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Innovation needs a human touch

Higher Education Minister Morten Østergaard's speech at the conference "Innovation and Creativity in Research and Education within the Humanities" 12 June in Copenhagen.

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Thank you.

This is truly an exciting and relevant conference you have arranged today.

Innovation and creativity in research and education within the humanities is of vital importance. I believe that there are very few challenges out there that have one simple individual solution. We must have greater understanding for a problem in its entirety if we are to find the solution. And the Humanities play a significant role here.

The answer to the global energy crisis, climate change, ageing populations, great health issues and a welfare system under pressure cannot just be solved by technology alone.

To develop solutions to great societal challenges, we need social sciences and humanities' knowledge about the people who make up society. We need to know how we as a society live and act. We cannot solve great health problems if we don't understand human behaviour and actions.

For example, patient's ability or willingness to comply with the advice and treatment recommendation of health professionals is a challenge. Even the best medicine in the world won't work if the patients won't take it. It is an issue of compliance.

Welfare technology is another good example because it can only useful if it takes the needs of the user into consideration. Otherwise it won't be used.

Likewise, our products and services will lose out to new growth economies if we are not smarter than our competitors and understand consumers’ needs. An engineer developing a new smartphone can benefit greatly from collaboration with a humanities graduate.

You are experts in how we see and interpret things and experiences in our every-day life. While engineers for instance are absorbed by making sure the technology work optimally, those in Humanities are devoted to ensuring that the technology can be used by everyone and anyone.

Innovation needs a human touch. This is a Danish position of strength – it always has been and will be in the future. We understand people and their interactions as well as anybody and have developed our skills to solve problems in a functional, aesthetic and human-centered way.

A national innovation strategy

Future challenges will drive future innovation. And that's where we will find growth. Challenges are therefore part of the solution to providing for Denmark's future. Innovation is vital for growth and prosperity in Denmark. Which is why back in March - we began work on a collective, ambitious innovation strategy.

We have to strengthen the nation's innovation capacity and ensure a focused effort to solve global challenges. Greater innovation capacity involves both the individual employee and the individual companies. They need the best possible conditions to be innovative. Targeted solutions require cooperation and prioritisation.

We want a significant improvement in cooperation between the public and private sectors. And we want a shorter path from public investment in research, development, education and innovation to growth and job creation. It requires the engagement of universities, knowledge institutions, public and private sectors in the future global innovation network.We need to break down barriers between public and private sectors. The public sector needs to view private companies as a resource - and vice versa.

Strong innovation partnerships are crucial to putting Denmark on the map and can provide new innovative solutions to global challenges. But targeted innovation is not synonymous with narrow limitations or a standardisation of Danish research and business policy. On the contrary, the innovation strategy will be an expression of liberation from existing frameworks and ways of thinking.

Interdisciplinary challenges need interdisciplinary and knowledge-based solutions. Our tradition of independent basic research is a Danish strength that must be utilised. And the Government will ensure basic funds for the benefit of independent research, because it is impossible to predict where future discoveries will be made. We also want to move away from the micromanagement of strategic research.You can't just write a simple prescription for innovation.

We must remember that Denmark has unique potential. From considering design when manufacturing products and processes – to flat hierarchies and a tradition of user involvement in the development and implementation of solutions. We have to draw on all our strengths if we are to find solutions that help solve global challenges, while also creating new jobs and growth in Denmark.

Innovative Humanities

We know that the entrepreneurial gene is strong amongst young people. But it unfortunately that spirit lessens as they progress through the education system. We need to reverse that.

Students shouldn't just absorb presentations and submit theoretical assignments. They also need to get out in the real world. They should have the opportunity to realise thoughts and ideas into products, services and new ways of operation. This requires more cooperation between businesses – private and public - and education institutions. And education has to provide students with better tools and a taste for innovative and productive thinking.

The Humanities faculties have in recent years had great strategic focus on ensuring that education and programmes corresponds to the modern labour market. For example, a number of reforms have been carried out in many Humanities programmes, with a focus on interdisciplinarity, innovation, entrepreneurship, business collaboration and employability.

This is a positive and important development. The Humanities can be viewed as quite a strength in a growth perspective.

The labour market today is significantly reliant on knowledge. Those within the Humanities have strong analytical skills and an ability to focus attention on problems and articulate new issues – skills that will be in much demand in the labour market.

The development in the labour market for Humanities graduates in recent decades confirms this:

  • In 1980, 3.5 per cent of Humanities graduates were employed in the export industry.
  • In 2007, that number increased to over 18 per cent.
  • And today, about 40 per cent of Humanities graduates find employment in the private sector.

The share of independent entrepreneurs is also greater amongst Humanities graduates than graduates from other fields.

Horizon 2020 and the Humanities

Innovation is not just on the agenda in Denmark. Two weeks ago, the EU's research and innovation ministers agreed on the first major step of Horizon 2020 – which will be one of the world's largest research initi-atives with a proposed budget of 600 billion kroner.

Horizon 2020 is a symbol of rethinking strategic research with a targeted focus on global societal challenges. During negotiations on the architecture of Horizon 2020, it has been important for me that social sciences and the Humanities are given a prominent position in the programme.

Focus on societal challenges requires an interdisciplinary approach, where social sciences and the Humanities must contribute to creating new realisations and solutions.

I am therefore very pleased to see an even sharper focus on interdisciplinarity than was in the Commission's original proposal.

At the moment, Denmark receives about 2.34 per cent of the current programme. If that remains the same for Horizon 2020, Denmark stands to receive more than 2 billion kroner a year on average in research and innovation funding from the EU.

The Humanities also need to compete for these funds. Because the Humanities are an important part of the innovation agenda.

Humanities and engineering

This is an exciting and relevant conference. I would especially like to thank the Humanities faculties at Aalborg University, the University of Southern Denmark and the University of Copenhagen for organising and hosting this conference today. And I look forward to seeing the input from today's conference at work with the national innovation strategy.

Last week I spoke at an innovation conference entitled innovative engineers. The participants were mainly engineers and natural science graduates. It proved to be interesting.

Engineers have a long tradition of creating new products and being innovative. But I still think something was missing. I missed seeing a few linguists, anthropologist and philosophers there.

Perhaps next time, you could consider holding the conferences together. Interdisciplinary challenges call for interdisciplinary solutions.Something magical happens:

  • when bioengineers meet bookworms,
  • when electronic nerds meet ethnologists,
  • and when food science engineers meet philosophers.

Innovation needs a human touch.

Thank you.

last modified Feb 10, 2013