The country’s foremost research institute is warning of a brain drain in the scientific community over the next five years, but leading figures argue that Indonesia has the potential to produce a new batch of promising young scientists.
Lukman Hakim, chairman of the Indonesian Institute of Sciences (LIPI), said on Tuesday that his institute would need another 1,500 new scientists just to replace those retiring over the next five years.
But he said this would be difficult to achieve because there are very few scientists under the age of 50 available for recruitment by the government body, leaving it with a mostly aging scientific community whose work could be abandoned without a new generation to continue it.
“During the administration of President Megawati Sukarnoputri, there was a policy in place to recruit 1,500 new scientists, but for whatever reason we only got 700. The remaining 800 were support staff,” he said.
He added that there are now only 1,384 scientists out of LIPI’s total workforce of 4,900, and said that the ideal composition would be the reverse, with three scientists to one support staff.
“We’ve asked the Ministry of Administrative and Bureaucratic Reform to help us produce at least 1,500 scientists over the next five years, because that’s how long it will take to train them after they graduate from university,” Lukman said.
He added that the figure did not take into account the number of new scientists and researchers that would also be needed by the private sector, which is seeing a boom in the biotechnology, mineral resources and manufacturing industries.
Prabowo Subianto, co-founder of the Great Indonesia Movement Party (Gerindra) and the leading contender for the 2014 presidential election, acknowledged the need to nurture a new generation of scientists, saying, “The future of this country, and indeed the world, lies in science and knowledge, so it is imperative that we be able to master it.”
Speaking to the Indonesian contingent of the inaugural Asia-Pacific Conference of Young Scientist, Prabowo hailed them as “the hope and the future of the country.”
The APCYS, held in Palangkaraya, Central Kalimantan, earlier this month, saw 10 of the 13 Indonesian teens participating win a medal, two of which won gold medals.
Yohanes Surya, a prominent physicist and founder of the Surya Institute, which advocates for advances in science and technology education and organized the APCYS, said young Indonesians could bring new and unique insights into science.
“For instance, one of the participants presented a combustible fuel [for cooking] made from durian husk. Traditionally we’ve always used coconut husk for such applications, so using durian is an interesting change,” he said. “Previously there was also an idea to make a mosquito repellent from durian. These kinds of ideas stem from local wisdom — taking something that you encounter routinely, then researching it in greater depth.”
Yohanes also highlighted the potential of youth in underdeveloped regions of the country, arguing that they could become leading scientists if they were given the same opportunities as youth in Jakarta and other major urban areas.
“Take our representatives from Papua, for instance,” he said, referring to the two students from Jayapura who won medals at the APCYS. “Given the right opportunity and the proper training, they can be extraordinary. They’re no different from youth in Jakarta, it’s just that they don’t get the same opportunities.”