Inadequate funding and lack of political support have caused Indonesia’s involvement in scientific research to stagnate, threatening the country’s sustained development and hurting its international competitiveness, experts have said.
Indonesia’s lack of investment in research also means that it is not employing enough people in the area while low salaries for scientists means the country fails to retain its best minds as the brain drain continues.
The country needs some 200,000 additional researchers across the sciences in order to catch up with the rate of technological advances in countries with strong research programs, the Indonesia Institute of Sciences (LIPI) said on Wednesday.
“At present, the number of researchers in Indonesia is insignificant and not enough compared to the [country’s] population,” Lukman Hakim, the head of the institute, told state-run Antara News Agency.
Speaking from Surabaya, Lukman said LIPI had only 8,000 researchers, who worked exclusively as research scientists, while double that number were working at public universities across the archipelago.
In addition to these researchers, he said, there was an unknown number of researchers affiliated to private institutions.
Citing the example of Belarus, a small country that has 36 researchers per 10,000 people, Lukman said Indonesia, on the other hand, has only one for every 10,000.
“The number of researchers should be increased, because the current number is insignificant,” he said.
But LIPI is unlikely to achieve its wish with the government currently allocating less than 1 percent of its budget, or less than Rp 15 trillion ($1.3 billion) per year for research. That amounts to only 0.08 percent of the country’s GDP, far behind neighboring countries such as Singapore (2.36 percent), Malaysia (0.63 percent) and Thailand (0.25 percent).
From such funding, it is little wonder that Indonesia can only afford to pay salaries of Rp 3 million per month for its doctoral researchers, compared to Malaysia, which pays Rp 30 million per month.
“Researchers with PhDs can only earn Rp 3 million a month. No wonder they flee abroad to get better pay,” said Eko Yulianto, a researcher with LIPI. “If we earned enough money, we could focus on doing our research and create something that could benefit the whole society,” he added.
Eko said low salaries were a key factor in the decision by many of the country’s most brilliant scientists to leave.
Even while paying researchers such low salaries, most of the money will be used to pay them, with little left to conduct research and even less remaining for the acquisition of facilities or equipment.
Eko said many experts in physics or chemistry, for instance, could not do anything because they had nowhere to actually do their research.
Research and Technology Minister Gusti Muhammad Hatta recently admitted that the low number of scientific publications, inventions or innovations from Indonesia’s scientists was cause for concern.
From 2001 to 2010, Indonesian scientists produced less than 8,000 articles in various international publications, far less than Singapore, Thailand and Malaysia with each producing around 30,000.
Based on the Global Growth Competitiveness Index last year, Indonesia ranked 50th out of 144 countries, far lower than Singapore (2), Malaysia (25), Brunei (28) and Thailand (38).
Lukman said if Indonesia wanted to become one of the world’s top 10 economies, it would have to develop its own technology research capabilities and provide more funding to finance research.
“Advanced states are conscious of the importance of scientific research in developing industrial competitiveness for their economic growth,” he said.
Lukman argued that in the long run, the lack of research would threaten the sustainability of the country’s development.
Meanwhile, Achmad Syahrani, deputy rector of Airlangga University in Surabaya, highlighted the important role of industry and the private sector.
“There is no synergy between academics, businesses and government,” he said. “We need to strengthen links between the three parties,” Achmad said, adding that only 10 percent of university research facilities were used by industry.