Science and technology policy: Where are we going?

Riwanto Tirtosudarmo, Jakarta | Opinion | Tue, April 01 2014, 10:34 AM

In anticipating the upcoming change in government, over the last three months or so a debate has been underway concerning the increasingly neglected development of science and technology in this country.

The discourse centers on the institutional arrangements of higher education such as in universities and the state’s research bodies such as the Research and Technology Ministry.

There is a consensus that Indonesia is facing a conundrum in which scientific research is going nowhere; apparently there has been no connection whatsoever made between the development of science and technology and the actual needs of society and industry, the two major users of scientific research findings and technological innovations.

Conventionally it is the state universities and national research institutes where the scientific and technological innovations are supposed to be produced.

Higher education, of which universities form the major part, understandably has the highest responsibility for the advancement of science and innovations in technology.

Among other issues is a proposal that the Directorate General of Higher Education should be given more autonomy and separated from the Education and Culture Ministry, which should focus on basic and secondary education. Some even suggest that higher education should be integrated into the Research and Technology Ministry to fully support the advancement of scientific research and technological innovation.

A likely underlying factor fueling the discourse is the significant increase in the allocation of the state budget for education, which stands at 20 percent of the total budget. The huge budget obviously has given the Education and Culture Ministry a herculean task in managing the funds to effectively achieve its targets.

The proposal to separate higher education from the education ministry appears to be a sensible solution to this problem.

No doubt all the problems concerning the development of science and technology partly result from the continuing lack of coherence both in the formulation and implementation of the state’s science and technology policy.

Although a ministerial office responsible for the formulation and implementation of science and technology policy has existed in almost every cabinet since independence, scientific research has always been given a low priority.

Fragmented organization has long plagued the effectiveness of national policy as evinced by different ministries and agencies carrying out their own policies without clear demarcation and proper coordination.

The major research organizations, namely the Research and Technology Ministry with its main agency for planning and implementing technology; the Education and Culture Ministry with its numerous universities; the research and development (R and D) departments within every ministry; and non-departmental research agencies such as the Indonesian Institute of Sciences (LIPI), the National Nuclear Agency (BATAN) and many others rarely communicate with each other to set the direction and goals of national policy on science and technology.

For too long science and technology policy has been fragmented and uncoordinated often resulting in redundancies, wasted budgets and the increasingly yawning gap between research and social realities. Serious and concerted efforts should be undertaken if we do not want the development of science and technology to become irrelevant in the eyes of our society.

Despite the much vaunted campaign rhetoric such as “toward a world-class research institute” or “toward first-class global universities” the number of academic publications from Indonesia remains low internationally.

The crux of the matter is indeed institutional rather than individual as many Indonesian academics and researchers have been recognized internationally and many have been employed in prominent foreign universities and research centers in the developed world.

As with many other problems that cannot be resolved by the current administration the timing of the discourse on the expected major changes in the national policy on science and technology logically should be proposed by the new administration.

It is likely that various lobby groups are currently at play to convince the prospective new administration to change direction toward a more coordinated and visionary national policy on science and technology.

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The writer is a researcher at the Indonesian Institute of Sciences (LIPI).



Categories: Innovation

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