Accelerating National Research in 2022

We have just left 2021 and entered 2022. We all hope that the Covid-19 pandemic can be more under control, the economy grows evenly, and we can achieve progress in all fields. We also hope that academics and scientists will continue to conduct research in all fields to catch up with the progress that we have not yet achieved.

Research is the foundation of a nation's progress, and one of the benchmarks for research progress is the achievement of the Nobel Prize. The Nobel Prize is a great honor for scientists, writers and humanitarian fighters. So far, the Nobel prizes for the fields of Physics, Chemistry, Biology, Medicine and Economics have always been dominated by scientists from European countries and the United States (US). Only recently have scientists from developed Asian countries such as Japan, South Korea or Israel won the Nobel Prize as well.

From 1902 to 2018, Nobel prizes have been awarded to 904 individuals and 24 organizations. There were 59 Asian individuals who won the Nobel Prize, where Japan dominated with 29 persons, Israel 12, India 9, and China 8 laureates. Indian physicist Chandrasekhara Venka Rahman became the first Asian scientist to win the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1930.

For the Nobel Prize in Physics, Japan has 9 scientists, followed by China 2 persons, India and Pakistan 1 person each. Amazingly, Pakistan, a country that has had an unstable political climate, was able to place its physicist, Abdus Salam, won the 1979 Nobel Prize in Physics. Abdus Salam is known as the Father of Nuclear, who made Pakistan possess nuclear weapons.

For the Nobel Prize in Chemistry, Japan also dominates by having 8 laureates, followed by Israel with 6 laureates, Taiwan and Turkey with 1 person each. For the Nobel Prize in Medicine, Japan again dominated with 5 laureates, followed by China with 1 person. For the Nobel Prize in Economics, India and Israel both had 2 laureates.

For the Nobel Prize in Literature, Japan had  2 laureates, followed by India, Turkey and China with 1 laureate each. The famous Indian poet Rabrindranath Tagore became the first Asian to win the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1913.

Interestingly, the Nobel Peace Prize is more evenly distributed. The Nobel Peace Prize is not an assessment of the results of scientific research, but an award for figures who are considered to have contributed to the efforts of world peace. Most of the winners are, therefore, freedom fighters, human rights fighters, humanitarian fighters, democracy, press freedom, and so on. Included here are heads of state who are willing to make peace with their former adversaries. So far, the Nobel Peace Prize has been won by figures from Vietnam, Japan, India, Israel, Tibet, Palestine, Iran, Iraq, Timor Leste, Myanmar, South Korea, Philippines, Bangladesh, China, Yemen and Pakistan. But there is one person who is outside the mainstream, the pioneer of affordable credit for the poor in Bangladesh, Muhammad Yunus.

Remarkably, Israel, which is known as a controversial country, has 3 of its prime ministers as Nobel laureates. Timor Leste has 2 persons, the freedom fighter Jose Ramos Horta and Bishop Carlos Felipe Ximenes Belo. Unfortunately, no Indonesian people have been able to win the Nobel Prize.


When Will Our Scientists Win Nobel Prizes?

Many say, Nobel is a dream that is still too far away to reach for Indonesian scientists today. Ecosystems, research culture, institutions and government funding support have not been maximized. Our scientists are still immersed in the bureaucracy and the complexity of administrative procedures and financial reporting, so it is still difficult to produce world-class research that has the potential to be nominated for a Nobel Prize.

The spearhead of research and innovation is in universities and research centers outside universities, such as in private companies, national research institutions (National Nuclear Energy Agency/BATAN, Indonesian Institute of Sciences/LIPI, etc.), or in the military industry. The ecosystem and research culture built in these institutions will be the drivers of progress. The lack of research and development budgets for institutions managed by the government with funds from the State Budget (APBN) generally indicates that government's support is still low. Currently, the majority of scientists, academics and researchers are State Civil Apparatuses (ASN), who do research with APBN funds. The administrative procedures and financial reporting of research are far more complicated than the substance of the research itself. Researchers are often confused about their financial reporting to prevent the report to become audit findings, so they do not focus on the substance of their own research. We still remember the incident several years ago, there were several experts who were invited by the State Minister for State-Owned Enterprises (BUMN) Dahlan Iskan to design a prototype of an electric car. The prototype was successfully made, but the experts who designed it were eventually caught in a legal case with accusations of misappropriating state funds. The complexity of financial reporting, is one of the ghosts that researchers fear. In the institutional realm, there is a lot of overlap and duplication of research on the same topic that occurs in tens or maybe hundreds of government institutions. There are others who say that many of our research products only stop at the proceedings report, because they are not related to the real demand chain in the industrial sector.


Reflecting on Japan

European countries and the US have built a research culture and ecosystem for hundreds of years, which makes them advanced and superior. Japan became the most developed Asian country since the Meiji Restoration in the late 1860s.

Since the Meiji Restoration, Japan has continued to pursue progress. Most of the innovations in Japan are efforts to overcome the country's limitations, such as the lack of natural resources (SDA), and vulnerability to natural disasters. Japan became expansionist to search raw materials and fuel for its industrialization machines. Japan pursued its military-industrial technology to have a very strong armed force that was able to defeat Russia in 1905. By the second World War, Japan was the only Asian country that had an automotive and military industry that could produce warships, aircraft carriers, fighter planes and artillery, until Japan dared to attack the US's Pearl Harbor.

After being defeated by the US bombing, Japan quickly pursued research and innovation, rising again to become a developed country that dominates the world not through military invasion, but through the products of its technological advances. Discipline and nerves of steel are the hallmarks of Japanese culture. The Shinkansen high-speed train, for example, has had almost no serious accidents since it was inaugurated in 1964. The average delay is also only 36 seconds.

Although in the last two decades Japan's position has been followed by China and South Korea, this has not changed Japan's position as a world research center. Japan enhances international collaboration through its higher education sector, including increasing the interest of international students to study at top Japanese universities such as the University of Tokyo, Kyoto University and the Tokyo Institute of Technology. Currently, English-language study programs have been created at various universities to address language problems, a problem that often hinders international collaboration in Japan. To date, there are more than 1.4 million publications on health registered with the US National Library of Medicine (PUBMED) with one or more authors affiliated with Japanese universities or on Japanese topics. That number of publications is 40 times more than publications from Indonesia.


South Korea and Israel

Since the late 20th century, South Korea has followed Japan's progress. South Korean brands, such as Samsung, Hyundai, KIA, Daewoo, are examples of brands that have been known worldwide, along with K-Pop culture that has spread to various countries.

Likewise, Israel, a small country in the Middle East surrounded by Arab countries, is the country with the most superior science and technology. Israel is ranked fifth on the Bloomberg Innovation Index, which measures global technology research and development performance. Israel is ranked even higher than the US, which is in sixth place. In fact, Israel is relatively minimal in natural resources and its population is only 9 million people, less than Jakarta's population of 10 million people in 2020.

Israel forges a strong partnership with the US. Many well-known US and multinational companies have opened their research and development branches in “Silicon Wadi” in Israel, such as Intel, Apple, Microsoft, Medtronic, Philips, IBM, Cisco, Google, HP, Oracle, GE, Qualcomm, Motorola and so on. .

Forbes said, Israel's success can not be separated from the mindset, mentality and morals of its citizens. They have years of training to defend their land within economic and natural resource constraints, strengthening their human resource (HR) capacity through higher education and extensive use of English language. In medical field, more than 1,000 companies have exported more than 6 billion USD of medicines and medical devices.

Research and development is not only carried out in companies, but also in universities, government and private research centers, hospitals, and others. More than 80% of Israel's publication-worthy research is sourced from universities. The majority of research funds (>50%) come from the government and public organizations which are allocated nationally and through each university through the “General University Fund”, which is provided by the Council of Higher Education (in Indonesia it is the Ministry of Higher Education/Kemendikti). Research funds are also managed by the Israel Science Foundation (ISF), an independent body that funds competitive research. Annually, the ISF, as the main source of basic research funding, allocates USD 60 million to fund more than 1,300 grants and more than 10,000 experts from within and outside the country are involved to assess the quality of the submitted proposals.

These are just a few examples of Asian countries that have successfully built their ecosystems and research cultures so that they can become developed countries, and whose scientists have won many Nobel Prizes.

What are the opportunities for Indonesia? Can our natural resources, human resources, ecosystems and research culture support the achievement of the Nobel Prize? Surely many will consider this a dream during the day. In Indonesia, too many institutions conduct research, but the results are still minimal. Institutions and research work are not only owned by universities, but also owned by each ministry and state agency. In a ministry, for example, research work is not only handled by the research and development department. It can be said that all directorates under the Director General, as well as the Secretariat General, annually budget research activities, studies, research and the like, since in the form of Work Plans and Budgets of Ministries and Institutions (Rencana Kerja dan Anggaran Kementerian dan Lembaga, RKAKL) until they have been in the form of a Budget Implementation List (Daftar Isian Pelaksanaan Anggaran, DIPA), complete with budget allocations, not to mention research centers such as LIPI, the Agency for the Assessment and Application of Technology/BPPT, BATAN, universities, as well as research institutes within the Indonesian National Armed Forces and the Indonesian National Police (TNI/Polri), and many others. Thus, there are thousands of research institutes, there are hundreds of thousands of research workers, but there is no big umbrella that coordinates and integrates all of them.

And we all know that the majority of the hundreds of thousands of researches funded by the State Budget are more of a project. Duplication of proposals to research results by simply changing the research title is common. With a condition like this, is it possible for our scientists to win the Nobel Prize?


BRIN and its Challenges

On April 28, 2021, the government split up the Ministry of Research, Technology and Higher Education (Kemristek Dikti). "Higher Education" was detached and combined with the Ministry of Education and Culture (Kemdikbud), while research was put into a new forum, the National Research and Innovation Agency (Badan Riset dan Inovasi Nasional, BRIN), together with LIPI, BATAN, the National Aeronautics and Space Institute/LAPAN, and other agencies that were previously under the auspices of several ministries. Thus, BRIN becomes a super body in the field of research and innovation.

With a budget of 26 trillion rupiah, BRIN is expected to spur research and innovation so that it can catch up with the progress of a country like South Korea. Of course this is a big dream that will surely face many challenges. The ability to pursue this progress is not only due to the large research budget, but also depends on the readiness of human resources and their work ethic, infrastructure, and, last but not least, building an ecosystem and research culture.

If BRIN is able to manage the above challenges well, BRIN will become a good foundation to bring Indonesia to a more advanced level. We hope that the complaints of our academics and researchers who are often bothered with administrative matters of financial reporting rather than the substance of the research, hopefully can be resolved by BRIN. Let's enter 2022 with the determination to continue to build a superior and competitive research ecosystem and culture, in order to achieve a more advanced Indonesia.



Djoko Santoso
Faculty of Medicine, Universitas Airlangga

Translated from Indonesian:
"Memasuki 2022 dengan Memacu Riset Nasional" by Djoko Santoso
Media Indonesia, 3 January 2022