Budget, administration issues cloud new HE ministry
Higher Education will now become the largest part of a revamped Research and Technology ministry after the announcement in late October when president Joko Widodo – commonly referred to as Jokowi – unveiled his new cabinet line-up.
Muhammad Nasir, a former dean of the faculty of economics and business at Universitas Diponegoro in Central Java province, was the surprise choice of minister.
Nasir had been elected rector of Universitas Diponegoro on 9 September and was expected to take up that office on 18 December, when Joko named him minister of research, technology and higher education on 26 October.
It is not unusual for an academic to occupy the old minister of research and technology post, but Nasir’s appointment has raised questions.
According to local media he has close ties with Islamic groups, particularly Central Java Nahdlatul Ulama – Indonesia’s largest Islamic organisation, affiliated with the National Awakening Party – which is one of the five political parties that backed Jokowi as presidential candidate.
The appointment of the previously little-known minister is seen by some as a way for Joko to shore up his power among Islamic groups.
Others note that on the bright side, Nasir is an expert in budgeting and many researchers hope his appointment will help improve the performance of the underfunded ministry.
Better use of research
Joko said he made the decision to bring higher education and research together under a new, larger ministry because Indonesian research had not been optimally utilised by government departments, which often ignore research findings in key areas when drawing up policy.
“We want good research stages – basic, applicable as well as innovation – so the result can be really beneficial to the community,” Joko was quoted by local media as saying.
The new government also wants to improve research linkages with industry, with one of the stated justifications for the merger of higher education and research being to get Indonesian universities to work with the private sector in generating research and technology that could be applied in real-world situations.
“We have to produce much better researchers – world-class researchers who must be able to support the advancement of industry in Indonesia,” Nasir said, in remarks carried by Indonesia’s Antara news agency on 27 October.
Research has been severely underfunded. Government research and development spending this year amounted to IDR8 trillion (US$654 million), or around 0.5% of the total state budget.
This is nowhere near sufficient to support a strong and productive scientific community in the country, according to Pariatmono, deputy for science and technology utilisation at the then Research and Technology Ministry, in June – adding that if the funding situation continued, no one in Indonesia would want to become a researcher.
“The insufficient support from the government has been a major factor for the low output of research and development in Indonesia,” Pariatmono said.
Yodi Mahendradhata, a lecturer in Gadjah Mada University’s faculty of medicine, told University World News: “Most universities in Indonesia are teaching universities, not research universities. This might be an opportunity to push research higher up the university agenda.
“Universities need to do more high quality research, so to put it under the ministry of science and technology would make more sense.”
Universities in Indonesia do not have full-time researchers but lecturers who divide their time between teaching and research, allocating less than a third of their time to research.
“This does not lead to high quality research,” Yodi said. Indonesia invests in a large number of scholarships to send PhD students overseas, but many abandon research when they take up academic positions.
One of the recommendations of Gadjah Mada to the new government is to set up full-time researcher posts in universities. “Without that there is no way we are going to have world-class research in any Indonesian university,” he said.
Restructuring the ministry
Nasir will have much to do before the benefits of the revamped ministry will be evident. Notably, the way the budget is to be allocated to higher education as part of the new ministry, and administrative issues, will have to be resolved, analysts say.
“It is a huge change and a massive undertaking,” said Yodi.
The Indonesian Rectors' Forum said the new ministry would need a new, lean organisational structure to avoid overlap and to function well.
Higher education was one of the largest directorates in the old education ministry, overseeing a sector with more than 100 state-funded and 3,150 plus private universities.
Several deputy directors in the old Research and Technology Ministry could lose key functions to make way for civil servants from the higher education directorate – a major disruption.
Administrative issues that the newly merged ministry will have to address swiftly include the reallocation of officials, and evaluating the workload to reduce overlap, at a time when Joko is emphasising bureaucratic efficiency.
“I deplore this separation [of the old education ministry] because it will occupy the government for a transition period,” said Refly Harun, an expert on constitutional law at Gadjah Mada University.
Unfortunately, there is a tendency to increase the number of bureaucrats, noted Refly, even though one of the reasons for the ministerial revamp is to improve efficiency in running the higher education sector.
“It seems easy just to move the directorate-general of higher education from the previous Ministry of Education and Culture to the Ministry of Research and Technology, but what if this one directorate-general holds the majority of education funds from the state budget?” Refly told University World News.
Refly said the situation would be detrimental not only for the people but also for the government.
The 2015 state budget, proposed by Joko’s predecessor Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and approved by parliament in mid-August – nearly a month before Joko’s presidential inauguration – allocated IDR67.2 trillion (US$5.5 billion) to the Ministry of Education and Culture.
Some 46% of it, or IDR31.4 trillion (US$2.57 billion), is assigned to higher education.
Under the rules, if the government wants to change the allocation in the state budget, it will have to submit a revised version to parliament by January 2015.
Until the transfer of funds from the Education and Culture Ministry to the newly merged Research, Technology and Higher Education Ministry is approved, the money cannot be disbursed, causing some disarray.
The inspector general of the now-truncated Education and Culture Ministry, Haryono Umar, said earlier this month that the changes could potentially result in domestic and international scholarship disbursements, as well as operational funds for universities, being postponed until April 2015.
Worse, parliament is currently made up of opposing coalitions of many small parties, with the opposition coalition holding more seats.
With disputes over the proportional allocation of parliamentary committee positions being resolved only last week, and the configuration of parliamentary factions still being worked out, critical issues such as budget allocation will be deferred.
* Yojana Sharma contributed to this article