Diving into the Presidential Candidate's Science and Technology Vision

Since the Soeharto era until today we have not been able to produce fully domestically produced cars and motorbikes.

The issue of social welfare, education, culture, information technology, health, labor, human resources, and inclusion became the topic of debate for the presidential candidates on February 4th.

What is the position of iptek (science and technology) in this debate? We can see that the science and technology material was only one small point inserted in the last debate session, and it was only limited to information technology (IT). This illustrates that science and technology is not considered an important issue worthy of being debated by presidential candidates in the presidential election contestation.

The issue of science and technology being considered enough to be represented only by the IT sector is clearly not accurate. IT has indeed accelerated the progress of science and technology in the recent decades, but this is only the downstream sector.

TI is an instrument that can be used in all sectors of science and technology, from medical technology, microbiology, maritime, aerospace, metallurgy, energy, transportation, mining, automotive, and many other sectors of science and technology. Displaying a small branch of "information technology" to illustrate the big tree of science and technology is clearly inadequate.

Science and technology (IPTEK) have become the backbone of progress and prosperity in various countries. Countries known for their IPTEK advantages since the last century, such as the United States, Germany, England, France, and Japan, are still prosperous today.


Several countries that were once poor but then pursued advances in science and technology, such as South Korea, China, and Singapore, have managed to become developed and prosperous nations. It's hard to deny that scientific and technological progress is the backbone of a country's advancement.

A country can boost its progress in science and technology if its government is serious and focused on promoting research: charting its roadmap and priorities, developing its human resources, managing its institutions, and of course, allocating sufficient funding to create a strong and superior research ecosystem.

Research is the foundation of progress in science and technology, and a good research ecosystem will drive various innovations that bring progress. Research is a long-term investment to achieve progress, therefore it should be a serious concern for the government.


Research ecosystem

How is our research ecosystem, and to what extent has the government facilitated it? Of course, the government has been very serious about pushing and facilitating the formation of a good research ecosystem.

The government allocates funds from the state and regional budgets for various research programs. However, compared to other countries, we are like ants compared to elephants. Indonesia is part of the G20 group, which is a group of countries with the largest gross domestic product (GDP) in the world. But, how much attention is given to research funding? Among the 20 G-20 countries, South Korea is the country that pampers research the most.

According to data released by the World Bank based on the GDP for the 2019-2021 period, South Korea has allocated 4.93 percent of its GDP to science and technology. The United States follows with 3.46 percent, Japan with 3.30 percent, Germany with 3.14 percent, the United Kingdom with 2.91 percent, and China with 2.43 percent. Indonesia is ranked at the bottom with only 0.28 percent.

If we compare the research funding allocation in 2022 between Indonesia which is only 0.28% of GDP and the US which is 3.46% of GDP, then with Indonesia's GDP and the US' respective GDP of $1,319.1 billion and $25,462.7 billion, the comparison of research funds is $3.693 billion vs $881 billion.


This means that US research funding is 285 times greater than Indonesia's research funding, a very uneven comparison. In fact, compared to fellow ASEAN countries, the Indonesian government is the most frugal in allocating funds for research.

Singapore allocates 2.16 percent of its GDP, Thailand 1.33 percent, Malaysia 0.95 percent, Vietnam 0.43 percent, and the Philippines 0.32 percent. Indonesia is the largest country in ASEAN, but lags behind in research funding.

In the midst of limited funding allocation, the government has implemented several policies that are believed to promote research advancement. For example, by overhauling the institutional research structure, it has merged the Indonesian Institute of Sciences (LIPI) into a new agency, the National Agency for Research and Innovation (BRIN).

Other research institutions, such as the Eijkman Institute for Molecular Biology, research agencies in various government bodies, are also forced to merge into BRIN. As a result, BRIN becomes a central institution with massive authority, but this also brings forth many new problems. BRIN's leadership moves forward by forming seven task forces called Research Organizations (OR).

Unfortunately, this integration process has been full of turbulence, facing numerous oppositions and chaotic handling of research assets, such as laboratories and equipment.

Central institutions such as BRIN are the peak of a large pyramid of national research institutions, where its foundation lies in educational institutions. If the peak of the pyramid is still busy restructuring its bureaucracy, this is less supportive for the formation of an excellent research ecosystem.

At the school and university (PT) level, there is a trend of decreasing interest in pursuing STEM fields compared to non-STEM fields. As a result, the proportion of engineers and professionals in fields such as medicine, microbiology, and other STEM fields is decreasing when compared to non-STEM fields.

There is an idea of ​​the proportion of professions in this exact field. Data from the Indonesian Engineers Association shows that the ratio of the number of Indonesian engineers is only 5,300 per million population (Kompas, 15/1/2024). Much smaller than Vietnam's 9,000 engineers per million population, or South Korea's 20,000 engineers per million population.


The ratio of researchers is also concerning. In the National Research Master Plan 2017-2045, the number of researchers in Indonesia is only 1,071 people per million inhabitants. Meanwhile, South Korea has 8,000 researchers, Singapore has 7,000 researchers, and Malaysia has 2,590 researchers per million inhabitants.

One indicator of a country's progress is the increase in industrialization, which means the increase in the processing of raw materials into finished products. Underdeveloped countries can only sell raw materials, while developed countries process the raw materials into finished products, whether using simple technology or high technology.

This industrialization process requires the role of researchers and engineers. The more researchers and engineers there are, the more it will support industrialization.

The lack of a sufficient ratio of engineers and researchers is becoming a hindrance to efforts to accelerate industrialization in all sectors. Therefore, there must be efforts to increase the interest of students and students in the fields of science and math.

Education is the foundation and central institutions are the pinnacle of the research and innovation pyramid structure. If there is an improvement from bottom to top, it is hoped that it can accelerate our science and technology achievement.


Achievements in science and technology

That doesn't mean we haven't made progress. Of course we are grateful for progress in many science and technology sectors. For example, in the medical sector, we have long been able to produce vaccines, process IVF births, and are now in the process of pursuing stem cell research.

In the maritime sector, we are able to produce various types of warships, including our latest achievement of producing our own submarines. In the aerospace industry, we are currently in the process of collaborating with South Korea to develop the KF21 Boramae fighter aircraft.

We are now able to engineer satellites on our own, but still have to rely on other countries such as the US, France, China, India, or on private rockets like SpaceX owned by Elon Musk for satellite launches since our rocket technology is still very outdated. Please note that there are no forbidden words in this article.

However, our series of scientific and technological achievements still lag far behind compared to other countries. In the automotive field, for decades we have been satisfied with being merely consumers of imported products, or at best foreign products that are assembled domestically. For decades, since the Soeharto era, we have not been able to produce fully domestic-made cars and motorcycles.

In the field of agriculture, the situation is even worse. Our food imports continue to increase. Are our agricultural engineers unable to overcome this, or is this more due to political policies?

There are still a series of examples of lagging behind in other sectors.

If it is to be unraveled, this lag is not because of the "inferiority" of our researchers and innovators. For relatively common technologies, such as automotive, it is not difficult for us to work on. Various automotive products have been worked on by our experts and labor force, and have even been exported.


However, up until today, there hasn't been a local automotive brand that is able to become a leader in its own country, although technically, we are capable of producing it. This situation is more due to the lack of political will from the government to encourage the emergence of domestic production brands.

There are examples of several countries that were not advanced before but became developed due to special circumstances that acted as a driving force. For instance, South Korea, which had a strong motivation for revenge and competitiveness against its former colonizer, Japan. Now, South Korea is an advanced country, exporting many technological products ranging from military, electronics, automotive, music, to film.

Iran, due to being besieged by Western sanctions, has chosen to focus on developing its defense technology to achieve self-sufficiency in producing rockets, missiles, satellites, drones, warships, military vehicles, and nuclear reactors.

Actually, during the era of Bung Karno, Indonesia had already begun rocket and nuclear research. The nuclear research reactor in Yogyakarta and Bandung is a legacy of the Bung Karno era. However, to this day, our nuclear technology achievements are far behind those of India, Pakistan, China, and Iran.

Similarly, in terms of rocket technology for defense, satellite launches, and outer space research, we are far behind other countries that were once our equals.

The progress of our science and technology is determined by several factors. Among them are education, research institutions, bureaucracy, and funding. Whoever becomes the president, hopefully, has the courage to make policies that encourage the progress of science and technology and prioritize the development of our own national products, not just facilitate foreign products entering here.


Djoko Santoso
Professor of Medicine, Airlangga University
Chair of the MUI Health Agency East Java Province


The following article was translated using both Microsoft Azure Open AI and Google Translation AI. The original article can be found in Menyelami Visi Iptek Capres