Greece needs a strategic state to deliver for its citizens and thrive in the 21st century

Greece needs a strategic state to deliver for its citizens and thrive in the 21st century

Throughout history, science and technology have been the greatest sources of progress and growth. But when it comes to how government can harness the opportunities of technology and turn vision into delivery, the task becomes more difficult.

Recently, two one-time political opponents, former British prime minister Tony Blair and former Conservative Party leader William Hague co-authored a paper to help tackle this challenge. Their report, titled “A New National Purpose: Innovation Can Power the Future of Britain,” aims to chart the British state’s course on the turbulent waters of technology and science. It is part of the Tony Blair Institute’s initiative to reinvigorate progressive politics to meet the challenges Britain faces in the decades ahead. And some of the report’s insights are valuable for other countries, too.

To mobilize the entire public administration behind a policy agenda, clear and strong leadership is needed. This requires a very targeted organization of the center of government. Firstly, there needs to be one ministry responsible for, and dedicated to, science and technology, to harness the opportunities and mitigate the risks. This both elevates the importance of the new agenda and creates a single point of contact for international investors. Secondly, a delivery unit at the center of government is needed to help manage and drive the implementation of the policies designed at the ministry. This office is needed to coordinate the efforts of all relevant public entities, ensure that they have the right resources and talent, and to check, daily if needed, that the work is progressing according to plan. For, after all, as Thomas Edison is believed to have said: A vision without execution is merely a hallucination.

But policies can only go so far. Financing is a key factor. Greece has made clear progress on this front and has increased research and development financing quite considerably in the past decade. According to OECD data, R&D spending stood at 1.51% of GDP in 2020, compared to just 0.6% in 2010. At an annual rate of 6.8%, this was the fourth fastest growth within the OECD, but the indicator nevertheless remains well below the organization’s average at 2.67%.

Then, there is the question of how funds should be distributed. Across the world, public R&D financing is rightly criticized for being excessively risk-averse, predominantly targeted at senior scientists, with overly short time horizons and unduly bureaucratic. This is not an environment in which new ideas can thrive. More consideration needs to be given to junior scientists and particular attention must be paid to long-term research teams to free scientists from at least some of the burden of having to constantly reapply for short-term financing. The assessment of projects should be conducted by diverse bodies that include not only senior academics but people with more diverse research backgrounds as well.

Finally, there is education. In 2018, in both mathematics and science, Greek 15-year-olds ranked 34th out of the then 37 OECD member-countries, ahead of Chile, Colombia and Mexico. At the same time surveys show that even up to 95% of Greek high school students take additional classes at formal tutoring institutions to prepare for university exams. But just as technology and apps have become part of our daily lives, making goods and services more easily accessible, so can they be used in education to improve outcomes. Edtech can help both by providing teaching aids and tools for streamlining administrative tasks.

As for the former, there are learning platforms offering AI-powered learning experience which can increase the child’s understanding of the topic by up to 30%. They create tailored learning paths for each pupil by learning how the child learns and, at the same time, collect data for teachers and parents alike. The administrative burden on the other hand may be cut by using unsophisticated but powerful tools that help with marking student work or enabling faster communication between teachers or between teachers and parents. To ensure success, funds need to be dedicated not only to rolling out the edtech tools but also towards training teachers so that they and their students can reap all the benefits of modern technology.

Tony Blair and William Hague’s report offers more and deeper insight, and these are just three areas that both Britain and Greece could explore to power their futures, helping them succeed in the 21st century. We must all remember, however, that in the world of constant innovation, the search for new solutions never ends. Delaying change until tomorrow risks ending up as a latecomer instead of a leader.

Jakub Jaworowski is director of the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change.

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