INDONESIA: Universities' poor world ranking probed

Indonesia's poor showing in university-based scientific research came under the spotlight at a recent national forum. The forum was called in late August by the Institute of Technology (ITB) in the mountain city of Bandung, the West Java provincial capital, to discuss ways of improving the showing of Indonesian universities in the sciences. Hosted by the ITB Alumni Association, it brought together university rectors, researchers and officials from the Ministry of National Education and the State Ministry of Research and Technology.

Current world rankings of universities place Indonesia's top universities either very low or not at all. The Times Higher Education survey, for example, has three: Gajah Madah in the Central Java city of Jogjakarta at number 360 of 400, ITB at number 369 and the University of Indonesia at Depok at number 395. The Shanghai Jiao Tong academic rating can find no place in its top 500 for any of these.

Funding for scientific research facilities remains a major problem in Indonesia, not least because, as some critics point out, the government will not meet its constitutional obligations. The constitution requires that 20% of the state budget goes to education but at present the figure is far below that. As a result, Indonesian funding does not match Singapore's, which takes account of overall national economic planning. Education reform campaigners take this as further ammunition in their struggle to overhaul the system.

Concerns were openly aired at the ITB forum. Fasri Jalal, Director General for Higher Education at the National Education Ministry, for example, pointed to a serious disparity in the number of scientific journal articles produced annually in Indonesia when compared with India and Malaysia. The figures he quoted were 0.8 per million people for Indonesia and 12 for India while Malaysia scored 21.3. Jalal blamed this on the low productivity of Indonesian academics.

It is a moot point, however, whether Indonesian researchers receive sufficient encouragement. In a recent interview for The Jakarta Post daily, a nanotechnology researcher bemoaned the general lack of interest on the part of Indonesian industries in the uptake of Indonesian work in the field. The linkage between this and low productivity in university science departments is thus open to debate.

The matter of state funding was addressed by ITB rector Djoko Santoso who pointed out that ITB's annual research funds of US$3.8 million were insufficient to support a comprehensive programme. Those at other universities were smaller still.

As reported in earlier articles for University World News, there is a low level of awareness among Indonesian politicians of the need to reform the education sector. Consequently, pleading for greater financing tends to fall on deaf ears. Nonetheless, Jalal promised the rectors increased funding in the 2009 state budget. This, he said, would come in the form of research grants. It remains to be seen whether the director general can deliver.

Meanwhile, Secretary for the State Ministry of Research and Technology, Benyamin Lakitan, thought that Indonesian universities were at a comparative disadvantage to those in English-speaking countries as most scientific journals publish in English and that this explained the relative position. All the more reason, one might argue, for increased funding to be directed to quality translations.

Indonesia continues to struggle against a pervasive culture of bureaucratic and business corruption that causes frequent huge losses to the state, which is then allowed to argue that money is not available for various purposes. Currently, the Corruption Eradication Commission is one of the hardest working state agencies while woman Finance Minister Sri Mulyani is moving against major figures such as Suharto's infamously corrupt third son Hutomo ("Tommy") to recover some of these losses.