INDONESIA: University admissions scandal

Barely a day goes by in Indonesia without yet another corruption story filling the newspaper headlines. Usually these scandals involve businessmen, members of the judiciary or government officials. The higher education sector, however, is not untainted.

April is the month when university admission examinations are set. This year saw some 34,000 would-be students sitting the entrance test at the country's oldest university, Gajah Mada, in the Central Java city of Jogjakarta. Of these some 28% had paid large 'brokerage' fees to a cohort of middlemen who had promised them 'guaranteed' places at the institution, a survey by the university's student executive board found.

The middlemen received payments as high as 200 million rupiah (US$22,000) and are in cahoots with university administration officials. The scandal is repeated at a number of the country's leading institutions yet the Ministry of National Education seems to be completely lacking in the will to clean out these Augean Stables.

Perhaps most alarmingly, places can be bought in medical faculties and other premium subject areas include engineering and law. It is not uncommon in the big cities such as Jakarta, Bandung and Surabaya to see 'crammer' institutions that run preparatory courses advertising 'guaranteed' entrance at leading universities.

Indonesia also faces the connected problem of highly-placed individuals sporting fake doctorates. Among them are allegedly the recent Vice-President, Hamzah Haz, as well as a number of members of the national House of Representatives. Fake doctorates from bogus North American universities are the vogue.

Meanwhile, the country faces a crisis of high-graduate unemployment and the climate of corruption encourages prospective students to chase places at the country's prestige institutions, which is where the brokers mostly operate, in the belief that degrees from them enhance their chances of finding a job.