Minister of Research, Technology and Higher Education Minister Muhammad Nasir holds up an 'Indonesia 106 Innovation' book during a media visit to the BeritaSatu Media Holdings office in Jakarta on Jan. 6, 2015. (SP Photo/Ruht Semiono)

Minister's Plan to Boost Research Productivity Faces Setbacks


JANUARY 04, 2017

Jakarta. Research, Technology, and Higher Education Minister Muhammad Nasir has confirmed plans to evaluate the government's research grant scheme for professors if they do not publish at least one international publication annually.

“Starting this year, every professor who receives a research grant must publish an international publication,” the minister said on Tuesday (03/01) at the inauguration of Diponegoro University, or  Undip, in Semarang as a state university legal entity, known as PTN BH, as quoted by state-run news agency Antara.

“We will really do it [evaluate the research grant scheme]. International research publications are important, especially for PTN BH [universities],” he added.

The number of international publications from Indonesia has reportedly increased, with 9,475 being published in 2016 before Dec. 22.

However, that number is still insignificant compared to the output of other Southeast Asian countries, such as Malaysia's 24,000 annual publications, Singapore's 17,000 and Thailand's 12,000.

“Although we currently have 6,000 professors and 31,000 head lecturers, they have only produced about 9,500 publications,” Nasir said.

He calculated that the total number of publications from each of the 6,000 professors, in addition to submissions from head lecturers, would ultimately outnumber publications in rival Southeast Asian countries.

Not as Easy as It Looks

Tempting though it is to believe the math, there are numerous challenges for professors in living up to the minister's expectations.

The duties of a professor do not only cover research, but also teaching, research supervision, and attending seminars and government-organized events.

Such a hectic schedule does not always guarantee undivided attention for research and writing.

“Time is a major setback for research. Besides our many responsibilities, occasionally we are tasked with filling in at a ministerial event,” Totok Amin Soefijanto, vice rector and professor at Paramadina University, told the Jakarta Globe on Tuesday.

Heddy Shri Ahimsa Putra, an anthropology professor from Gadjah Mada University, or UGM, agreed with this, saying that professors are often assigned additional roles that cause them to put other activities on hold.

“Professors are more likely to be appointed to prominent positions such as university senate member, program head or dean, which is not necessarily the desire of the professors themselves. The university considers this a way to make their academic standing more appealing,” he told the Jakarta Globe.

Time can also render the one-year target unrealistic in some disciplines. An anthropological research project, for example, needs at least two years to complete, considering the substantial field research and literature review.

“The write-up usually takes place at the end of the second year. And it's no easy ride after that. We may wait another year to see it published. When we submit an article, there is usually a six-month queue, and then the peer review takes around two or three months,” Heddy added.

Another setback comes from the funding scheme itself. According to Totok, even though the government does provide research grants, it is a common practice for professors to initially self-fund their research because of bureaucratic difficulties, and only cash in the grants after the project is completed.

“The complicated process makes everything more difficult for professors and lecturers, especially those coming from disciplines that are characterized by rather costly research,” he said.

Why Journals?

Are journal articles the only indicator to measure research productivity and international recognition? Or is it just the government's way of securing higher ranks for Indonesian universities?

Given the lengthy submission and revision process before finally obtaining approval, there is actually a more efficient way to boost productivity, if that is the real focus.

“In terms of productivity, it is not only journal articles that count, but books too.

“I don't agree that we base our productivity solely on the number of articles we produce,” Heddy said. “What if we write a book, submit it to the research ministry for publication, and have it translated for wider international exposure?” However, she admitted that journal articles may be easier to keep count of because of the systematic indexing.

If the government insists on journals as the medium of publication, internationalizing Indonesian journals would be a way to ease researchers' burden.

"Although it would take a considerably long time, the government should push for our journals to get international accreditation,” Heddy said, who is also the senate head at UGM's faculty of cultural sciences.