Legal challenge against new higher education law being prepared

In the wake of the Indonesian parliament’s hasty passing of a Higher Education Act last month, several concerned organisations have said they are planning to submit documents to the Constitutional Court demanding a judicial review of the new law.

A legal challenge would mean uncertainty over the full implementation of the law, and could make it difficult for foreign higher education providers to plan entry into Indonesia.

The new law regulates the management of universities and accreditation of courses, as well as allowing in foreign education providers under certain conditions.

Constitutional Court Chief Judge Mohammad Mahfud confirmed that moves were under way to seek a judicial review, although none of the organisations had yet gone far enough in their preparations for court dates to be set, as they are still closely studying the act.

However, he said that as the process had already been initiated, the Constitutional Court could not comment on the review. “The answer [to the review process] will be the verdict,” Mahfud was quoted in local media as saying.

A civil society organisation, the Jakarta Legal Aid Institute, said it was preparing a legal challenge that will maintain that the government or the state should be involved in higher education. It has consistently objected to the new law, saying it amounts to the privatisation of higher education.

“This act narrows the involvement of the state in education,” Pratiwi Febri, the institute’s public defender, told University World News.

According to Febri, the government should ensure affordable higher education is available not just for the rich but also for the poor.

She described as “wrong” the system in which students taking the entrance exam for public universities pay into an endowment fund used to support the universities, rather than adequate funds being provided by the government through the national budget.

Concerns of private universities

At the end of July, at a forum of rectors held in Central Java, many university leaders came out in strong support of a legal challenge, with particular concerns over university autonomy and the entry of foreign universities.

Local private universities, in particular, fear competition from foreign universities and the possibility that lecturers could be poached by foreign providers offering better salaries.

The new law states that foreign providers of ‘good quality’ will be allowed accreditation. Foreign providers must be non-profit and can only set up campuses in cooperation with an Indonesian university.

“Our academic team is still assessing each article of the law,” said Sali Iskandar, West Java chief of the Association of Private Universities Agency, a group of foundations that run private higher education institutions.

But he insisted: “Other organisations might hesitate [to proceed with a judicial review], but we won’t. We will continue to submit a judicial review to the Constitutional Court.”

Sali appeared to be referring to the Association of Private Universities, a separate organisation of private university leaders mainly concerned about the academic side of the business. Together with the National Commission of Education, that association has now dropped its plans for a legal challenge.

Secretary-general of the National Commission of Education Andreas Tambah told University World News that his organisation had reviewed the Higher Education Act in detail and had concluded that it was fine.

The commission previously had concerns over foreign institutions being allowed to set their own curriculum and not inculcating ‘Indonesian values’.

Edy Suandi Hamid, head of the Indonesian Private Universities Association, told University World News that the association did not want to request a judicial review so soon after the act had been passed.

“We do not want [to appear] as if we differ from the government,” said Edy, who is rector of the Islamic University of Indonesia, a private institution in Yogyakarta.

In the current tense debate over the act, moves to submit a judicial review are being seen by some as a political measure to oppose the government, rather than as an attempt to improve the law.

Awaiting detailed regulations

The government is currently formulating more detailed regulations under the act, and Edy said he hoped that stakeholders would also be involved in the process, “although there’s been no request from the government [to take part] yet”.

He believed that the government had accommodated various ideas, although not all of them have been approved yet.

If “it turns out that the articles that we considered problematic or not listed in the act are accommodated through the derivative regulation, then our judicial review might not be submitted”.