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Publish or… fail? Indonesia introduces a publication requirement for all students

On 27 January 2012, the Indonesian Directorate General of Higher Education (DIKTI), which is part of the Ministry of National Education, distributed a Circular Letter to rectors and directors of higher education institutions across Indonesia decreeing a new requirement for graduation: all students must publish. Specifically, starting in August, undergraduate students must publish in a scientific journal, master’s students in a nationally accredited scientific journal, and doctoral students in an international scientific journal.

Although the stated aim of the new policy is to enhance the culture of writing in Indonesian students, the real aim may have more to do with improving Indonesia’s international research rankings performance. Indeed, the minister’s official announcement alludes to the low number of scientific publications by Indonesian scholars as compared to Malaysia and other countries in the region. This logic may be somewhat flawed, however. True, the SCImago Journal and Country publication rankings show a low output of citable documents by Indonesian researchers (who were ranked 60th in the world in 2010) as compared to their Malaysian counterparts (ranked 27th in the same year). Moreover, their impact over the 1996-2010 period was much higher, with a citations per document index of 8.11, compared to just 3.95 for Malaysia. Nonetheless, the effect of the student publishing requirement on rankings would be negligible at best, as such rankings are calculated from publications in recognised international indexes.

The logistics of implementing the policy are also problematic. According to the Center for Scientific Information and Documentation (as reported in the Asian Scientist Magazine) there are only 300 nationally accredited academic journals in Indonesia, while between 5 000 and 6 000 students graduate each year from the University of Indonesia alone (and there are approximately 2 800 total institutions in the country). Indonesia’s journals are in no position to handle the sheer number of student submissions that would flood the review process, not to mention the possible effects on journal reputations and publications quality. As a possible resolution to this quagmire, the ministry has suggested an alternative solution whereby each university would develop an e-journal to satisfy the publication requirements of its students. Ultimately, the point may be moot, given that the policy is expected to be contested before it enters into force; the national association of private universities has already signalled its intention to file an appeal. Moreover, the ministry’s choice of legal instrument for introducing the new requirement is somewhat peculiar, as a Circular Letter does not have the force of law and there can be no legal sanction for violating the policy.

Indonesian Ministry of National Education (in Indonesian) SCImago Journal and Country Rank Asian Scientist Magazine