The Smart Talk, organised by the Italian-Cypriot Chamber of Commerce on 23th February, focused on ‘Scientific Cooperation and Technology Transfer in the Med Area’.
The guest speaker was Panayiotis Zaphiris, Rector of the Cyprus University of Technology since 2020 and President of the Cyprus Rectors’ Conference, with a PhD in Human Computer Interaction from the University of Wayne, USA. He holds a PhD in Engineering Systems and Electrical Engineering from the University of Maryland, College Park, USA; he was Reader at the Human Computer Interaction Design Centre of the City University of London, has participated in over 16 subsidised research projects, totalling EUR 5 million, and has published over 250 academic articles.
The Smart Talk opened with greetings and thanks from the President of the Italian-Cypriot Chamber of Commerce, Giuseppe Marino, who emphasised how “the promotion of scientific cooperation is one of the Chamber’s objectives, especially for the creation of links between industry and academia, not only with regard to research projects, but more generally for the future of our countries, where the Chamber is committed to the development of relations between Italy and Cyprus, with a special focus on the countries of the Mediterranean area as well”.
The Vice-President of the Chamber of Commerce, with a PhD on Maritime, Air and Transport Law, Federico Franchina, after the institutional greetings to the distinguished guest, introduced the talk by asking Zaphiris to give an overview of the objectives of the Rectors’ Conference within Cyprus and the EU.
Mr. Zaphiris, thanking for the invitation, explained that university education in Cyprus is something relatively recent, in fact Nicosia is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year, while Limassol opened only 15 years ago; all 10 universities in Cyprus have been active for no more than 30 years. When compared to European universities, which have been in existence for over 100 years, obviously the Cyprus Rectors’ Conference plays an additional role to the classic role of the universities; there is a great interest in creating awareness about the high degree of university education in a country that had no history in this field, to increase the involvement of academics and to put pressure on policy makers to listen to the opinion of the insiders.
When asked what are the current and future challenges related to higher education and how are they related to technology transfer from academia to industry, Zaphiris said that although these universities are recent, they have achieved a lot in just 30 years. First of all, the country invested in the establishment of the first 3 state universities (the University of Cyprus, the Cyprus University of Technology and the Open University), which obtained funds to recruit young academics from abroad, who settled in Cyprus; this resulted in a change in the educational level, and it is no coincidence that the first 3 Cypriot universities are in the top 1000 of the Times Higher Education, and the first 2 in the ranking of the top 300 in the world. As far as knowledge transfer is concerned, there is a challenge in two directions: the first is that there is the potential, but, on the other hand, there are no manufacturing industries, nor factories (where university knowledge could be involved), so the Cypriot economy is essentially based on tourism and services. In this context, the transfer of technological knowledge is difficult, which is also limited by the legal framework, which imposes a number of restrictions on the establishment of startups and other ways of knowledge transfer within universities. However, it should be mentioned that the transfer takes place through European projects, with which one does not necessarily have to be an industrial partner, and this is where Cyprus has been successful in collaborations, for example, with Italy, in the transfer of technological knowledge, but also focused on basic research for training.
Mr. Franchina pointed out the similarities with Sicily, where there is a lack of industry but there is knowledge, and asked to describe the areas in which Cypriot universities are engaged in technology transfer abroad.
Mr. Zaphiris argues that technological knowledge is applied in engineering, medical faculties and in ‘teaming projects’ (EU-funded projects), which aim to create centres of excellence in specific areas, such as Satellite Data, Analysyses of Problems in Satellite Data, New Media, Blue Economy, Cancer Research, and other areas. Universities that are not involved in lengthy bureaucratic processes move more quickly towards collaboration with industry.
Regarding the ways in which businesses and startups are encouraged to develop ideas into productions that create jobs and improve the quality of life both in Cyprus and in the EU, Mr. Zaphiris replied that the Government has set up a specific Ministry for Research and Knowledge Transfer, in addition to the National Funding Agency. Concerning the legal framework, the universities have sent their comments to the institutions on a number of obstacles that, according to them, prevent an agreement between universities and industry; at present, the Government has brought in experts to advise on how to improve. Furthermore, there is an expectation that the new regulatory framework will be approved in Parliament; and a great opportunity for collaborations will come from the foundation of shared startups between universities. The previous system left a larger percentage in the hands of the universities, which prevented private industry from joining in, as well as the fear that the state university, with its bureaucratic procedures, would delay the process rather than move it forward. This has now improved and it is hoped that this will encourage academics to commercialise their ideas, with benefits for the university and industry.
According to Mr. Zaphiris, some of the current challengs (such as biotechnology, artificial intelligence and the energy transition) have led to a number of attempts to bring the Mediterranean countries together, but there has been no official forum where these issues have been discussed, nor is there one where these countries could join forces, including Israel, which is very successful in these areas, and North Africa, which could have great potential to collaborate. But if such cooperation were to take place, Cyprus, because of its collaboration with former Soviet countries, has been put at the centre of the discussion for various reasons, and this has brought many companies with expertise in IT and AI to the island. “For example,” Zaphiris added, “last year, our universities decided to double the recruitment of undergraduate students in IT because there is a large demand, which we will not be able to fill among public and private Cypriot universities. In conclusion, there is room to bring in more human resources and continue the initiatives already underway.
Mr. Franchina agreed with the strategy of attracting talent, which transforms Cyprus into a knowledge hub, and, with a view to the scientific cooperation between Member States encouraged by the EU through the various incentives (Horizon Programme, ERC;..), he asked what other collaborations could be, in addition to those already in place, between Italy and Cyprus, and how they could be opened up to non-EU countries.
Mr. Zaphiris mentioned that disciplines have changed; for example, in the historical field, there is now a lot of technology in how to preserve cultural heritage (3D models), especially in Italy, and this is an opportunity to access European funds. In Cyprus recently in the new Shipping Department, marine archaeology was mentioned as an important sector, so one has to keep an open mind to meet new areas of interest. One possible collaboration for all Mediterranean countries is in the area of Shipping. Among universities there are opportunities in various fields: Finance, Data Analytics, and many others.
In light of the difficulties that exist in connecting universities with the world of industry, Mr. Franchina raised the question of the contribution that the Italian-Cypriot Chamber of Commerce can make to support scientific cooperation between Italy and Cyprus in order to achieve a fruitful transfer of technology.
Mr. Zaphiris believes that the Cyprus Chamber of Commerce is open to work with the Italian-Cypriot Chamber of Commerce to create collaborations between industry and academia in both countries and in both directions; it is an axis of opportunity that can be implemented without the need for a lot of funds, but by combining skills and professionalism to create business and networks.
Finally, Vice President Franchina concluded the Smart Talk by thanking Mr. Zaphiris for his participation and valuable suggestions regarding scientific cooperation, implementation methods and areas.
The Chamber’s next appointment regarding the focus of the talk will be at the end of May, in Italy, with the Italian-Cypriot Business Forum.
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Last modified: March 2, 2023