New ministry to tackle employability and innovation

Indonesia’s newly appointed Minister of Research, Technology and Higher Education said the ministry was being revamped to improve the country’s higher education system, increase the employment prospects of graduates and improve innovation in the country.

"Higher education in Indonesia must produce qualified workers," the Minister of Research, Technology and Higher Education Muhammad Nasir said in an exclusive interview with University World News.

Nasir had been elected rector of Universitas Diponegoro shortly before being appointed minister last September. He previously held positions as provost and dean in the faculty of economy and business at the university.

Shortly after his appointment, Nasir said Indonesia’s research and higher education would have to be improved to support industry and innovation in the country.

Although the newly merged Ministry of Research and Technology, and Higher Education was announced in October last year, just after the country’s presidential elections, it only officially started work this year when President Joko Widodo issued a presidential decree on 23 January setting out the new ministry's organisational structure and functions.

"What we had under the previous Ministry of Research and Technology is totally different from what we will be building,” Nasir said, adding he was still seeking candidates for the five new director-general positions in his revamped ministry.

According to the January decree, the Ministry will have five directorate generals, for learning and students; science, technology and higher education institutions; scientific, technology and higher education resources; strengthening research and development; and for strengthening innovation.

"I have just started seeking suitable people for those positions," said Nasir.

This new organisational structure is expected to push through the Ministry's goal for the next five years to increase national competitiveness of graduates and promote innovation generated from private and public universities’ research.

Previously, higher education was part of the Ministry of Education and Culture. The change signals a considerable overhaul. However, Nasir said, the Ministry’s budget should be adjusted or it will create difficulties.

Both higher education and research have been notoriously underfunded. The 2015 state budget, formulated last year by then president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and approved before President Joko took office, allocated the directorate general of higher education Rp41.4 trillion (US$3.3 billion), while the Ministry of Research and Technology got Rp700 billion. In total, the new Ministry received about Rp42 trillion.

A new revised state budget is currently being discussed in Parliament, and endorsement is expected later this month.

Private universities

Nasir also announced in January plans to change the Private Universities Coordinating Body, or Kopertis, established by the government to improve the quality of private higher education and to improve communication and collaboration between private and state universities.

The main task of Kopertis is to formulate policy, conduct supervisory functions, and control and manage private universities in the 12 regions where it oversees private institutions.

The Minister told University World News that in the future there would be “no differences between public universities and private universities”.

A new body would be set up called the National Higher Learning Institutions Coordinating Body that will manage both private universities and public universities, in particular non-profits that haven't become a state-owned legal entity. "Hope is emerging for private universities for this new institution" that will replace Kopertis, said Professor Edy Suandi Hamid, chairman of Indonesia’s Private Universities Association.

The country’s 3, 000 private higher education institutions often feel they are treated as outcasts, either in terms of financial assistance or management development.


Furthermore, Nasir explained that research should not only be conducted by universities. A research ministry, with its human and financial resources, can be “very helpful” in creating innovation, which in the end is expected to provide benefits for the community.

However, with Indonesia grappling with a high rate of youth and graduate unemployment, and with the impending Association of Southeast Asian Nations, or ASEAN, common market – of which Indonesia is a member – being created this year and throwing open some employment sectors within the region, the higher education system needs to become more internationally competitive.

The Central Statistics Agency reported last November that the most educated people were seeing the highest rates of unemployment. Some 5.6 % of graduates are unemployed, but experts said among new graduates this could be as high as one in four.

A recent World Bank report indicated that Indonesia was seeing a disconnect between the higher education system and the labour market. The higher education sector needed to be improved before it could turn out large numbers of ‘job-ready’ graduates.

Nasir is convinced that his background will help in managing the new Ministry. "My experience as provost and dean in the faculty of economy and business, Universitas Diponegoro, is useful," said Nasir.