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Indonesia needs to get serious about R&D

Lara Robertson

The Jakarta Post

Jakarta  /  Mon, February 18, 2019  /  04:30 pm
Indonesia needs to get serious about R&D

Huge potential: Stem cell research is one of the most significant areas Indonesia expects to develop in terms of R&D. (Unsplash/-)

Nearly 74 years after gaining independence, Indonesia still fails to consider research and development a top priority.

With a population of some 260 million people, the lack of research and development is compromising Indonesia’s ability to compete in the global markets for goods and services.

Some of the most renowned scientific minds of the world have shed light on Indonesia’s lack of concern for research and development during a recent event commemorating 70 years of bilateral relations between Indonesia and Italy, a country that has brought forth so much innovation in science and culture over hundreds of years.

To mark the anniversary, a science seminar was held on Jan. 28 at the Eijkman Institute of Molecular Biology, in collaboration with the Ministry of Research, Technology and Higher Education, the Italian Embassy and the Italian Cultural Institute (IIC) in Jakarta.

At the seminar, the director of research and community services at the Ministry of Research Technology and Higher Education, Ocky Karna Radjasa, said that, although Indonesia had continuously met its research and development targets and provided thousands of research grants and scholarships every year, there was still a big gap in spending and resources between universities when it comes to research and development.

According to the latest World Bank data available on the matter, from 2013, Indonesia only allocates around 0.08 percent of its GDP to research and development, compared to 2.19 percent in Singapore and 1.26 percent in Malaysia.

However, as of 2017, the Jokowi administration has raised R&D spending to 0.2 percent or around Rp 24.9 trillion (US$1.7 billion), the highest in the country’s history.

Although comparatively low, this figure is on an upward trend, with the 2017 Global Innovation Index showing that despite the fact that Indonesia only ranked 105th of 127 countries in terms of research and development spending, it was placed 27th for research collaboration, 28th for cluster development and 47th for science and technology graduates.

The figures show that the countries with the most advanced research capabilities are the ones that get the most support from the private industry.

In Indonesia, private sector support only makes up around 20 percent of total funding because of a lack of business incentives, policies and industry awareness about the importance of research.

Be that as it may, Indonesia’s competitiveness is on the rise. On to the World Economic Forum’s 2018 Global Competitiveness Report, Indonesia ranked 45th, two positions up from the previous year’s report.

However, a number of other countries in Southeast Asia are placed higher, including Singapore in second spot, Malaysia in 25th and Thailand in 38th.

During the seminar, Eijkman Institute director Amin Soebandrio described the areas of scientific research he believes would see significant growth if Indonesian and Italian researchers were to collaborate, which was also applicable to other countries.

“What we expect to establish in the near future between Indonesia and Italy covers both fields of infectious diseases and genetic disorders, because Indonesia’s population consists of hundreds of ethnic groups and genetic diversity, so this is still a very wide area to be explored,” Amin said.

Stem cell research and applied therapy was the field with the biggest potential for Indonesia when it comes to research and development, he added.

Unlike other nations in the region, such as Singapore, which has banned stem cell therapy, Indonesia has been developing the field, with a number of universities undertaking stem cell research and providing stem cell treatments to patients.

This potential was emphasized during the seminar, which raised two important topics – marine biology and stem cell research – led by two prominent Italian scientists – Mario Giordano, professor of marine biology at Marche Polytechnic University in Italy, and Elena Cattaneo, cofounding director of the University of Milan’s Center for Stem Cell Research and an internationally renowned Huntington’s Disease researcher.

Giordano spoke about the ability of algae to change carbon dioxide levels in the environment, which has significant ramifications for the planet, while Cattaneo discussed her work into Huntington’s disease, which is characterized by a lack of coordination and jerky body movements.

When asked whether they would be interested in pursuing research in Indonesia, both Giordano and Cattaneo responded positively.

“We hope so, but the problem with research is always funding, so we need to find suitable funding to conduct research,” said Giordano.

“We do have a history of collaboration [...] but the main problem is finding a way of supporting this research, So [we’re] hoping that the two governments will be willing to support our work; there is no reason why they shouldn’t – the interest is there, the topics of mutual interest are there, so there are good chances this will happen.” (hdt)

-The writer is an intern at The Jakarta Post.