Universities will shift or be built in new capital

Educational disparity in Indonesia is unresolved, with schools and universities concentrated on Java island. A government plan to move Indonesia’s capital from Jakarta to an area in East Kalimantan on Borneo island may disentangle such disparities, and there are also plans to move some universities and build others.

The chosen spot covers 256,000 hectares, straddling the districts of Penajam Paser and Kutai Kartanegara in East Kalimantan – a huge project that involves various businessmen, corporations, politicians and academics.

The new capital construction project’s cost is estimated to reach IDR466 trillion (US$34 billion), 80% of which will come from private investment and 20% of which will come from the government budget. The new capital city will entail infrastructures, which include education.

President Joko Widodo, known popularly as Jokowi, said the new capital project would not merely entail the movement of government services but also economic investment, adoption of science and technology, research and innovation and centres of excellence.

“It will be the movement of mindset and work technique,” he said at a press conference in Jakarta on 3 January 2020. “There should be a new work culture in the new place that is based on speed and ease. Gone is the era of big defeats,” Jokowi asserted.

He continued: “Now it’s the day of fast beats slow. We are a big and rich country. But if we remain slow, we will definitely be left behind.”

Jokowi said he supports the establishment of a university there, but the initiative and investment should come from private parties. “We want not only a world-class university, but a place of international research and innovation, so that Indonesian and global talents can collaborate to bring about various innovations in energy, health and food,” he said.

Education and Culture Minister Muhadjir Effendy said the government plan to move the Indonesian capital would help create more equal access to education. “It will have a good impact on equality.”

An excessive gap in infrastructure between Java and other islands, especially eastern Indonesia, has resulted in educational disparity, with schools and universities in Java having all the required facilities and their counterparts outside Java lacking almost everything.

“Indonesians living outside Java who want to have better schools or universities, they have to go to Java,” said Cik Hasan Bisri, a professor of sociology at the Bandung-based State Islamic University.

Even in Java, education opportunities and facilities are unequal. Good schools and universities are concentrated in certain cities or areas, such as Bandung, Jogjakarta, Surabaya and Jakarta.

Favouritism in educational policies is another factor behind inequality among schools and universities. In making decisions, senior education ministry officials favour the universities they graduated from. “So there is nepotism. The alumni bond is stronger than you think,” Bisri said. Those who reach top education ministry positions come from a few universities that have been dominant for a long time.

The Jakarta area alone has 1,007 universities, including high schools and academies. Three of them are state owned. The whole of Kalimantan has only 13 universities, including colleges. Thus the number of universities in the whole of Kalimantan is comparable to the number in one district on Java island.

Minister Muhadjir Effendy said the new capital should have at least one national level university.

Research, Technology and Higher Education Minister Mohamad Nasir said the government has planned to move several big universities to the new capital. “At least they should have branches there,” he said.

“Indonesian iconic universities, such as the University of Indonesia, should be there. But the government would not provide funds for the new campus, which means the university itself should make an investment,” he said, adding that the government would only smooth the way with licence acquisition and regulations.

Meanwhile, head of the National Development Planning Agency, Bambang Brodjonegoro, called on the University of Indonesia to begin its new campus with appropriate studies such as civil engineering and technology. He even suggested the establishment of rural and urban planning studies.

“That’s what the new capital needs,” he said.

University of Indonesia Rector Muhammad Anis said he was prepared to take up the challenge. “We know what the new capital needs and we can provide it,” Anis said. “The new capital needs applied sciences, high technology and mathematics.”

But local academics see it differently. Instead of building new universities, empowering existing ones around the new capital area would be easier and more efficient.

“Why don’t we just make the existing private universities into state universities? East Kalimantan has Kutai Kartanegara University, which is private. The government can just acquire and upgrade it,” said Hetifah Sjaifudian, vice-chair of Commission X of the House of People’s Representatives, which oversees education.

Universities and schools in East Kalimantan should be prepared for admitting more students, while improving quality. “The government can help them in this case,” she said.

Bisri does not see an urgency in moving universities from Jakarta to the new capital. If it is for intensifying research to meet the needs of the new capital project, they can do it without moving the universities out.

“We actually have been doing this so far. I have young colleague lecturers doing research in Kalimantan, Maluku, Papua and other places in cooperation with local universities. They even teach there for several months,” Bisri told University World News.

According to Bisri, even without government help, private local schools and universities will be improved by the new challenges and opportunities.