Indonesia needs to invest more in human resources

Siwage Dharma Negara, Jakarta | Opinion | Sat, August 09 2014, 10:48 AM

The 2014 Global Innovation Index (GII) ranks Indonesia 87th out of 143 countries in terms of innovation capability. In this aspect, Indonesia still lags behind several of its ASEAN neighbors, such as Singapore (7), Malaysia (33), Thailand (48), and Vietnam (71). Indonesia’s ranking is only better than Brunei Darussalam (88), the Philippines (100), Cambodia (106) and Myanmar (140).

This report generates concern about the future competitiveness of Indonesia’s economy as the largest economy and most populous country in Southeast Asia. With a population of about 250 million people, and more than a third of its population under the age of 15, Indonesia should not waste its young human resources, which could potentially transform its economy from resource-based to knowledge-based.

Before the release of GII 2014, the 2013-2014 global competitiveness index highlighted that in order to transform an economy from factor-driven to innovation-driven, a country needed to improve several aspects, including its institutions, health and primary education, higher education and training, labor market efficiency, technological readiness and innovation capacity. Most, if not all these factors are, to some extent, seriously lacking in Indonesia.

Various development agencies have asserted a clear and consistent message. For Indonesia to sustain its future economic growth and to improve social welfare, it needs to invest more in its human resources. Highly educated and well-trained human resources are critical for an innovation-driven economy. GII 2014 shows a positive correlation between a country’s development stage and the percentage of the population that has completed higher education. Economies at the catching-up stage are often trapped in a vicious circle, where economic development fails to provide sufficient incentives for their young to pursue higher education, and without enough skilled people, these economies will not be able to move up to a higher development level. In view of this, Indonesia can learn from other countries that have succeeded in preparing their human resources to support economic transformation.

The experiences of Singapore and South Korea, the two perceived highly innovative Asian economies, underscore the importance of human resource investment. Both Singapore and South Korea have strong and committed governments that proactively set policy and provide incentive to push human capital development. They strongly believe that high-quality human capital is key to maintaining their global competitiveness and to sustain growth. Even as the political landscape changes, their governments consistently continue investing in education and skills training for their young people.

In South Korea, for instance, because of its persistent high human resource investment, the country has a good stock of well-trained human resource professionals. With support from its well-educated and well-trained human capital, Korea has moved away from dependency on technology imports and reverse engineering to become more actively engage in product engineering and product design technology. High spending on research and development (R&D) together with a highly educated workforce with a high degree of interest in S&T and innovation make “technology leapfrogs” possible in this country. The latter has helped transform Korea from being one of the poorest countries in the world to becoming one of the elite members of OECD within less than three decades.

The Singaporean government realizes the critical role of human resources and the institutions that prepare future human capital for the country. It tries to build an innovative ecosystem in which higher education institutions play a crucial role not only in providing education and training but also to act as knowledge factories to support industry. The government promotes the creation of R&D facilities, including tech-parks and incubators built using public funds in universities. The goal is to leverage universities as a part of its knowledge infrastructure in order to attract foreign direct investment (FDI) from multinational companies and to generate local knowledge-intensive enterprises.

In both economies, state intervention played a big role in industrial development, including the import or transfer of foreign technology during the catch-up period. However, recently, they have turned to more market-led industrial policy and emphasize indigenous and private sector-driven R&D and innovation. They both are imposing education reform, particularly in higher education, to meet global changes. After first building a critical mass of higher education graduates, Singapore and South Korea emphasize improving the quality of their higher education, which is critical for the advancement of their capacity in R&D and innovation.

In addition to universities, government research institutes also play a critical role in diffusing product and process technology to industry. In Korea, for example, the Korean Institute of Science and Technology (KIST) facilitated rapid foreign technology acquisition and adaptation in the 1970s, which helped identify and acquire foreign technologies and assisted Korean firms in adapting and adopting their use. Moreover, the Korean government introduced many initiatives to increase research capacity at universities and strengthen their links with government research institutes. For example, students receive training in multidisciplinary research at universities, participate in research projects at government research institutes, and switch across various government research institutes. In Korea, students are required to take general courses focusing on technology management, research management and planning, technical writing and entrepreneurship. The skills and knowledge they acquire as well as the networks they build prepare them for successful careers in R&D and innovation business.

Universities were given a central role in Singapore’s transformation into a knowledge-based economy. The government allows greater autonomy and flexibility in university governance. The goal is to allow them to be more productive and entrepreneurial.

The key to Singapore and South Korea’s success is that education has always been a top priority. Singapore and South Korea’s higher education institutions have developed into world-class research institutions because they have been given more autonomy and flexibility to respond to global changes. Initially, their higher education institutions were only producers of skilled workers. And now they are being transformed into producers of knowledge.

In Singapore, many public universities are given status as independent legal entities to give them greater autonomy and flexibility to work with industry. The government also requires universities to generate a fraction of their total funding from private sources as a condition for receiving public funding. In some cases, the government even cuts public funding to force them to work with industry. Collaboration with industry becomes a criterion for faculty evaluation. The government provides national awards and honors for those who excel in collaborations with industry. Finally, universities are working with industry in course development to better equip students with the knowledge and skills that employers need.

Going forward, the new government of Joko “Jokowi” Widodo and Jusuf Kalla should prioritize investment in human resource development through education, especially higher education and skills training. The two are the keys to building a critical mass of well-educated and well-trained workforce for accelerating economic transformation. The government should play a more proactive role in promoting reform needed to transform Indonesia into an innovation-driven economy. Better interaction among higher education institutions, government research institutes, and industry must be developed. For this, the government can consider providing preferential policies and incentives to promote collaboration in R&D and innovation.
The writer is a researcher at the Indonesian Institute of Sciences (LIPI), Jakarta.

Are international school students Indonesian enough?

Danau Tanu, Perth | Opinion | Tue, July 15 2014, 10:38 AM

seen as foreign to Indonesia. The Indonesian children who attend these international schools are often accused of being kebarat-baratan, or “too Westernized” — in other words, not Indonesian enough.

But inside the gated campuses, deciding who is foreign and who is Indonesian is not so simple.

Take a typical scene from my research on international schools and their alumni: At one high school, as students flooded out of the classrooms at recess you could hear a Russian and French teenager speaking fluent Jakarta slang to their Indonesian classmates.

The next minute a Taiwanese teenager was speaking English, Mandarin and Indonesian in one sentence. Some of these students were seen as Indonesian despite their background.

There was a large clique among the senior students whom everyone labeled “Indonesian”, or “Indo” for short. But the so-called “Indonesian” group consisted of Javanese, Balinese, Chinese and Indian students, as well as children with mixed parentage

There were also Korean, Filipino and Taiwanese nationals who were fluent or semi-fluent in Indonesian and called Indonesia home.

Regardless of what was officially printed on their passports, there were many students who espoused a sense of Indonesian nationalism. These nationalisms came in different forms.

Dae Sik (all students’ names are pseudonyms), a male student, had an antagonistic sense of nationalism. “This is my country, so the bule [white foreigners] shouldn’t mess with our country,” he said, while perched precariously on the back of a bench. Dae Sik was talking about Indonesia. He grew up in Indonesia, but he was technically South Korean.

“But, aren’t you Korean?” I asked. “Of course,” he responded, “it’s in the blood.” As far as Dae Sik was concerned, there was nothing inconsistent about being both Indonesian and Korean.

Dae Sik spoke fluent Indonesian, English and Korean. But even though he was officially Korean according to his passport, he always hung out in the “Indonesian” group because he could not relate to the Koreans anymore. “Nggak nyambung [can’t connect],” he said of his Korean peers.

One time Dae Sik and a few of his friends took drastic measures to prove their nationalism toward Indonesia. According to a fellow student, Dae Sik and his friends were at a nightclub when they took offense at something that a male American classmate had said to their female Indonesian friend.

So later they hired some bodyguards and visited their American classmate at his family’s home to intimidate him.

Dae Sik strived to show himself worthy of calling Indonesia home by taking an antagonistic stance toward his more foreign-looking Western peers. His friend, Shane, agreed. Shane said of their Western peers: “They walk around like they own the place. So we put them in their place. It’s my country. This is my home.”

Ironically, Shane’s father is British, though his mother is Indonesian.

Others were skeptical of Dae Sik and Shane’s nationalism. Anaya, an ethnically Indian girl with a Spanish passport who grew up in Indonesia, said, “It’s a show they put up. They don’t really have anything to be angry about because they have everything that they want.” According to Anaya, putting on a nationalistic show gave these wealthy boys a sense of “power”.

In contrast, Jason expressed his sense of nationalism by exercising his right to vote as an Indonesian citizen. He had turned 17 (the legal voting age) just a few weeks before the 2009 presidential election. Jason was eager to vote.

“I was always looking at the news and everything about the election to see who would make a good leader and I based it on that. I am sort of a nationalist,” he claimed. His parents did not bother to vote that year, so Jason went by himself to the polls for the first time.

Jason had a more accommodating stance toward his Western peers. Even though he did not feel as though he could relate to them as well as he could his friends in the “Indonesian” group, he said that he and his friends would often invite Western students to parties.

“We don’t like to make it exclusive or anything, it doesn’t feel right,” he explained. If fights break out between boys, Jason reckoned they are isolated incidents triggered by one or two who happened to be arrogant and fueled by teenage angst.

Rajesh was also accommodating of differences. Rajesh is an Indian national who grew up in Indonesia, is fluent in Indonesian and likes to listen to Indonesian pop music.

He was aware that some of his fellow foreign students were well acculturated in Indonesia like himself, while others showed a lack of interest in the country.

But instead of focusing on these divisions, Rajesh chose to serve his community by running for student council president. Rajesh won the election because he was well liked and could talk to both Indonesians and foreigners with ease. Rajesh also knew how to get things done to improve student life.

Whether or not international school students are Indonesian enough depends on how we define what it means to be Indonesian: Is it about the name of the country printed on legal documents like passports, or is it about how you treat the country itself?

Is it about making a performance of nationalism like Dae Sik and Shane, or is it about taking responsibility for the future of the country and of the immediate community, like Jason and Rajesh?

These are questions that lack straightforward answers. But perhaps the important question is not whether international school students are Indonesian enough, but why we are asking these questions to begin with. After all, identities are complex.
Regardless of their passports, there were many students who espoused a sense of Indonesian nationalism.

The writer completed a PhD in Anthropology and Asian studies at the University of Western Australia on “third culture kids” and international education