Bonuses ‘likely behind’ Indonesian skew towards domestic research

Share of country’s research involving international collaboration more than halves as domestic publications surge

January 17, 2020
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Source: Gajus/iStock

An Indonesian government policy aimed at boosting the country’s research output may have had the unintended consequence of causing a measure of its internationalisation to plummet.

The policy, introduced in 2017, tied salary bonuses that previously had been automatically paid out to researchers at certain levels, including professors, to the number of articles a scholar published in either national or international journals.

However, according to one expert on the country’s higher education system, to ensure that they continue to earn the bonus, more academics have opted for the domestic publication route because of factors such as a lack of funding, poor proficiency in English and some journals being published by Indonesian institutions.

As a result, although research output generally in Indonesia has surged in recent years because of this and other government policies, it has been hugely skewed towards domestic publications.

And while publications involving international collaboration nevertheless more than doubled between 2014 and 2018, according to figures from Elsevier’s Scopus bibliometric database, this rise was dwarfed by categories covering domestic-only research.

The number of single-author papers rose by 250 per cent, those co-authored by researchers at different institutions shot up by 570 per cent and articles by more than one author at the same institution rocketed by 750 per cent.

This has led to Indonesia’s international collaboration as a share of all research to drop by more than half, from 40 per cent in 2014 to just 17 per cent in 2018. The rise in domestic research may be even larger than these figures suggest because Scopus mainly covers English-language journals.

Elisa Brewis, a freelance education researcher who recently completed a PhD on Indonesian higher education at the UCL Institute of Education, said the country introduced its regulation on salary bonuses “precisely in order to chase neighbouring countries…in their scholarly output”.

Staff covered by the rule must publish at least three articles in approved national journals or one article in an approved international journal every three years.

But because of the “low level of English language skills and unfamiliarity with the submission process/standards for international journals”, many lecturers had opted for the national journals route, and the policy change was therefore the “most likely” explanation for the surge in domestic publications, Dr Brewis said.

She added that “many state universities publish their own journals…so it is fairly easy to get your work published in, for instance, your faculty’s own journal, and in this way qualify for the salary bonus”.

Funding was also a factor in research publication being skewed away from international collaboration because only “well-resourced state HEIs, especially the ones with autonomous status”, were “in a better position to support an increase in international publications among staff”, Dr Brewis said.

Concerns have been raised that incentives in Indonesia are fuelling the production of low-quality research, with figures published last year by Clarivate Analytics showing that 40 per cent of Indonesia’s domestic research is uncited.

Dr Brewis said the government’s official position would be that its policy would not lead to low-quality research or papers in predatory publications because articles had to be in accredited journals.

“However, the [ministry] has shown to be very responsive to international trends, and willing to re-evaluate and update policies based on data collected on progress, success or failure,” she said.

“Therefore, a follow-up policy may ensue. The ideal case scenario is that the imbalance in research funding allocation between elite state HEIs and the rest is addressed in order to empower lower-performing HEIs to ‘catch up’ in their research capacity.”

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