Discussion With Australian Scientists Sheds Light on Indonesia’s Scientific Potential, Challenges

BY :VRITI WADHWA

JULY 30, 2015

Jakarta. Ten Australian research scientists shared their experiences and highlighted Indonesia's largely untapped scientific potential during a discussion forum with their Indonesian counterparts in Jakarta on Monday.

The Australian scientists visited the capital before attending the 2015 Indonesian-American Kavli Frontier symposium in Makassar, Sulawesi, from Monday through Saturday. The group hopes to contribute to the local scientific community by sharing their expertise in their respective fields.

Topics discussed in the Jakarta forum included physics, biology, sociology and health. The Australian and Indonesian researchers exchanged their experiences and views to explore the archipelago's scientific potential, especially in collaboration with Australia.

Renowned Australian archaeologist and geochemist Maxime Aubert from Griffith University was among the participants of the event.

Having discovered 40,000-year-old cave art in Sulawesi last year, his work has been recognized as one of the top 10 most important scientific findings of 2014 by Science magazine.

“Indonesia is very rich archaeologically, with the oldest rock art in the world, but also different human species like Homo Sapiens, Homo Erectus, and Homo Floresiensis," Aubert said.

Indonesian research scientist Agus Sunarto believes the country has the potential to build a greater and stronger scientific community given its mega biodiversity, diverse culture, and abundant natural and human resources.

Agus works with the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization in Australia.

Seeking to analyze the deadly fish pathogen koi herpesvirus (KHV), he has studied its evolution and potential scientific and health-related improvements – including by creating an antiviral vaccine against KHV.

“Such a vaccine will help in protecting Indonesian koi and carp industries from KHV incursion,” Sunarto said. "I see a big improvement in [Indonesia] catching up with the [latest] technology, such as DNA sequencing.”

Despite Indonesia’s easy access to scientific information these days, Sunarto believes vast improvements still need to be made if the country wants to forge its research activities and maximize its scientific potential.

He added that Indonesia should start with deciding which research fields to focus on, and by encouraging more research collaborations.

“We lack focus on what [is important] for this nation. We also tend to work within isolated little kingdoms than collaborating with others. One of the key successes in science is collaboration,” he said.

Aubert, meanwhile, explained that “one of the major problems [Indonesia faces] is research funding.”

Even with the existence of professionals and well-trained Indonesian scientists, the lack of interest and appreciation for science in this country have been a major drawback.

If there are Indonesians who are willing to conduct scientific research, funding and the need for financial aid creates limitations.

According to a 2012 report released by the Program for International Student Assessment, Indonesia ranked 64th out of 65 member nations of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development for mathematics, science and reading.

Based on the progress of educational academia from countries across the globe over the coming years, Indonesia won’t be able to meet the expectations and demand of educational services in the sciences.

However, the country is still predicted to be a “major international education market in the next few years,” the British Council said in 2012.

Australia’s interaction with Indonesia within the realms of science has existed for quite some time, including in ongoing cultural and academic programs, which were created in the hopes to strengthen professional and white-collar relationships between the two neighbors.

Mutual interests are expected to strengthen Indonesia’s limited areas of collaboration, making it a much more science-driven nation than it has capacity for.

“[Monday's forum] will certainly help to create new opportunities… we can learn from each other and share our resources,” Aubert said.

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