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Jakarta Post

Hoping for more Indonesian research fellows

  • Hanan Nugroho

    The Jakarta Post

Cambridge, Massachusetts   /   Sun, May 26, 2013   /  11:38 am

Indonesia is underrepresented by researchers at foreign universities/research institutions. In fall 2001, there were five Indonesian research fellows at Harvard University, much less than China ( 818 ), South Korea ( 272 ), Japan ( 269 ) and India ( 213 ). The figure is also smaller than that from neighboring countries such as Singapore ( 30 ) and Malaysia ( 15 ). The comparison is not changing to date.

The same thing happens at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where Indonesian research fellows are very rare. If expanded to the entire US and even the globe, it will look similar: Indonesia is underrepresented compared to many other Asian countries, despite its population which is the fourth largest in the world.

There are benefits associated with research fellowship, including wide access to vast-modern libraries and a chance to learn from resident professors and other visiting fellows (who are experts in specific fields, high level bureaucrats or other high achievers).

At Harvard, energy policy research seminars are held every week by the center for business and government, nuclear energy issues are discussed at the university'€™s Belfer Center, not to mention democratic governance and innovative policy at another center. I am moving from a Harvard'€™s world class research center to another one, from Widener (the world'€™s largest university library) to other libraries to learn new issues on US-Japan relations, the rise of China, and shale gas and energy strategies for developing country, among other things. I appreciate the city of Cambridge-Boston'€™s intellectual environment, including the easily moving to get learning resources at Harvard'€™s neighboring campuses: MIT, Boston, Tufts, etc.

Being a research fellow is not only about undertaking research. Being acquainted with qualified international fellows enriches one'€™s perspectives on the other parts of the world and imparts valuable knowledge. It is also a great opportunity to contribute understanding about our particular country to the intellectual community we are involved with.

The world is growing with more complicated issues whereas competitions to solve the issues are increasingly tougher. To survive the new challenges brought about by the fast development of the world, society needs to have the capacity to renew knowledge, develop research capabilities, as well as maintain and takes advantage of the global knowledge networks. Indonesia is not an exception. Enlarging the number of research fellows could be one of the strategies to strengthen our competitiveness as well meeting our new future challenges.

It is only recently that the directorate general of higher education at the Education and Culture Ministry launched an '€œacademic recharging'€ program, facilitating faculty members of Indonesian universities to attend classes/seminars or to attend short-term research in foreign universities/research institutions. It is progress considering that the opportunity is not adequately provided for.

While the authority higher education has started departing senior fellows to seek knowledge in advanced countries, this is not the case for our other institutions, namely the government ministries (including state-owned enterprises) and the private sector. Having bureaucrats/professionals with research capabilities and global knowledge network is not yet a priority.

Many countries have developed something different. Fellows at Harvard Kennedy School (HKS), in addition to those coming from universities, are also government officials, business leaders or even former head of states. This semester Felipe Calderon is working as an HKS fellow just after finishing his term as the President of Mexico. Former Greek prime minister George Papandreau was a HKS fellow last semester.

Harvard is of course not the only to offer fellowships. Many other universities/research institutions offer a similar learning environment, including think tanks like Brookings and RAND (US), Chatham House (UK), The Netherlands'€™ TNO and Japan Society for the Promotion of Science (JSPS).

Costs would not be a handicap for potential fellows as host institutions usually provide generous fellowships. We have so far not taken advantage of the availability of research fellowships, including those specifically offered to Indonesians.

To increase the number of fellows, it is necessary to equip our candidates with a quality work and professional attitude as research fellows. Our government agencies might facilitate these efforts, ask employees to be familiar with research works which then influence their decision making and further support Indonesia'€™s development.

The writer is currently (2012-2013) an Indonesian research fellow at Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts, US.

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