Could ‘virtual institutes’ boost academic research?

As more people discover e-Residency, more uses for e-Residency are being discovered.

The latest example comes from the UK where the Financial Times reports that academics are interested in creating ‘virtual institutes’ through e-Residency.

This concept is actually similar to the main motivation that people have for becoming an e-resident, which is the desire to create a location-independent company.

As remote working becomes increasingly normal, the organisations they work for are increasingly seeking a location-independent structure. This applies to academic researchers, just as much as startup teams, individual entrepreneurs and freelancers.

As the Financial Times notes, e-Residency is primarily aimed at location-independent entrepreneurs, but our growing community of e-residents keep finding new and innovative ways they can benefit from the scheme. You can read more of their stories on the e-Residency blog.

A virtual institute could help bring together the best talent from around the world and enable them to easily collaborate across borders.

E-Residency would provide the researchers with full access to Estonia’s advanced digital infrastructure, as well as a secure digital signature for authenticating themselves online and signing documents instantly. This arrangement would help minimise their administrative costs and hassle so that the team can focus on their passion instead of paperwork, no matter where in the world their team members are.

However, academics in the UK also have more specific concerns on their mind as Brexit approaches. As the Financial Times explains:

“The UK receives a disproportionate share of European research funding but fears are growing that researchers in other countries could turn their backs on collaborating with British-based academics now that the process of Brexit has begun.”

The idea of using e-Residency to create virtual institutes to mitigate these concerns was first raised by academics in the UK when the British-Estonian Chamber of Commerce organised a trade mission there last November.

It sounds paradoxical, but even a location-independent organisation has to be registered somewhere. Estonia is inside the EU so access to the EU’s business environment — or academic environment in this case — is another major advantage of e-Residency.

A virtual institute established through e-Residency would be based in the EU so understanding how this could affect access to EU funding is a key area of interest.

We should start with the disclaimer that we have no influence over who receives EU funding and simply being an e-resident is not going to have any effect on an application. An organisation that is physically outside of the EU is unlikely to be treated more favourably when applying for EU funding because it is digitally based inside the EU.

However, the situation facing academics and others in the business world is often more complex and reflects the increasingly global nature of work around the world. E-residents don’t have to physically work in Estonia or elsewhere in the EU, but for many their work does create value here, which would then help their application for funding.

Many UK-based academics, for example, do currently work across the EU with colleagues and partners, as well as financiers. An EU-based institute may be more appropriate for them already, even if many of their team members are in the UK, so e-Residency enables them to continue that arrangement after Brexit with minimal disruption.

In any case, we believe e-Residency opens up even greater opportunities than the possibility of accessing more funding. Even for Brits, the benefits are bigger than Brexit.

Location-independence is changing the nature of work around the world and we believe that establishing a company (or research institute) in Estonia through e-Residency provides the most transparent and hassle-free solution to take advantage of this change.

The irony is that the internet was created by academics through international collaboration. We now want to invite them to join our digital nation so they can do even greater work.

Read the original article in the Financial Times here or apply for e-Residency here.

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