IN 2015 Asit Biwas, then a professor at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy at the National University of Singapore, and Julian Kirchherr, a researcher at the University of Oxford, wrote a very stimulating and important opinion piece in The times of the straits titled “Teacher, Nobody Reads You”.
The article gave a new perspective on how academics should think about themselves and their role in a changing society. In the article, they argued that many brilliant ideas from academics do not have a significant impact on public debates and policy-making.
This is because academics only share their thoughts in academic journals that are read only by their academic peers. The two even pointed out that the average article in a scholarly journal is read by only about ten people, which does not change society much. Therefore, to have more impact, academics should write more opinion pieces for decision makers and the public to read so that they can influence public discourse or even decision makers.
This has raised a larger question about the extent to which the work of academics, particularly in the social sciences in Indonesia, is relevant to the real world problem of today.
There are at least three methods to make academia and academics, especially in social sciences, more relevant to tackle Indonesia’s challenges.
First, as argued by Professor Harold Koh, a professor at Yale Law School and a former legal adviser to the United States Department of State, it is important for an academic to also have actual practical experience as a senior decision-maker in government. Thus, they have ideas on topics that may be important and relevant to the students who will come into practice later.
He even gave an example of how many academics in the United States have gone on to become senior government officials. It not only shapes the development of policies that are justified academically, but also theory in academia.
Indeed, many ministers and senior officials of the United States government have a university education. Joseph Nye, Ann Marie Slaughter, Janet Yellen and Henry Kissinger are just a few. They have served as senior government officials with strong academic credentials.
After holding government positions, they returned to teach and develop their academic work based on their experience as government officials. These experiences then shaped their academic work, which was relevant to real world problems and not just based on hard-to-implement theory.
Since the New Order under Suharto (1967-1998), Indonesia has a strong tradition of academics and professors serving as ministers and senior officials.
With less democracy and virtually no party coalition, Suharto had the freedom to choose ministers. As a result, technocrats and academics with degrees in the fields have been given the positions of key decision makers.
Today, thanks to democratization, more political parties and coalitions have forced the president to welcome politicians as ministers and senior officials, sometimes even with minimal professional backgrounds and expertise.
As a result, fewer professionals in specialized fields, including academics, sit as government ministers.
Second, as Biwas and Kirchherr stated in their editorial, more Indonesian social scientists should share their ideas beyond their academic peers in academic journals. They should also target a larger audience and publish their research in more popular media, which the general public and policy makers will read.
Today there are more and more online outlets to share their knowledge with a wider audience. By sharing their ideas with the general public, they will fulfill their obligations to educate the nation.
Third, the Indonesian academic community should value more interdisciplinary studies, which are important for tackling current global issues.
In this dynamic world, most problems cannot be solved with a single academic discipline. Many problems and challenges are best resolved through collaboration and interdisciplinary perspectives.
For example, the pandemic is a problem that involves experts in health, public policy, economic, social, legal and many other disciplines. Other issues such as cybersecurity, technology, global health, and gender are issues that require more than a single discipline to address.
Therefore, you need someone who knows this interdisciplinary approach or this school that hosts these multidisciplinary studies. In many developed states such as the United States, academics with a background in a different discipline tend to be appreciated more because it will give them a better understanding of a particular problem.
For example, someone with a law degree and a doctorate in global health will have a better understanding of the regulation of public health issues. Or someone with a law and IT degree might understand cybersecurity and privacy better. Suppose Indonesia maintains its traditional views of this linear academic discipline. Indonesian academics would be less competitive internationally and it would be more difficult for the academic community to meet future challenges facing the country.
Additionally, Indonesia also lags behind in terms of multidisciplinary postgraduate schools with more policy oriented research. Again, many developed countries such as the US, UK, and even Singapore have graduate schools that have an interdisciplinary nature in abundance. Most Indonesian universities still have a traditional faculty system. In the country, the School of Economics, the School of Law, the School of Medicine, the School of Political and Social Sciences are still very separate and rarely speak and collaborate.
The current policy of the Minister of Education, Culture, Research and Technology Nadiem Makarim of Kampus Merdeka (Free Campus), which allows students to take a course from different schools or departments, is a good start for bridging the gap between interdisciplinary education systems. But of course there is still a long way to go. That being said, to tackle current and future global issues and make academics more relevant, it is important that the Indonesian academic community, especially the social sciences, help shape public policy debates and policy-making. politics in Indonesia. – The Jakarta Post / ANN