Instead, more and more Indonesian students pursue their undergraduate and postgraduate studies at the neighboring countrys higher institutions, partly due to their better quality, affordability, and accessibility.
Speaking about the worlds best universities, Malaysia can no longer be undermined because several of its centers of excellence have even gained prestigious positions in Asia and the world.
For instance, the 2017-2018 Quacquarelli Symonds (QS) World University Ranking put at least four Malaysian universities on the list of top 300. They are the Universiti Putra Malaysia (ranked 229th on the list of the worlds best universities), Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (230), Universiti Teknologi Malaysia (253), and Universiti Sains Malaysia (264).
Meanwhile, according to this latest release of the QS World University Ranking, Indonesia was merely represented by the University of Indonesia (UI) and Bandung Institute of Technology (ITB), which were ranked 277th and 331st, respectively.
Compared to those of Singapore, UI and ITB had even been far left behind because the city state could put its two leading research-based universities in the list of top 15.
Nanyang Technological University (NTU) ranked 11th, while the National University of Singapore (NUS) was ranked 15th out of 959 higher institutions from 84 countries that the QS put in its survey. The survey applies six indicators, namely academic reputation, employer reputation, faculty/student ratio, citation per faculty, international faculty, and international students, to rank the worlds best universities.
Despite the absence of Indonesias leading research-based universities in the worlds top 100 and 200, the University of Indonesia claimed that its current position was better than that of the QS previous survey, making it the best Indonesian higher institution over these past six years.
In terms of scientific publications indexed in Scopus, the leading Indonesian universities, including UI, ITB, and Gadjah Mada University (UGM) also lagged behind compared to those of Malaysia. This reality is, indeed, a serious challenge for Indonesian scientists.
As revealed in the data that an ITBs teaching staff and researcher, Hendra Gunawan, collected until July 18, 2017, the total number of scientific publications of the Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM), indexed in Scopus, for example, had reached 29,776.
This UKMs achievement equals to combined number of scientific publications of Indonesias seven leading universities: ITB (7,878 publications), UI (7,305), UGM (4,908), Bogor Agricultural Univeresity/IPB (3,179), Sepuluh Nopember Institute of Technology/ITS (2,601), University of Diponegoro (1,899), and University of Brawijaya (1,714).
Apart from this factual reality, the productivity of Indonesian universities in conducting research projects, whose outcomes are then published in scholarly journals indexed in Scopus, has been showing an improving trend over these past few years.
As a result, besides the achievements of the seven leading universities, the countrys higher institutions, whose scientific publications also tend to get increased steadily and indexed in Scopus, are the University of Padjadjaran (1,573), University of Hasanuddin (1,313), Sebelas Maret University (1,264), University of Airlangga (1,251), Bina Nusantara University (1,189), Andalas University (1,153), Syiah Kuala University (901), and the University of Sumatera Utara (855).
Research, Technology and Higher Education Minister Muhammad Nasir acknowledged the fact that the universities in Indonesia still lagged behind Malaysia and Singapore in both the world university ranking and scientific publications.
Therefore, Nasir has never felt tired of encouraging rectors of public and privately run universities in the country to improve their institutions performance in teaching, learning, and research activities that enable to increase the number of scientific publications indexed in Scopus and the competitiveness of their graduates in both regional and international levels.
In his opinion, improving quality and relevance of Indonesian universities should also be prioritized in an effort to catch up with reputable higher institutions in Southeast Asia and the world.
When speaking at a national symposium on accountancy, held at the University of Sumatera Utara (USU) in Medan, North Sumatra Province, on Sep 17, 2015, Nasir further warned that it was not enough for universities in Indonesia to function as an agent of education and research because they are, at the same time, required to play the role of an agent of economy by producing smart and innovative graduates and excellent research outcomes.
What Nasir has warned of the importance of becoming an agent of economic development for universities in Indonesia has already been applied by Malaysia by allocating tens of millions of ringgits to strengthen its economic competitiveness in the world.
The Malaysian Investment Development Authority (MIDA) revealed that new sources of growth have been pushed to enable Malaysia to absorb and develop science and technology through development, research, and innovative activities.
The areas of research interests that Malaysia prioritizes for strengthening its economic competitiveness are, among others, related to electrical, electronic, chemical, and medical products, all of which need a good collaboration between universities and industries.
This Malaysias strategy in strengthening its economic competitiveness and improving the capability of its universities in achieving good reputation for teaching and research is a lesson learned if Indonesia does not want to be left far behind by its neighbors.(*)