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Controversy over compulsory research publishing for all students

Indonesia’s Ministry of Education and Culture has made a bold but controversial decision to boost the number of research papers produced by the country by requiring all university students to publish papers in academic journals as a condition for graduation.

Director General of Higher Education at the ministry Djoko Santoso told heads of higher education institutions that under a new regulation announced on 27 January, to come into effect from August, undergraduates must publish a paper in an academic journal in order to graduate.

Postgraduate and doctoral students will be obliged to publish in an accredited national academic journal and international journal respectively.

Santoso said in an interview that the rationale for the policy was that “graduates must possess the ability to write scientifically”.

Graduates needed to be trained to meet the needs of a modern nation, Santoso told University World News. “The culture of writing should become familiar, and university is the place to create a new culture of writing,” he said.

But academics said the main aim was to increase the number of published research papers.

“The fact is, the number of scientific papers in universities in Indonesia is still low compared with several other Association of South East Asian Nations countries like Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand,” the chair of Indonesia’s Association of Private Universities, Edy Suandi Hamid, was quoted in local media as saying.

According to the ministry, the number of research papers emanating from universities in Indonesia is just a seventh of the total published by neighbouring Malaysia.

According to the SCImago Journal and Country ranking compiled from the Scopus academic publishing database, between 1996 and 2007 Indonesian academics published 12,776 peer-reviewed journal and conference papers, compared to almost 53,979 for Malaysia and 105,665 for Singapore. By comparison, the figure was 1.43 million for Japan and almost five million for the US.

The new regulation has prompted considerable debate.

The House of Representatives doubted that the ministry had done enough preparation to implement the scheme.

Academics see it as a good idea that could improve the research and writing skills of graduates, but they also believe it will be difficult to implement.

And academics have noted that one reason why research output is low is a chronic lack of research funding in the country, which will not be addressed by the decree.

Adding to the controversy, the Association of Private Universities said in a statement: “We reject the provisions of the publication of papers as stipulated in the decree of [the] director general of higher education. It should not be a graduation requirement for undergraduate, masters and doctoral programmes.”

However the decree is legally binding on all institutions.

Santoso said it would be hard on students if their institutions did not comply, “because when students apply for a job and the company knows that their university is one that didn’t want them to write a paper, then maybe the company won’t hire the student".

The association’s Edy said the ministry needed to be realistic. Postgraduate students may be able to meet the requirements but it would not be easy for undergraduates – with some 800,000 undergraduates completing their degrees each year, the existing 2,000 or so research journals in the country would not be able to accommodate the volume of work.

According to Edy the new regulation will result in poor-quality journals emerging.

Herlina Agustin, head of journalism at Padjadjaran University, said: “My faculty has an academic journal that publishes every six months, and every year we graduate hundreds of students.

“Imagine how thick the journal would be if we publish all undergraduate’s research papers,” she told University World News.

According to the Indonesian Scientific Journal Database run by the education ministry and the Indonesian Scientific Knowledge Centre under the Indonesian Institute of Science (LIPI), there were 2,100 scientific journals in existence in October 2009. Of that number, only 406 were accredited.

Journals published by universities or scientific organisations are accredited by the ministry’s director general for higher education, while journals published by research institutions apply for accreditation through LIPI.

Academics were still unclear whether undergraduates would have to publish a full paper to graduate, or whether an online abstract would be sufficient. To publish full papers would be expensive for universities, they said.

Academics also questioned the purpose of publishing full papers if they were not widely read, particularly outside the humanities. “Not everyone is willing to read a scientific journal,” said Arief Rachman, an education professor at Universitas Negeri Jakarta.

For doctoral students there are additional issues. “To be published in international journals takes a long time to be evaluated, six to 10 years. If so, how long will it take for us to graduate?” said Herlina.

Herlina’s department, in the faculty of communication, already obliges students to write a research paper as a requirement for graduation, but the purpose is not to boost the number of research papers produced by the department, but to track plagiarism.

According to Herlina, it would be better to compile the research papers into a book as academic journals will only publish the best papers and not all students are good at writing, even at the postgraduate or doctoral level. “Scientific papers with a similar theme should be combined and printed as a book or a collection of writings,” she said.
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