“Funding multi-year research programmes is essential for Indonesia’s scientific advancement.”
By Muhandis Shiddiq, post-doctoral student
The Indonesian Science Fund (ISF), established under a recent decree of President Joko Widodo, will earmark around US$60 million a year to fund 200 research proposals. The ISF will grant US$100,000 for each successful research proposal, similar to the practice of the US National Science Foundation which allots around US$200,000 per research grant. This year, an initial US$10 million was allocated, the ISF announced Wednesday.
“The main aim of the ISF is to create the right scientific culture in Indonesia. It means that we’ll focus on frontier research rather than on applied ones,” Sangkot Marzuki, president of the Indonesian Academy of Sciences (AIPI), tells SciDev.Net.
The ISF is expected to bridge the gap for financing scientific research in Indonesia. The national budget for science and technology is only 0.08 per cent, compared to the science budgets of Asian economic giant and research powerhouse South Korea (3.7 per cent) and Indonesian neighbours Singapore (2 per cent) and Malaysia (1.13 per cent). Indonesia’s limited national budget flows through tangled branches of government agencies prone to corruption practices, resulting in the poor performance of science and technology in the country.
Research funding has been so rigid, which is not compatible with scientific research culture. Because of that, no one can have a career as a good scientist in Indonesia, Marzuki says.
He explains: “The money really depends on our national budget that has a one-year cycle. For example, the budget is released in March and the scientists must make a report in October. What kind of scientific research is done in less than a one-year period?”
The AIPI collaborated with Indonesia’s ministries of finance and national development planning as well as international partners — the US Academy of Science, the Australian Academy of Science and the United Kingdom’s Newton Fund — to create the ISF, a funding body independent from the government bureaucracy.
Marzuki says the ISF research proposals will be reviewed by the AIPI as well as scientific bodies abroad such as the UK’s Medical Research Council. The first funding source of the ISF will be from the Indonesian Endowment Fund for Education, a programme under the finance ministry. Funds will also be raised from the private sector and international donors.
The ISF is also the result of US science diplomacy with Indonesia. During Widodo’s US state visit in October 2015, the ISF was cited in his joint statement with US President Barack Obama as the centrepiece of US-Indonesia scientific collaboration.
Muhandis Shiddiq, an Indonesian post-doctoral student whose research on quantum computing was just published in Nature, notes the ISF is like fresh air for Indonesia’s scientific community.
He also calls the ISF “a giant leap”: “Funding multi-year research programmes is essential for Indonesia’s scientific advancement and I am sure many Indonesian scientists will be grateful for this.”
This piece was produced by SciDev.Net’s South-East Asia & Pacific desk.