint research projects and organising seminars (2016).
The Research Council of Lithuania and the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science together organise the annual Japan-Lithuania Sciences Symposium. These symposiums are focused on discussing research topics of mutual interest and exploring areas for cooperation between scientists from both countries. In 2018, the symposium was dedicated to life sciences, where the researchers focused on ways to improve health and quality of life in society, including the regeneration of biological tissues and the possibilties for growing organs.
The Center for Physical Sciences and Technology (FTMC) in Lithuania has established a partnership with RIKEN corporation. This cooperation includes having RIKEN’s Executive Director Prof. Toichiro Matsumoto sitting on the FTMC’s International Advisory Board. The International Advisory Board’s aim is to bring together talented, world-renowed scientists and industry leaders to share their experience and expertise in order to help the FTMC to develop.
The FTMC and the Tokyo Institute of Technology have establish a joint project called “Analysis of Photophysical Processes of Novel Light-emitting Aromatic Polymers Based on Fast Time Resolved Spectroscopy.” The project aims to develop photonic materials based on phthalimide compounds and polyimides.
Important Case Studies with Japan
Case Study I: Newly created biomaterials with the potential to be used as artificial bone substitutes were tested in a collaborative project by Vilnius University and Kyushu University. New calcium phosphate composites and glass-ceramic powders were synthesized and characterized by a research group at Vilnius University led by Prof. A. Kareiva. Meanwhile, Prof. K. Ishikawa’s group at Kyushu University analysed bioceramics used in odontology and orthopedics. The results of their joint research project provided a step forward in the development of medically relevant bionanomaterials.
Case Study II: Dr. R. Žurauskienė (Mykolas Romeris University, Vilnius) and Dr. K. Sugimura (Hiroshima University) investigated identity development in adolescents and emerging adults, finding similarities between Lithuania and Japan in this area.
Case Study III: A Lithuanian research group led by Dr. J. Gineikienė (ISM, a private management and economics university) and a team from the University of Tokyo (Dr. N. Kondo et al., from the School of Public Health) joined their efforts in order to understand the factors and cognitive mechanisms driving consumers’ preferences with regards to functional food. The joint project’s findings contributed to the literature on health related consumer behavior, providing insights for policy makers and advancing the regulatory requirements for developing consumer protection laws and public education campaigns.
Case Study IV: Prof. G. Račiukaitis and Prof. K. Regelskis, laser technology researchers at the Center for Physical Sciences and Technology (FTMC), have received Japanese patent (No. 627647) for new laser applications.
Case Study V: Since 2016, the Kaunas Clinic of the Hospital of the Lithuanian University of Health Sciences has developed a close collaboration with the Center for Medical Genetics of Japan at Keio University School of Medicine.
In 2017, Dr. Makoto Suematsu and Prof. Kenjiro Kosaki invited Kaunas Clinic to join an ongoing project called “The Construction of a Comprehensive Genetic Diagnosis System for Diseases Associated with Chromosomal or Genetic Changes”. DNA samples of 15 families from Kaunas Clinic have been sent to the Medical Genetics Center at Keio Medical University, and as a result five rare diseases have been diagnosed using the whole exome sequencing method. This technology allows scientists to analyze all the coding sequences of human DNA, which account for 1.5% of the whole genome and play a key role in the manifestation of diseases in humans. This collaboration and knowledge sharing between Lithuanian and Japanese researchers has enabled the understanding of rare, extremely rare and as yet undiagnosed diseases, which remain a challenge for clinicians.
The future goal is to develop early diagnostic criteria based on the identification of genomic DNA and/or DNA damage, and the identification of specific metabolites.
According to recently uncovered historical records, probably the first contact between Japan and Lithuania was established when Yukichi Fukuzawa, a prominent Japanese public activist, author, one of the founders of modern Japan, visited Kaunas in 1862. Fukuzawa and his efforts in modernizing Japan were highly admired by Lithuanian activists at the time, who later on became significant actors of creating Independent Lithuania in early years of 20th century.
Kaunas is also quite symbolic city in Lithuanian-Japanese relations – it is the city, where the first Japanese consulate was established in 1939 by the prominent Japanese diplomat Chiune Sugihara. There he has issued transit visas that saved more than 6000 lives of Jewish refugees in the turmoil of World War 2. Sugihara and his memory is very important to both countries, as it shows that humanism and sympathy has no nationality, is not limited by any state borders, and that it can unite geographically and culturally quite distinct nations indefinitely.
This year is very special for Lithuania – one hundred years ago, on the 16th of February 1918, the Council of Lithuania proclaimed restoration of the State of Lithuania, and laid foundation for the independent, democratic and modern Lithuania of today. We are grateful to Japan, who officially recognized the restored Republic of Lithuania on the 20th of December 1922. Therefore, in 2022 another significant occasion, marking 100 years of official diplomatic relations between Japan and Lithuania will be commemorated. After collapse of Soviet Union, Japan officially recognized the Independent Lithuanian State in 1991, and the re-establishment of the diplomatic relations followed shortly after.
Despite geographical distance between both countries, this almost 100 years of bilateral diplomatic relationship is comprehensive, dynamic, and ever expanding in various fields: politics, economy, science and education, culture, people-to-people contacts, with increasing levels of tourism as one of the elements. As the European Union and Japan share the same attitude to the importance of free trade and recently signed Strategic and Economic Partnership Agreements, we are facing unseen prospects of partnership, where the EU member Lithuania with its ascending competitiveness rankings is becoming one of the hot spots for foreign direct investment in Europe.
For Lithuania, Japan is the most important partner in trade, tourism, science and education in Asia and Pacific region. Recently these tendencies were once again strengthened by high-level visits: Prime Minister Shinzo Abe visited Lithuania last January, and Prime Minister Saulius Skvernelis paid a reciprocal visit to Japan in October this year. Both leaders once again confirmed strong determination to deepen Japanese-Lithuanian exchange not only in bilateral but also on international level. Special focus was given to scientific and R&D cooperation between the countries, with its utmost potential in bio-medical and life sciences, photonics and lasers, ICT, Fintech, block chain and cyber sectors.
In the field of science, technology and innovation, Japan is Lithuania’s main partner in Asia, with dynamicaly growing bilateral economic ties and a relationship of active cooperation.
Lithuanian R&D and innovation institutions, universities and clusters look forward to further increasing their cooperation with Japanese research centres and businesses across a wide range of sectors, but especially in the fields of industrial technology, life scienes, biotechnology and laser applications. There are many possibilities for future collaboration more widely. Japanese companies are actively invited to establish a foothold in the European Union by setting up in Lithuania, and to work together with other high technology companies based in Lithuania to create innovations and conduct novel research.