OPINION: Will Mandatory Research Publication Help Indonesia’s R&D?
By Tika Y. Sukarna | Academia
March 16, 2012
Indonesia’s higher education ministry recently made research publication a graduation requirement for all its students. But will this help to cure Indonesia’s lagging state of scholarship?
AsianScientist (Mar. 16, 2012) – The Indonesian Ministry of Higher Education recently distributed a letter mandating that all university students publish a research article in scholarly journals as a requirement for their degree.
The letter stated that “the number of scholarly publications from Indonesian universities overall is seven times lower than Malaysia” as the reason behind the decision.
“We are far behind. We must understand that this situation is very urgent since the number of scholarly research publications have a strong correlation to per capita income,” the Ministry of Education’s Director General Djoko Santoso explained.
But will this help to cure Indonesia’s lagging state of Indonesian scholarship?
Every year, 5,000 to 6,000 students graduate from the University of Indonesia alone. Students are already required to conduct research summed up in a final research thesis, under the supervision of faculty members who rarely have time to do research from moonlighting on the side to compensate for their low incomes and lack of funding.
Yet, according to the mandate, thesis work bound neatly into books every year by these students does not qualify as a form of publication as they must be housed in a scholarly journal approved by the Ministry of Education.
In reaction, the University of Indonesia is, for instance, establishing an online-based journal that will house five- to ten-page summaries of every thesis to bypass the mandate. At the very least, with the ability to access the names of supervising faculty online, “the credibility of the supervising faculty may be questioned if the scholarly work of its student is of low quality,” said the University of Indonesia Rektor Gumilar Rusliwa Soemantri.
Most likely though, only a few of those able and qualified to do so will have the time to download, read, and ponder over the work of these 6,000 graduating students with the next batch of 6,000 students due the following year.
Those who would be most hard hit see the mandate for publication as another hurdle of bureaucratic red tape, adding yet another layer of an “official” stamp of approval that ignores the real problems ailing scholarly research in Indonesia, such as a hostile scholarly environment, low pay, lack of funding, and overall difficult social political landscape.
Indonesia’s publication standing compared to its neighbors
On a global framework, a scholar’s value depends on the quantity of research articles published and cited by others in scholarly journals, especially to obtain funding and research positions. In other words, scholars must “publish or perish.”
Interestingly, in conflict with the Education Ministry’s estimate of Indonesia’s poor progress in scholarly publication, the SCImago Scopus scholarly publication database showed that from 1996 to 2007, although Indonesia produced approximately one-fourth the number of scholarly publication output compared to Malaysia, Indonesia’s citations per individual scholarly document ranked at 10 compared to Malaysia’s rank of 20.
Citations are a measure of a research publication impact, that is, a research article’s contribution to the development of a specific field of study after it is published.
Even more interesting, with the current “brain drain” which includes an exodus of Indonesian scholars to Malaysia, a measure of Indonesia-based researcher productivity through the H-index over the same period showed that Indonesia is not trailing far behind at 11th rank compared to Malaysia’s 9th rank.
Even with the poor publication output rate, the few Indonesian based scholars who are able to do research and publish them are at a quality level that is not so far lagging compared to other Asian nations.
New requirement places additional burdens on scholars
What effect will the Ministry’s mandate have on this already precarious state of Indonesian scholarly output, and are we yet again adding just another layer of burden on scholars through excessive formalism that fails to address the fundamental reasons behind the state we are in?
At present, few university faculty members in Indonesia, given the research environment structure they inherited, have the capacity to perform the scope of research that is required for Indonesia to compete on a global scale.
We are not producing as much as we can because few of us are around to do so. Those who are around aren’t productive enough because the current research climate is detrimental to their efforts to meet those goals. Those able and willing to work are given multiple duties that in the end impinge on their research productivity, forcing many to uproot themselves out of the country, if not succumb to administrative duties or political maneuverings.
In effect, what the mandate may do instead is to induce an overproduction of research publications that, for the sake of quick and abundant production, are mostly poor in quality. In the end, although the number of research articles may rise, the overall quality may plummet, diminishing the accomplishments achieved thus far.
Nuture Indonesia’s best, focus on quality instead
Instead on focusing on the number of publications from a total pool that mostly has little capacity to do so, a better alternative may be to focus on the few Indonesian academic researchers who have already shown distinction in scholarly productivity and find ways for their working style to be replicated, besides focusing on maintaining and improving the quality of output.
Indonesia may learn from the example of Iran, which has grown in scientific capacity making it at the present the fastest growing in the world. Scientific output in Iran has grown 11 times faster compared to other nations globally, and its research publications have quadrupled in just a decade. Although the number of publications are still relatively low, the average impact factor of Iranian papers has risen.
Interestingly, much of Iran’s improvement can be traced back to a handful of those who have attained distinction in their own specialized fields. Iran has also focused on investing more public money into science, allowing high-quality research to grow and flourish.
By giving universities and research institutes more autonomy, and by increasing the salaries of academics, many researchers are now relieved and able to make ends meet without taking on second and third jobs.
Will Indonesia make the same leap?
Copyright: Asian Scientist Magazine.
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