Olmert aims to double R&D spending

"My dream is that within five years investment in R&D will rise to 10% of GDP."

ehud olmert 88 (photo credit: )
ehud olmert 88
(photo credit: )
Finance Minister Ehud Olmert on Thursday expressed hopes that research and development investment will more than double, to account for 10 percent of gross domestic product, by 2010. "My dream is that within five years investment in R&D will rise to 10% of GDP. I know it sounds ambitious, but we must define ambitious targets and fight for them in order to effect the change," Olmert, who is also the Minister of Industry, Trade and Labor, said at the annual conference of the chief scientist in Tel Aviv. The ratio between R&D spending and GDP in Israel is 4.6% - amongst the highest in the world. Chief Scientist Dr. Eli Opper said Olmert's aim could be achieved through government investment of another NIS 1 billion a year in R&D. The Office of the Chief Scientist has a budget of NIS 1.2b. a year. Although this is due to grow to NIS 1.5b. by 2007, Opper believes it is still not enough. "I think we need between NIS 2b. and NIS 2.5b. a year, so we are a long way from what is required," he said. Ra'anan Dinor, the director-general of the ministry, said the government's target is for R&D investment to grow 15%, or NIS 2b., a year over the next 10 years. As part of the ministry's multi-year aims, he also wants investment in industry and exports to each grow 15% a year. In the next five years, the government aims to increase work force participation to 60%, which would require the creation of 25,000 jobs a year. It also wants to cut unemployment to 6% to 7% from just under 9%. Participation amongst men is about 60% and amongst women it is about 50%. Dinor stressed the importance of strengthening peripheral areas, such as the Negev, the Galilee and Jerusalem, and the government wants work force participation to increase to 58% from 52% and unemployment to fall to 7.5% from 12%. To achieve its targets, the government plans to set up 10 investment funds and give help to small- and medium-sized businesses. It also intends to allocate NIS 1b. to private equity funds and to lighten the regulations for institutional investors to fund R&D. Yoram Oron, the chairman of the Israel Venture Association chairman and the founder and managing director of Vertex Venture Capital, welcomed the plans. "The significance is that it will strengthen the two weakest links in the hi-tech financing chain - the seed stage and the late stage. These steps will allow the hi-tech sector to maintain a growth rate of 10% a year and to realize its latent potential," he said at the conference.