Nottingham, United Kingdom 18th May 2020 — COVID-19 is a global challenge which requires global solutions. In the first event of its kind, UK and Indonesian policy makers, scientists, and funding agencies sat down together1 and discussed the roadmap to tackling COVID-19 with the aid of effective multi-disciplinary collaborations.
During the webinar and discussion, organised by the University of Nottingham and the Indonesian Ministry of Research and Technology – supported by the Indonesian Embassy in London, scientists from the University of Nottingham and some of Indonesia’s best Universities (i.e Institut Teknologi Bandung, Institut Pertanian Bogor and Universitas Gadjah Mada) presented their COVID-19 research portfolios. Following this, there was a discussion with Professor Ali Ghufron Mukti, the Head of the COVID-19 Research and Innovation Consortium for KEMENRISTEK/BRIN, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office Newton Fund Manager and British Council. The online meeting was also attended by the Indonesian Young Academy of Sciences (ALMI).
Challenges facing Indonesian researchers
In his keynote speech, Professor Ali Ghufron Mukti highlighted the challenges facing researchers and academics in Indonesia in battling COVID-19. One of the main issues covered was that Indonesia does not yet have the human resource capability in research to produce comprehensive, quality research into COVID-19 – “only 15% of Indonesian researchers have PhD degrees. There is only about 1 researcher per million of population” (Professor Ali Ghufron Mukti).
In terms of general organisation of research, he commented that “research is still seen as a bureaucratic-heavy activity. There is low research/science literacy among bureaucrats and policy makers. The complicated, bureaucratic auditing process for research grants makes it difficult for researchers to follow account for the impacts of their research and produce sound scientific outputs at the same time.”
To conclude, Professor Ali Ghufron Mukti said, “An impartial, transparent progression system for researchers and academics is needed, where cross-disciplinary and global collaborations such as the ones with the University of Nottingham need to be promoted”. Recently, the Indonesian government have addressed these challenges by enacting Law No. 11/2019 on the National System of Science and Technology (UU SISNAS IPTEK).
Despite the challenges, Indonesia has made several progressions in the development of critical technologies for battling COVID-19, such as PCR and Non-PCR diagnostic test kits and advances towards producing more effective Personal Protective Equipment. For example, prototypical Nanosilver-based Hazmat will be produced by July 2020 in collaboration with Indonesian Institute of Science (LIPI), and Eijkman institute. The BRIN-led consortium comprising researchers from University of Indonesia, Institut Teknologi Bandung, Padjajaran University, BPPT and many others have produced ventilators that passed the National Pharmaceutical Control Bureau (BPFK) test on 12th May 2020.
Global Collaboration is Key
From the University of Nottingham, Professor Gisli Jenkins, Professor Mohammed Ilyas, Dr Ross Wilson and Dr Ana Valdes presented the breadth of Nottingham’s multidisciplinary research on COVID-19 and Dr Yodi Mahendradhata, Dr Joko Sarwono, and Dr Wisnu Kusuma presented the COVID-19 research portfolios of UGM, ITB, and IPB respectively. The Newton Fund strategic manager for the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Ms Triny Tresnawulan then presented a collaborative funding opportunity, giving further incentive for more collaboration between UK and Indonesian scientists. Through the Newton Fund institutional link and impact scheme grants organised in collaboration with KEMENRISTEK/BRIN, up to £110,000 of funding per project is available.
The Embassy of Indonesia for the United Kingdom and Ireland, through its spokes-person, Mr Hartyo Harkomoyo said, “Indonesian Embassy fully supports joint efforts by Indonesian and UK scientists in tackling the COVID-19 pandemic. The efforts show concrete solidarity and contribution by scientists in facing the extraordinary disaster. The Indonesian embassy is persuaded that collaboration initiatives between UK and Indonesia will bear fruit”.
Roles of Indonesian Diaspora scientists as catalysts for knowledge exchange
To expedite progress and leverage impact, Prof Ghufron Mukti stresses the role of Indonesian Diaspora scientists abroad and their contributions to the country’s research and innovation agenda. He mentioned: “We provide support for research collaboration between researchers from diaspora-host universities such as the University of Nottingham and Indonesian scientists. RISTEKBRIN will provide up to Rp 2 Billion each year for three years to fund research collaborations related to COVID-19”. He continued, “We will prioritise diaspora-host universities that are able to provide matching funding”.
In fact, researchers from the University of Nottingham have been working closely with Indonesian authorities to support the management of COVID-19 in the country. The Nottingham-Indonesia Collaboration for Clinical Research and Training (NICCRAT) consortium, led by Professor Mohammed Ilyas, has been tasked with offering insight into the situation and to help formulate the national research, innovation and capacity-building stream, thus becoming an integral part of Indonesia’s COVID-19 management system. Dr Bagus Muljadi, the director of the Indonesia Doctoral Training Partnership (IDTP) at the University of Nottingham, has been actively advising the Indonesian government to utilise its diaspora asset in order to help the nation utilise its human resources to boost quality research and innovation. Before the COVID-19 outbreak, he had been urging the country to prioritise research in disaster management as one of the key issues Indonesia has to deliver.
University of Nottingham leading UK-Indonesia research collaboration
The Secretary General of Indonesian Young Academy of Sciences (ALMI), Dr Berry Juliandi mentioned “I congratulate the University of Nottingham for reaching out to Indonesian scientists. We will help bridge University of Nottingham with Indonesian Universities to spur collaborations”. Further Dr Juliandi said: “I believe, RISTEKBRIN should endorse more collaborations between Indonesian Universities and University of Nottingham”
Professor Robert Mokaya, the Pro-Vice Chancellor Global Engagement at the University of Nottingham said: “We at Nottingham have contributed significantly to the national effort in battling COVID-19 here in the UK. We are keen to enhance our collaboration with colleagues from Indonesia, especially in research that will offer solutions to the challenges of the current pandemic. We very much value our international partnerships as a means of addressing global challenges and bringing positive impact to humanity” …. “I am particularly pleased with this timely initiative and look forward to more collaborations with Indonesian colleagues in the future”
Dr Bagus Muljadi, a diaspora academic currently acting as the Director of Indonesia Doctoral Training Partnership – a knowledge exchange initiative at the University of Nottingham – mentioned “I am very happy as both an Indonesian and academic at the University of Nottingham to see such event take place. Indonesia is unique in that it has one of the largest biodiversity in the world – rich with indigenous knowledge and medicinal herbs that may provide the answer to such a global problem. In this webinar, best-of-the-best researchers in the UK and Indonesia united to seek inspiration for collaborative research opportunities to help battle COVID-19 to try to help Indonesia find its own unique solution.”
Counsellor for Public Diplomacy
Indonesian Embassy in London, UK
Ms Rebekah King
Communications Officer, Indonesia Doctoral Training Partnership
Dr Bagus Muljadi
Director, Indonesia Doctoral Training Partnership
University of Nottingham