INDONESIA: Private universities under threat

Some 700 private universities in Indonesia have been put on notice by the Ministry of National Education that their accreditation will be withdrawn if they do not quickly comply with regulations. They are under instructions to re-register with the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights.

Many of Indonesia's 2,700 private universities are run by foundations known as yayasan, which are essentially charities. Yayasan have a rather controversial history especially as the late dictator Suharto used a network of more than 100 of them to hide revenues and to move them around.

Weak law enforcement has made it difficult to police such foundations. The National Education Ministry, however, gave the foundation-run higher education institutes three years up to December 2008 to complete the re-registration process that would bring them under proper supervision but the 700 are still apparently dragging their feet.

Universities are being given the option of changing their status by severing ties with the foundations that run them by becoming managed educational agencies (BHPP) or public educational agencies (BHPM). This would bring them into line with the 2009 Law on Autonomy for Educational Institutions passed last year by the House of Representatives.

Fasli Jalal, Director General for Higher Education at the National Education Ministry said, "We ask that all regulations be complied with in full, otherwise these universities will be deemed illegal and no longer allowed to operate."

Under the new legislation, which prompted numerous protests by students fearful it would drive up university fees, all education institutions will eventually be granted full autonomy. The private sector is given six years to complete the necessary steps for this while the state universities have been given four years.

Jalal is rare among Indonesian bureaucrats in being forthright and quite outspoken. He said, "Private universities cannot simply ignore the law on legal foundations. They should apologise to the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights."