Author: Bagus Mul­ja­di

Indonesia’s sci­en­tists’ dias­po­ra are an impor­tant resource that can be har­nessed by the gov­ern­ment for nation­al growth in research and inno­va­tion. Despite lag­ging in sci­en­tif­ic pub­li­ca­tions, Indone­sia has the key ingre­di­ents to become a major glob­al research hub. How­ev­er, it is only when the gov­ern­ment is will­ing to have knowl­edge exchange through its sci­en­tists’ dias­po­ra net­works can Indone­sia cap­i­tal­ize on its mas­sive poten­tial and become the next pow­er­house of sci­ence.

To grow, Indone­sia needs to tran­si­tion from a resource-based to a knowl­edge-based econ­o­my which relies heav­i­ly on intel­lec­tu­al cap­i­tal rather than nat­ur­al resources. In the knowl­edge-based econ­o­my, the sci­en­tif­ic sys­tem con­tributes to key func­tions of knowl­edge pro­duc­tion, human cap­i­tal devel­op­ment, and trans­fer­ring knowl­edge or exchange of ideas between acad­e­mia and indus­try, and pro­vid­ing inputs to prob­lem-solv­ing.

China’s gov­ern­ment has encour­aged knowl­edge exchange through its dias­po­ra net­works and has thus become an impor­tant hub for sci­en­tif­ic col­lab­o­ra­tion with North Amer­i­can and Euro­pean net­works. Like­wise, Indonesia’s sci­en­tists in the dias­po­ra can con­tribute as agents for knowl­edge exchange, pro­vid­ing the home-based sci­en­tists with links for col­lab­o­ra­tions, access to new fund­ing sources, and state-of-the-art (often pro­hib­i­tive­ly expen­sive to access) exper­i­men­tal appa­ra­tus­es. The exact for­mat in which the sci­en­tists’ dias­po­ra can be uti­lized opti­mal­ly should be dis­cussed, to be fur­ther for­mal­ized in poli­cies.

Pre­vi­ous­ly, a nar­row sense of patri­o­tism dom­i­nat­ed pub­lic dis­course on the sci­en­tists’ dias­po­ra. When­ev­er reports emerge of promi­nent sci­en­tists of Indone­sian descent mak­ing it “big” abroad, often the cen­tral ques­tion is when the said sci­en­tist (s) would return home. In a coun­try mov­ing toward a knowl­edge-based soci­ety, “transna­tion­al” think­ing needs to be the norm — glob­al links may prove more cru­cial in dri­ving inno­va­tion of the coun­try than its human cap­i­tal “stock”.

Sci­en­tists in the dias­po­ra do not need to return per­ma­nent­ly, but rather could act as agents for Indone­sian devel­op­ment in sci­ence. They could col­lab­o­rate with the home-based coun­ter­parts, and togeth­er con­tribute to the pro­vi­sion of mod­ern, sci­en­tif­i­cal­ly-informed poli­cies.

Major 21st cen­tu­ry prob­lems can only be solved through inter­dis­ci­pli­nary, col­lab­o­ra­tive efforts. Among these prob­lems are sus­tain­able ener­gy, food secu­ri­ty, and health. To stand a chance in solv­ing any of these, the glob­al com­mu­ni­ty of sci­en­tists must have Indonesia’s active par­tic­i­pa­tion. For exam­ple, Indone­sia has some 40 per­cent of glob­al geot­her­mal ener­gy reserves. This means a mas­sive 29 gigawatts of poten­tial clean ener­gy which, if cul­ti­vat­ed prop­er­ly, could see Indone­sia lead­ing the glob­al renew­able ener­gy project in the near future. In food, and health sec­tors, Indone­sia owns some of the most inter­est­ing, mul­ti­vari­ate sub­jects of sci­en­tif­ic endeav­ours. All these pro­vide the build­ing blocks for Indonesia’s research and inno­va­tion toward becom­ing the next hub for research col­lab­o­ra­tion out­side the Unit­ed States, Europe and Chi­na.

Often obsta­cles of glob­al col­lab­o­ra­tive research are the costs of mobi­liza­tion of researchers, trav­el for data sam­pling and research dis­sem­i­na­tion. These are the areas where the gov­ern­ment can step in and catal­yse knowl­edge exchange. Indeed, the Research and High­er Edu­ca­tion Min­istry has run a series of knowl­edge-exchange pro­grams to improve the qual­i­ty of domes­tic research. In anoth­er instance, a select group of sci­en­tists from Indonesia’s dias­po­ra were invit­ed back to par­tic­i­pate in over a week-long world class schol­ars sym­po­siumwhich fea­tured a series of dis­cus­sions with home-based sci­en­tists on poten­tial col­lab­o­ra­tions. Through its Direc­torate Gen­er­al of Resources led by pro­fes­sor Ali Ghufron Muk­ti, the min­istry has facil­i­tat­ed tem­po­rary vis­its of sci­en­tists in Indonesia’s dias­po­ra to var­i­ous uni­ver­si­ties across the coun­try to dis­sem­i­nate their research, fos­ter deep­er col­lab­o­ra­tions and final­ly, to expose them to inter­na­tion­al aca­d­e­m­ic atmos­phere. I was among those invit­ed back in 2017 and 2018.

The most-need­ed sci­en­tists in our dias­po­ra are those with deep under­stand­ing of the trends of a spe­cif­ic research field, with vision for its future devel­op­ment and who have often secured posi­tions over­seas. Such sci­en­tists would be able to influ­ence the poli­cies of their respec­tive insti­tu­tions, which may lead to mean­ing­ful part­ner­ships between these insti­tu­tions and the Indone­sian gov­ern­ment in devel­op­ing the country’s human cap­i­tal in research and devel­op­ment.

Fol­low­ing the above exchanges in 2017 and 2018, sev­er­al strate­gic schol­ar­ship and train­ing pro­grams were devel­oped with the best uni­ver­si­ties abroad at dis­count­ed rates. For exam­ple, through the Indone­sia Doc­tor­al Train­ing Part­ner­ship set up at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Not­ting­ham, Indone­sia has ben­e­fit­ted from more schol­ar­ships, sup­ports, and train­ings being giv­en to Indone­sian stu­dents who want to pur­sue a PhD at one of Unit­ed Kingdom’s top uni­ver­si­ties.

The Indone­sian gov­ern­ment spent Rp 444 tril­lion (US$ 30 bil­lion) for edu­ca­tionin 2018, a scant amount com­pared to China’s $675.3 bil­lion spend­ing for edu­ca­tion in 2017. To achieve an impact any­where close to that of Chi­na we need improved mul­ti­pli­er effects which could result from bet­ter effi­cien­cy and play­ing to our strengths. Oth­er gov­ern­ment agen­cies with skin in the game also need to real­ize, and bet­ter uti­lize the poten­tial of Indonesia’s sci­ence dias­po­ra.

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The writer is an assis­tant pro­fes­sor of chem­i­cal and envi­ron­men­tal engi­neer­ing at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Not­ting­ham, Unit­ed King­dom. He is the deputy man­ag­ing direc­tor of the Inter­na­tion­al Asso­ci­a­tion of Indone­sian Sci­en­tists (I‑4) for the UK. He is also direc­tor of the Indone­sia Doc­tor­al Train­ing Part­ner­ship, a pio­neer­ing part­ner­ship between the Research and High­er Edu­ca­tion Min­istry and the Uni­ver­si­ty of Not­ting­ham.

This arti­cle was pre­vi­ous­ly pub­lished in the Jakar­ta Post on Jan­u­ary 2, 2019