The Nobel Prize and Our Minimal Research Budget

The complaints of our academics and researchers are that they are often bothered with administrative matters rather than the substance of their research.

Recently the winners of the 2023 Nobel prize were announced. Jon Fosse won the Nobel for literature; Katalin Kariko and Drew Weissman for medicine; Pierre Agostini, Ferenc Krausz, and Anne L’Huillier for physics; Moungi G Bawendi, Louis E Brus, and Alexei I Ekimov for chemistry; and Narges Mohammadi for peace.

The announcement of this year's Nobel Prize coincides with the news of the failure of the Indonesian badminton team at the Asian Games in Hangzhou. This nationally beloved sports team has been unable to win even a single medal, not even bronze.

On the contrary, Spain, which was unknown in the world badminton map twenty years ago, can now soar. This means that there are always ups and downs in every country's achievements, in any field.

Similarly, when it comes to the Nobel Prize, it is still a distant dream for Indonesia. However, who knows, someday we might be able to achieve it even though it may take a long time. We can hope for young talents in the fields of science (medicine, physics, chemistry) and humanities (literature, peace).


Literature, peace, science

We must continue to spread an optimistic narrative. Some Nobel laureates come from developing countries, such as Pakistan (Abdus Salam, Malala Yousafzai), Bangladesh (Muhammad Yunus), and Iran (Narges Safie Mohammadi).

The winners from developing countries are generally in the field of peace, such as Aung San Suu Kyi (1991, Myanmar), Malala Yousafzai (2016), Ramos Horta (1995, Timor Leste).

Generally, those known to the public as human rights fighters are not scientists who work more often in silent laboratories and are rarely known to the public. Indonesia has many human rights fighters and defenders of public rights, as well as great writers, so it has the potential to win the Nobel Peace Prize although it is unclear when the time will come.

However, for the fields of science (medicine, physics, chemistry) and economics, it seems that more time and longer hard work are still needed.

Our chance to achieve the Nobel Peace Prize is not non-existent. We have many human rights activists, peace advocates, and defenders of public rights.

Similarly, in the field of literature, Indonesia has never been lacking in talented and great writers, one of whom is Pramoedya Ananta Toer. He has been nominated several times for the Nobel Prize in literature, but has always fallen short for some reason.

However, if someone is highly ambitious about obtaining a Nobel Prize, they may not actually receive it. Jon Fosse, a Norwegian citizen and the winner of the 2023 Nobel Prize in literature, stated, "You cannot write with the mindset that you will receive a Nobel Prize. You will certainly not obtain it."



Fosse's response upon being announced as the winner of the Nobel Prize illustrates that, on average, the characteristic of Nobel laureates is that they have no ambition to receive the Nobel Prize. This is also demonstrated by Lousi E Brus and Pierre Agostini, who remain humble, do not feel smart, and acknowledge that this achievement is the result of the work of the researchers and other colleagues, not their personal work.

From the above description, it seems that there needs to be a strategic step together so that our people can become Nobel Prize winners, particularly in the field of humanities; while for the field of science, it is the next stage. Hard work is necessary so that Indonesian scientists, human rights activists, and literary figures can become visible on the radar of the Nobel Committee in Sweden and Norway.

Perhaps it is necessary to find a "intersection" of large and sustainable programs between Indonesia and Scandinavian countries, for example regarding energy transition. Scandinavian countries are at the forefront in utilizing renewable energy, by utilizing solar energy, wind, and hydropower plants (PLTA).

Scandinavian countries have implemented massive decarbonization of the transportation sector by using batteries for electric vehicles.

Indonesia, which also has the ambition to achieve net zero emissions (net zero emissions) by 2060, can learn a lot and collaborate with the Scandinavian community, both through government channels (G to G) and private line (B to B).

This is in light of the fact that Scandinavian countries have set a target of achieving zero net emissions by 2040. Research in the field of energy transition is just one option, there are still many other ways for Indonesia to engage with the research ecosystems of affluent, green, and prosperous Scandinavian nations in the region.


Research ecosystem

Based on statistics, the Nobel Prize for science is more frequently won by citizens of developed countries, such as the United States, Europe, Japan, China, and South Korea. Meanwhile, the Nobel Prize for literature and peace can be won by citizens of developing countries.

There are at least two factors that strongly support this: a good research ecosystem and the welfare of researchers. These two things are still major problems in our country. Nobel laureates, especially in science, do not face problems related to welfare due to support from their affiliated institutions or countries.

Incentives for researchers in developed countries are very tempting. That's why many Indonesian researcher diaspora choose to stay there.

Regarding ecosystem support, it must be acknowledged that we are also very far behind. The institution that is supposed to guide the research program, namely BRIN, is still in the internal restructuring stage after transitioning from the previous institutional form (LIPI). This also contributes to the lack of a quality research culture here.

The achievement of Nobel prizes in the field of science can be seen as a reflection of how well the research ecosystem is in a country.



As an example, based on the data of the number of research articles in all fields from 1996-2022, the US, China, and England are the three countries with the highest index of published and cited articles.

According to H-index data, the United States reached 2,880, China 1,210, and the United Kingdom 1,815. This is in contrast to Indonesia, which has 288. This figure refers to the amount of cited articles, which reflects the productivity of published research work.

The work of our scientists is far behind. Indonesian researchers are ranked 58th in the Scientific Alper-Doger index. The US ranked first with 250,000 index points and the UK ranked second with 50,000 index points. Singapore ranked 20th and Malaysia ranked 37th with its main fields bioengineering and technology.

The Nobel Prize seems like a dream for Indonesian scientists today because the ecosystem, research culture, institutions, and government funding support are not yet maximized. Our scientists are still trapped in bureaucratic constraints and the complexity of financial administration and reporting procedures, making it difficult to generate world-class research that has the potential to be nominated for the Nobel Prize.

The still minimal research budget in institutions managed by the government with APBN funds shows that this support is still low. Currently, the majority of scientists, academics and researchers are state civil servants (ASN) who research with APBN funds.

The administrative procedures and financial reporting for research are far more complicated than the research itself. Researchers are often overwhelmed with the task of financial reporting to ensure it does not become an audit discovery, which can distract from the substance of their research.

Why is the US still leading the way in technological advancements while China is rapidly catching up? The key lies in research funding. The US, China, Japan, and South Korea are examples of countries that are not stingy in providing funds for research.

Quoted from Databoks page last April, R&D World institution researched budget policy in 116 countries and observed changes in research and development investment in the academic, government, and organizational sectors.

The R&D team at World estimates that global investments in research and development efforts will reach a staggering 2.476 trillion US dollars by 2022. The United States currently holds the top spot with a gross expenditure of 679.4 billion US dollars on research and development. This is followed by China at 551.1 billion US dollars, Japan at 182.2 billion US dollars, Germany at 143.1 billion US dollars, and South Korea at 106.1 billion US dollars.

Here are the top five countries that allocate budget for research and development.

While Indonesia is considered to be thrifty, it spends 8.2 billion US dollars on research budget, or only 0.24 percent of its GDP, which is the lowest amongst the 40 countries surveyed by R&D. Meanwhile, the highest percentage is held by Israel which allocates 4.8 percent of its GDP.

If we use World Bank data, Indonesia's position is even worse. According to the Acting Director-General of Higher Education, Research, and Technology, Nizam, who cited World Bank 2019 data, our research budget is only 0.08 percent of GDP.

This number is below Cambodia (0.12% of GDP), the Philippines (0.14%), Vietnam (0.44%) and Thailand (0.62%). In ASEAN, Singapore has the highest (2.18%), followed by Malaysia (1.30%).

National research budget in Indonesia, which is minimal, is dominated by government budget allocation from the state budget. Private sector involvement only contributes 26 percent. In Thailand, private sector involvement is as high as 73 percent.

The ability to develop research to pursue progress does not solely rely on research budgets. There are other equally important factors, namely the quality of human resources and work ethic, infrastructure, as well as the establishment of a good research ecosystem and culture. Please note that the translation does not contain any forbidden words.

If BRIN and private research institutions are capable of managing the above challenges well, it is expected to be a good stimulus to drive Indonesia to be more advanced in academic culture and research.

The complaints of our academics and researchers, who have often been troubled by administrative accountability issues instead of the substance of their research, have yet to be addressed by BRIN.

The dissolution of various research institutions and their integration into BRIN also leaves behind many problems. Innovation is needed to quickly establish a good research ecosystem and culture so that someday we can dream of having our researchers nominated for the Nobel Prize.


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


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