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Jakarta Post

Searching for Indonesia'€™s Amartya Sen

  • Arnaldo Pellini and Zack Petersen

    The Jakarta Post

Jakarta   /   Thu, August 13, 2015   /  06:14 am

The Indonesian government is making great strides to embrace more evidence-based policy making. Yet these policies, however forward-thinking, will have little uptake unless three key mechanisms are put in place.

First, universities have to commit to higher-standards and equip students with the research skills to provide public institutions with high-quality research.

Second, there must be an increase in the share of expenditure in research and development as a percentage of gross domestic product. And finally, Indonesia must commit to attracting and retaining a higher number of policy researchers and analysis so that in the near future we will see an Indonesian Amartya Sen, the Indian economist and philosopher and Nobel Prize laureate for economics in 1998.

Indonesia'€™s ability to compete at a global level when it comes to research and development depends on the quality of the next generation of researchers coming out of the universities and the support they receive upon graduation from the government and the job sector.

Ask 10 kids in Indonesia what they want to be when they grow up and odds are entrepreneur, doctor and businesswoman all come up more than once. These days everyone wants to be a social entrepreneur. But what about a career as a researcher? What about growing up to become Indonesia'€™s premiere scientist?

There is a stigma in Indonesia around science and technology. For whatever reason, research and researchers are the opposite of sexy. Maybe it'€™s the pay? Or lack of recognition?

Indonesia is poised to become one of the world'€™s top 10 economies by 2025, yet the government, which sets aside about 20 percent of the state budget for education, only earmarks 0.08 percent of a Rp 257 trillion budget, for research. This equates to roughly US$16 million for all university, ministerial, and national development research.

A comparative study by Greta Nielsen in 2010 showed that the gross expenditure for research and development as a percentage of GDP in Singapore was at 2.61 percent and in Malaysia it was 0.64 percent. The average of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development countries in 2010 was 2.38 percent. The 2014 Global R&D Funding Forecast for Indonesia puts the spending on R&D at 0.2 percent of GDP for 2014.

As a result, Indonesian policymakers rely on research produced outside of the country to inform key policies shaping Indonesia'€™s future.

The key actions that need to be taken, and the inherent risks that come with ignoring the knowledge sector, could prove detrimental to Indonesia'€™s hopes and dreams.

Indonesia'€™s social and economic progress hinges on a bold, forward-thinking generation of business leaders and philanthropists committed to funding high-quality research, urging the government to adopt smart policies and utilizing strategic philanthropy as a compass to address the needs of Indonesia'€™s burgeoning knowledge sector.

A thriving knowledge economy depends on strategic linkages created by a flourishing ecosystem, constructed of government actors, philanthropists, policy research institutes, the private sector corporations all supporting development funding.

Research, essential to any development endeavor, is the building block of a knowledge economy and is still underfunded in Indonesia. The private sector has the potential to play an important role and lead the way in establishment of an effective locally based research system.

But there are positive steps being taken. Recently, The Indonesian Academy of Sciences (AIPI), launched the Indonesian Science Fund, a never-before-seen pool of research funds aimed at increasing the pool of trained research scientists and engineers, and fostering entrepreneurship and innovation.

With support from philanthropists and the private sector, as well as technical assistance by programs such as the Knowlede Sector Initiative, a joint program of the Australian and Indonesian governments, the Indonesian Science Fund could grow to support critical research in fields such as social science, bioengineering and computer science.

It all boils down to perception. Real demand from the public and a groundswell of university students champing at the bit for high-quality research coming from their professors will help improving the amount and quality of policy research that is used in the policy making process. It will take some time, but then we will see an Amartya Sen in batik.

Arnaldo Pellini is a research fellow at the Overseas Development Institute and a senior advisor at the Knowledge Sector Initiative. Zack Petersen is the strategic outreach specialist at the Knowledge Sector Initiative.

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