INDONESIA: Supreme Court annuls university autonomy law

A controversial university autonomy law sponsored by the ministry of national education has been annulled by Indonesia's Supreme Court. Opponents of the legislation claimed it gave unfair assistance to the offspring of wealthy families.

A lobby bringing together students' and parents' groups has defeated the ministry on a sensitive issue. A number of student protests had been violent, notably in Makassar, the provincial capital of South Sulawesi.

The autonomy visualised by the ministry would have enabled universities to generate up to a third of their operational funds in the form of tuition fees and 'donations'. In a country with notorious systemic corruption, it was the latter that alarmed opponents most.

The law envisaged the government providing half the funding for higher education institutions. But the court rejected this argument, judging it was based on the invalid assumption that all higher education institutions were equally able to comply.

The panel of judges ruled that there were "obvious disparities" which, they said, hampered the educational process.

The government's response to the ruling came from as high up as Vice-President Boediono who claimed it would have a "massive impact on the national education system".

Nonetheless, the government is prepared to abide by the judgement.

The government is thus faced with drawing up another plan covering university finances. This may be bad news at a time when the ministry has tripled the allocation for university science and maths research programmes. That is a moot point given that the University of Indonesia (UI) has stated its ambition to become the regional centre for climate change studies.

Meanwhile UI has said it is happy to get on with "facts on the ground" where the court ruling is concerned. Its fees vary widely, from $11 to $824 a semester.