Global Business Guide Indonesia

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Education | Addressing the Brain Drain in Indonesia

Current methods of measuring and ranking universities worldwide attempt to take into account a number of factors with scientific research and collaboration being a central element. The amount of publications and frequency of citations has been used as the yardstick for scientific contributions. Indonesia has fallen behind on both the regional and international level as a productive environment; a favourable climate for scientific research has failed to take root and seen scientific talent go abroad to secure funding and support.

Recent studies into the contribution of each country to the world of academia and science has seen Indonesia at the bottom of the pile. The SCImago Journal and Country Ranking (April 2011) placed Indonesia at 64th among 243 countries surveyed for scientific publications and frequency of citations of those documents. From 1996 to 2009, 10,826 scientific documents were published; compared to 39,690 from Malaysia, 199,676 from Turkey, 30,774 from Saudi Arabia and 11,434 from Bangladesh (Source: SCImago. SJR — SCImago Journal & Country Rank. Retrieved April 10, 2011 from Other studies show a similar picture; a study by Scientometrics compared Indonesian science in 14 disciplines to other Asia-Pacific countries. In terms of the total number of scientific publications between 1992 and 2008, Indonesia produced 850 papers; a significantly low number. Put into perspective that is one scientific paper, per million people of the population, per year (Harvard Country Study).

Such studies and their methods of calibration are very much open to scrutiny as arguably the quantity of publications is not a measure of quality of research being produced. In addition, the parameter of number of citations by peers is flawed in being highly influenced by the paper being available in English thereby giving certain countries an unfair advantage. Indonesia’s history under Dutch rule saw the Dutch language used in schools and universities in the country as well as many Indonesians going abroad to the Netherlands to study. English has started to be taught from elementary level relatively recently and the number of universities teaching in English is still very limited. One could argue that taking the necessary measures for English translation is indicative of the willingness of that country to engage and contribute to the international academic community; yet this is again subjective.

Focusing only on rankings and ratings as the defining measurement of Indonesian scientific rigour is to see but part of the picture. Indonesia has a number of highly reputable universities producing graduates that go on to lead and contribute to the country. The Bandung Institute of Technology (ITB) and Universitas Indonesia may not appear within the list of top universities of the region but are certainly making an impact on the academic landscape of the country.

Indonesians outside of the country are contributing to scientific research around the world with approximately 2,000 scientists at various prestigious international institutions from Singapore to Japan to the USA. Notable names among these include Professor Ken Soetanto of Waseda University, Japan and Andrivo Rusyidi of the National University of Singapore. The number of PhDs remaining in the country to teach or conduct research is a serious challenge to the long term development of education in the country. The number of lecturers in Indonesian universities holding a PhD was 2,386 in 2008 (Ministry of Education Statistics, 2008-2009) or approximately 1% of all lecturers.

The exodus of some of the brightest minds in the country is understandable when one considers the national attitude towards research as well as the amount of funds allocated to it. In theory, 20% of the country’s budget is allocated to education but once teachers’ salaries and setting up of primary education in some of the most remote regions are accounted for; this leaves very little for research. In 2008, a leading scientific institution the ITB received only $3.8 million USD in scientific research funding; although such amounts have increased with contributions from the private sector and foundations such as the Tanoto Foundation. This is an issue that has not gone unnoticed by the academic community, but funding for such research continues to take second place to the wider population’s more pressing needs.

The lack of funding can be partly explained by the state budget but also by the attitude towards research. In all areas of the country’s education, most notably science, a gap exists between the private sector needs and the government. The lack of demand and direction from industry on what is needed feeds low productivity in research. Making research and development part of corporate strategy has been slow to take hold as the largest conglomerates with the capital to do so are mainly involved in natural resources.

Indonesia has plenty to contribute to the world of science and academia, particularly in niche fields. For example, its unique topographic make up, position on the Asia Pacific ‘ring of fire’ making it home to some 40% of the world’s proven geothermal energy reserves. Indonesia also possesses the world’s largest coast line at 81,000 km being home to diverse marine life and presenting unparalleled scope into the study of marine diversity and science. Further opportunities exist in fields such as climate change considering its national political stance on the issue and cross disciplinary subjects like herbal medicine. Agro forestry and plantation technology considering Indonesia’s position as the largest CPO exporter in the world are further areas of potential collaboration. To date there are a lack of courses available in the field and a lack of human resources to teach them with experts often being snapped up by the government in an advisory role. In the field of marine taxonomy for example, there are only 20 researchers (Indonesian institute of Sciences LIPI) as the job opportunities and commercial value are not highly regarded or even communicated on to students.

The challenge that lays ahead is to make Indonesia a conducive and beneficial environment for research. Funding must be prioritised to allow the country’s researchers to carry out their activities without restraint rather than to go abroad, keeping the brightest minds within the nation’s universities will encourage the next generation as well as raise the standards of teaching. Imminent development of software and access to the internet will also allow research that is being published to find an audience and increase Indonesia’s visibility in the international community.

Global Business Guide Indonesia - 2012

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Indonesia Education Snapshot

Number of Tertiary Education Institutions: 4,445 (2016)
Type: 91.5% Private, 8.5% Public
Students in Higher Education: 4,941,574 (2016)
Net Enrolment Rate in Tertiary Education: 22% (2014)
Relevant Law: Higher Education Law No. 12 of 2012 provides universities with the autonomy to set their own tuition fees and authorising the set up of foreign universities in partnership with Indonesian institutions.