INDONESIA: Deregulation of higher education

Renewed debate has begun in Indonesia over a proposed bill to further deregulate the nation's universities. Privatisation of leading universities is controversial and seen by critics as a form of 'classism' that effectively excludes the children of less well-off families. Currently under consideration is a bill that Minister of National Education Bambang Sudibyo says will "change all state and private universities into corporate-like institutions".

The debate was reignited after the Ministry of National Education announced an increased budget for 2009. Higher education will receive some 31% of the pie although the largest increase will go towards schoolteachers' salaries, which will be disbursed to regional authorities.

Critics of the government have been pressing it for several years to meet its constitutional commitment to apportioning 22% of the state budget to education. This forms the background to the debate over deregulation of the universities' sector.

The process began in 1999, the year after student-led protests forced out strongman
Suharto, when the government decreed the top four state universities to be legal entities, thus enabling them to organise their own finances and raise their own revenues.

The four are the University of Indonesia (UI), Gajah Mada University (UGM) in Jogjakarta, the Bogor Institute of Agriculture (IPB) and the Bandung Institute of Technology (ITB). Since 1999 state subsidies to these institutions have been progressively reduced.

At a recent forum on legal entities organised by the activist watchdog Indonesia Corruption Watch (ICW) a leading commentator on education, Darmaningtyas, said, "The consequence of this liberalisation of the sector is that education is no longer the basic right of every citizen. Now only the haves can buy (into it)."

A sociology of education academic from the Jakarta State University, Jimmy Paat, told the forum the proposal was "full of injustices". Further, he said, "Many students will be excluded simply because of economic factors."

One particularly glaring example of the increased cost of higher education since 1999 is that of putting a student through UI's faculty of medicine where a staggering sum of Rp750 million (US$79,300) is required. Small wonder that payment of backhanders to faculty bureaucrats is a common practice around the medical schools of Indonesia.

Darmaningtyas underlined another source of grievance caused by the high costs of university entrance and passage in the way they have tended to either reduce or eliminate students from outside Java, especially those from the poorer provinces of eastern Indonesia. He has in mind the Moluccas and Papua.

Pointing out that when he was a student at UGM it allocated 18% of its places to students from the east who could be found in all faculties, he claims that is no longer the case.

This has serious political ramifications in Papua in particular. Exclusion of Papuan students from top universities means that mining companies operating in the resource-rich province will not be able to employ Papuan graduates as they prefer to take ITB and UI graduates who are necessarily of a different ethnic background.

This further exacerbates separatist sentiments. Darmaningtyas cautioned that students from UI and ITB would be seen as "colonisers".

Indonesia Corruption Watch's concerns are certainly valid. Major corruption cases break out in Indonesia on a regular basis and, as outlined in earlier articles for University
World News
, these also affect higher education. There is strong evidence to link higher university tuition fees to increased corruption in the sector.