Newsmaker Interview: Muhammad Dimyati

Indonesia’s R&D Director General on the government’s strategy to boost its role in the economy

By Gilang Ardana and Peter Sean Lie
Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Indonesia is revitalizing its research and development (R&D) sector, after the government signed the National Research Masterplan (RIRN) for the 2017-2045 last year. The masterplan regulation was designed to address key challenges in the R&D sector.

The masterplan is one of the many efforts by the government to increase the significance of R&D in national development. Plagued by constraints of bureaucracy, human resources, funding and research applicability, Indonesia has long been seen as lagging behind other countries in R&D. 

AmCham Indonesia reached out to Muhammad Dimyati, Director General for Strengthening Research and Development at the Ministry of Research, Technology and Higher Education, to explore more on the issue. Dimyati’s office is tasked with creating a conducive environment to spur research and innovation.  

He shared his views on the current state of the R&D sector and how the government wants to solve the challenges.

AmCham Indonesia: How do you assess the current state of play of our R&D sector?

Muhammad Dimyati: In Indonesia, research is underestimated by lot of sectors because they are not yet aware it will create a significant impact on our economy. We intend to change this perception. We want to put research as a significant determinant of the national economy by placing clear indicators on how to measure R&D’s impact on the development of an industry and the overall economy.

One of the ways we pursue this is leading the development of the National Research Masterplan 2017-2045 [RIRN] that will address key challenges in the R&D sector. We will also use multi-factor productivity [MFP] indicators [this reflects the overall efficiency with which labor and capital inputs are used together in the production process] to measure the research impact on our economy. We intend to increase our MFP, which will ultimately increase the role of research in national development.

Furthermore, in our assessment, our researchers do not yet have an enabling environment to compete with researchers from advanced countries. There are two issues that we can look at: human resources and funding.

Indonesia has only 1,070 researchers per one million population, lagging behind many other countries. There is also lack of the bigger picture in the research itself as researchers are still choosing topics as they please. As a result, there is a gap between the research and the needs of industries. We are also lacking in terms of international publications, with only 19,000 out of 150,000 research articles published internationally in 2017. All of these indicate that there is a need to address human resource issues in our research and development sector.

We also have issues with research funding. Currently, research funding accounts for only 0.25 percent of our country’s GDP, or about Rp 30 trillion. However, if we look further, only Rp 10.9 trillion was used on research, the rest was allocated to administrative and logistics matters. Can you imagine that? Rp 10.9 trillion is actually less than a single company can spend on research. Also, only 16 percent of the total funding came from the private sector, the rest from the government. We are working to push for a larger share from the private sector.

How have you addressed those challenges so far? How was RIRN designed to solve the challenges?

We have plans to make various policies to accommodate our researchers to be more effective and productive. One of our efforts is to make our researchers more focused on what they do by putting research priorities in areas that matter for the country. This is also summed up in our RIRN.

The creation of RIRN was the result of long consultation and coordination with various government agencies and the House of Representatives. We have placed a clear goal for our R&D in the document.

Regarding research funding, RIRN has changed the funding method to be output-based. For instance, research is expecting to get X, but the researchers will only be paid if they find X. This is simpler and will benefit the researcher. This funding method will be further governed in government regulations. I also believe that a public-private partnership scheme will be one effective solution to address our funding issues. It is our job as the government to invite them [private sector] to invest in research.

The point is, we must change now, or it’s going to be too late. Now Indonesia has a demographic bonus that should be harnessed. Industry 4.0 is also happening. There are lots of challenges ahead, and the pressure to go forward is big for Indonesia. We are in the position where there is no choice other than going forward.

Why does the problem of human resources in R&D persist?

I would say that the culture of researchers in this country plays a big role in perpetuating a vicious circle. A lot of our researchers also work as lecturers in universities. In Indonesia, a lecturer has three main roles: lecturing, research and community service, often called Tri Dharma. With these roles, most lecturers are too focused on lecturing rather than research, which means that they are not productive in terms of publication. And they tend to lecture on the same materials over the years without upgrading or improving them. This is the culture that should be changed, and we are going to use regulations to change it. Unproductive senior lecturers within their comfort zone should be pushed with a minimum publication policy, which will cut their salary if they don’t publish research. Research should also be directed to something that society needs. Policymakers should also change their behavior in making policies. They need to start to make policies based on research, rather than based on interest groups.

In addition, we should also understand that in Indonesia, people sometimes do not understand what researchers actually do and the significant impact of research. The image of being a researcher in Indonesia is not that popular among young people, and most of them do not understand the importance of research in national development. Thus, the importance of research and what we call “research culture” should be socialized to society. Also, children should have a researcher mindset and paradigm taught in schools.

Why do you think the private sector contribution is so limited? Do you have incentives to attract more private sector involvement?

I think the key reason is because our national research is not that appealing to the private sector. I have to admit that our national research is not competitive enough, but partly this is because Indonesian researchers lack confidence to communicate their research. Therefore we try our best to push our researchers to publish and communicate better.

I believe that if the private sector plays a bigger role in research, it will trigger more dynamic and innovative research. We cannot deny that the purpose of the private sector is to make a profit, and they need to compete and innovate in an increasingly globalized and digitalized world. This means they will demand more innovative and fast-paced research to accommodate their industry needs. I do not mean that the government is not important in research, but ideally it is the private sector that should play a bigger role.

To that end, we have incentive strategies, including tax reduction and double tax. With these incentives, we hope the private sector will be more than ready to spend money on research. But of course it takes time to improve the environment.

What about inter-ministerial coordination on research? Do you find it is difficult to have a common vision on research?

I have to admit that it is difficult to have synergy between ministries on R&D. In Indonesia, almost every ministry has a research division, and we also have research institutes such as the Indonesian Institute of Sciences (LIPI). The problem is, we do not yet have a coordinator to manage all of those research divisions. The funding for all of those agencies is Rp 24.9 trillion. If the funds are not managed properly and efficiently, our research cannot be maximized.

This is something that we ought to change with RIRN. The masterplan mandates the government to have a single entity that coordinates all government-owned research agencies.  I think it will help in terms of streamlining coordination and unifying our message in terms of our R&D goals. We do hope also that RIRN can establish a clear vision and mission for all research divisions, as well as to lay out key priority topics for our research.

What are the latest developments on efforts to open the education sector for foreign partnerships?

We have some ongoing collaborations in education with foreign governments. For example, we have two programs from the governments of the UK and France, namely the Newton Fund Indonesia and the Nusantara scheme. However, I believe these collaborations are not enough and we need to reach more foreign governments to have joint-programs in education.

Regarding the possibility of foreign universities opening branches in Indonesia, this idea is still being discussed and negotiated between the Indonesian government and foreign actors who are interested in pouring investment into education. But so far there is no significant development on this matter. But I do hope the American government and private sector can sustain their support for our education for the betterment of our country.

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