Indonesia Talent in Science and Technology, Where are They Now?

Who does not know B.J Habibie? He was the former president of the Republic of Indonesia and former ministry of Research and Technology. He was known not only because he was a president but also a prominent figure in Science and Technology in Indonesia history, widely known as the father of technology of Indonesia. His achievements in the field of aviation and aerospace are galore and praised internationally. One of them is Theodore von Karman award from International Council for Aeronautical Sciences awarded in 1992. He is regarded as a visionary in science and technology. He established Indonesia strategic industries. One of them is PT. Dirgantara Indonesia. Under his directions, it was able to make the first aircraft for Indonesia. I would say he is genius! However, do we know other figures in science and technology besides B.J Habibie? Most people will tell no even though we had some others for example Dr. Samaun Samadikun, the father of electronics of Indonesia. But, in a past few decades, we have not heard about new emerging figures with important discoveries, inventions and prestigious international awards. A question then arises, where are Indonesia’s talents in Science and Technology?

Every year, we hear about Indonesia senior high school students get gold medals in the international science competition (physics, chemistry, biology, mathematics, informatics, etc.). Indonesia also holds annual national science olympiad attracting thousands of students from Sabang to Merauke to compete not to mention other national-level competitions for research, robotics, programming for senior high school students. We do have many talents in science and technology and we are hoping they can be the next Habibie in many science and technology fields. We wish them to pursue higher education till doctorate level in science and engineering to leverage this nation with their discovery, invention and expertise. 

 In fact, those talents will go to top university in Indonesia and some of them will go to top university in the world. Many of them will graduate with a very satisfying academic record being the best in their batch and will likely continue to higher education of master and doctorate mostly abroad with a scholarship because they want to experience cutting-edge research and more challenges. Some of them will pursue a graduate program in Indonesia not because they are not smart but they do not want to be far away from their families. For those who do not go to graduate schools will work as an employee in many sectors such as government, BUMN, private companies, multinational companies public sector and many more. They will not develop a high level of expertise in science and technology as their colleagues who go for doctorate level. 

Thousands of Indonesia talents in Science and Technology are pursuing doctorate abroad in top universities in the world. They are doing research, building their expertise and networks as well as learning competitive culture in science and technology. They will see that their interests in research in science and technology are supported by the university, community and the government of that country. They will eventually compare the science and technology culture between Indonesia and the country where they study. In most developed countries, working in science and technology is regarded as an essential role for the nations because developed countries really depend on the power of science and technology for many sectors and applications. 

Academician, scientist, inventors and top-level engineers are appreciated with excellent market value and social appreciation. Their expertise is rewarded in a way it is supposed to be. They can make a good living once they start the job after doctorate or postdoc level. For example, in the United States, if you are a Ph.D. landing on tenure-track faculty position in a research institution, universities or national lab, you can take home around $120K per year which is similar to an annual salary of research specialist that can only be filled by Ph.Ds at a big company like Intel, Google, Micron, etc. around $130 to $140K per year. The advantages of working as a faculty in research institution are you will get start funding to fund your research, freedom to pursue your research interest and be actively engaged in the outreach program to spread your works and ideas. If we compare to the US Congress income, it will be around $170-$190K per year which is 20% more than in science and technology. It is not a bad valuation, now let’s compare to our country. 

What happens nowadays if they go back to Indonesia and work as a faculty, researcher and scientist? As a faculty, with a Ph.D. and some international scientific publications, they will be a IIIc level civil employee with a basic salary of around 3 million rupiahs per month. They will get another income from teaching, structural position (usually the most significant additional income), research grant and other projects. They can take home money as much as 25 million rupiahs per year in the early year. But those additional incomes are not continuous because those kinds of works will not happen every month. If in the holiday season, there will be no teaching income and if they are not in a structural position, the same will happen. Let’s say on average, they will get salary around 8 million rupiahs. It will be tough for them to live with that amount of money in a big city with a family. They will undoubtedly have to live frugally which is very ironic if we compare to people who sit in the people’s representative council with a monthly salary around 45 million rupiah and other additional incomes and facilities which is 500% more than the average starting salary of a faculty. If those Ph.Ds go to industry, they can get around 30 to 40 million rupiahs per month but as we know, only very few industries hire Ph.D. Therefore, brilliant talents will feel reluctant to go to academia in Indonesia. Many of them will just stay abroad and work there in many positions that need Ph.D. with great market valuation. We should take China as an example how they can change their appreciation in terms of salary for faculty and researcher. The pay is almost the same as the salary in American universities and the level of science is impressive that is comparable to university in New York and Boston. It certainly attracts many bright talents to work there and develop science and technology. 

In Indonesia, the condition is more complicated. Low budget for research and its facilities is one of the main reasons why the talents will think twice if they want to work in Indonesia as a faculty and researcher. They have the expertise but they cannot implement and exploit their capacity. They will end up only in teaching, steering committee and doing less important work. It is very often that the salary from doing structural jobs is more than that of doing research. It means the research output is minimal because they will prefer structural jobs than research work. Another problem is for example there is a senior Indonesia professor, 40-50 years old, with a high reputation that has been working abroad in top university who wants to go back to Indonesia and to work as a professor in one of the best public university in Indonesia. He/she will hardly find a way to do it. The rules will not allow this kind of movement because the faculty recruitment requirement states that the applicant must be under 35 years old. There must be many silly rules that hinder many competent talents to go back to Indonesia and to work in Indonesia. 

We know that under President Joko Widodo, the higher education was separated from the ministry of education and culture to the ministry of research and technology. In the beginning, many people were optimistic that Indonesia research in science and technology would significantly be improved because the higher education in university, the powerhouse of the new knowledge in science and the advancement of the technology, will be directed under the frame of research and technology paradigm. It was expected that the research directions for short and long term of many fields in science and technology became bolder and clearer with ambitious goals. However, in reality, there is not much breakthrough happens under this umbrella. It goes the same as the previous government reign. Research and patent are only a formality for position promotion. Most research is done redundantly, repeating what has been done with little addition of variation with no desire to make a tremendous impact in the field. Even though recently several research funding schemes have been launched by government to complement the research funding from state budget (APBN) such as Indonesia Science Fund (DIPI), mimicking the rules and schemes of National Science Fund of United States, and Indonesia Endowment Fund for Education (LPDP), Indonesia still needs many bright as well as maverick talents in science and technology to drive the environment. 

Indonesia also lacks culture in science and technology that makes talents are not motivated to work in Indonesia. The appreciation for those who work in science and technology is nothing. In Indonesia, attention is given mainly to politician and issues related to religion and race played in politics. Energy is wasted in that kind of unnecessary conversation. People are divided because of this reason. Moreover, people will talk about economics, social issue but no time for science and technology. Everyone must know who Sri Mulyani is, one of the best economists that Indonesia has now which also sits for the ministry of finance. Everyone will know the governor of Bank of Indonesia. Recently, the media and newspaper spotlights are given mostly to the dynamics of the election of the new governor of this central bank but who knows who the head of Indonesia Institutes of Sciences (LIPI) is? Who are the leading professors in Mathematics, Physics or Biology in Indonesia? People will barely acknowledge them. Also, society is reluctant to technological advancement, for example, the case of online-based transportation applications that are rejected by conventional drivers. Conversely, in the US, people are excited with SpaceX Falcon Heavy launch, Google artificial intelligent, Boston Dynamics robots, IBM quantum computing and many more. 

We need to change those conditions. Indonesia should approach and appreciate bright talents in science and technology so that they are willing to work for Indonesia. Indonesia government should revolutionize the policies related to research directions, funding, faculty recruitments, faculty salary and the government should provide a supportive environment for researcher so that they can exploit their expertise for the greatness of Indonesia. Deficiency in talents will result in many national-level problems since research in university, research institution and industry is the powerhouse of national advancement. Technological invention and science advancement will progress very slow, universities will fail to compete globally, society will be affected because of low motivation of science outreach and the most important thing is that naive and shallow goal and directions of science and technology. Goals and directions are actually very important for a nation if we see many developed countries like US, Germany, Netherlands and many more and they excel in science and technology due to a strong and bold directions and goals for short and long term periods. Advancement in Science and technology is the only way for Indonesia to compete with those developed countries. 

*The amount of salaries from different occupation above is not very accurate but they give some views how appreciation works in those countries.

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