Ministry gets tough on ‘problematic’ private universities

The Indonesian government is continuing its crackdown on private higher institutions, including colleges and universities, that appear to have violated official standards or are involved in fraudulent activities. Ministry officials, who have revoked almost two dozen licences over the past year, warn of more to come.

Indonesia’s Ministry of Education and Culture has revoked the licences of 17 private higher education institutions since January this year, and 23 in the past 12 months. More are likely to follow, according to officials.

The scrapping of the licences affects several universities and colleges found to have violated specified standards, including poor teaching or fraud.

“Now we are assessing 52 private universities [to ascertain] whether they are liable to carry on or should be stopped,” Lukman, the ministry’s director for institutional affairs, told media in Jakarta on 14 June.

Lukman said his office may not necessarily close down the 52 universities. “We will likely give some of them guidance and advice and give them some other warning. We will close them down only if the previous measures do not work,” he said.

Not all the universities and colleges have been named by the ministry, but some students have highlighted the closure of their institutions on social media. The ministry has said it will help students from the affected institutions to move to other accredited institutions.

Lecturers found not to have been involved in the fraudulent schemes will be given the same assistance. However, those involved in scams will be blacklisted.

‘Protecting the public’

In a 8 June statement, Nizam, the education ministry’s acting director general for higher education, research and technology, said: “This revocation of operating licences is the government’s way of protecting the public, especially students, from bad educational administration and fraud by mean-spirited education providers.”

Nizam said: “The sanctions imposed are according to the level of violation.”

Last year, the ministry revoked 31 private higher education licences for various reasons ranging from failing to meet the required standard of facilities and number of students, to allegations of fictitious classes and the ‘selling’ of educational certificates.

Some of the colleges and universities affected by the withdrawal of licences do not have the required facilities. This includes mainly laboratories, libraries, and telecommunication networks that have fewer than 1,000 students, which is the minimum number required for a licence. Universities and colleges that provide non-accredited programmes can also be shut down.

Fraudulent activities

Some institutions have been accused of fraudulently issuing degrees, according to officials.

Such institutions, known as degree mills, feed off a need for degree certificates in order to secure jobs or positions in public office. For example, a candidate seeking to become a member of the legislature, or even a regional administrative head, needs a degree to be considered.

“They don’t go to university classes, they don’t even complete high school, but they know where to go to get the certificates without necessarily attending lecture classes,” said Eko Budiarjo, a graduate of the Bandung Institute of Technology, now an IT consultant for a media company.

It is no secret in Indonesia that some seasoned politicians are a ‘captive market’ for sales of such educational certificates.

“I know someone in my neighbourhood as a ‘tough guy on the street’, extorting money from street vendors or public transport drivers. Then he ran as a legislative candidate from a political party that is known to be ‘pro-marginalised people’ [and] he got elected. And all of a sudden, he spoke on a local television with an academic title ‘MSc’ after his name. Everybody knew he never went to university or college,” Eko told University World News.

“Political parties do not check the validity of educational certificates,” he said.

Lukman said several big colleges with good facilities and buildings also run unaccredited study programmes and misuse government funds for student scholarships known as KIP, the Indonesian acronym for Indonesia Smart Card. The fund amounts to IDR4 million (US$267) per student per semester.

Every university student reaching the required academic score is entitled to the KIP scholarship and some private universities use this to lure students. However, they “withhold the student fund and use it for other purposes”, Lukman told University World News.

Tough decisions

Lukman added that the decision to liquidate a university is not easy because there are so many other interests involved, such as accommodation rental businesses around the campuses, warung makan – as local small and inexpensive restaurants are called – stationery stores, and ojek (motorbike transport) services, among others.

“Recently, we closed down a university that had 6,800 students. It was a tough decision. But we had to do it for the sake of the wider public interest,” Lukman said, noting that, otherwise, the issues surrounding such institutions become more complicated and more difficult to solve.

Some 4,231 universities throughout Indonesia, comprising 29,821 programmes, 9 million students and 350,000 lecturers, come under the administration of the Education and Culture Ministry.

“These universities are subject to our regular monitoring and evaluation. And during this monitoring, we accept complaints, queries and demands for closures of some universities from various quarters,” Lukman added.

Education analyst Supriadi Rustad, vice-rector for academic affairs at Dian Nuswantoro University in Central Java, threw his weight behind the ministry’s decision to scrap the licences, saying such universities have been problematic for some time. Ministry officials did not take action against them before, he said, noting that “some powerful parties” protect them.

“Now the ministry official has the guts to take action, I give my full support,” Supriadi told University World News.

“They [the problematic universities] have unscrupulous intentions at the outset, that is, to reap money in the guise of education. They usually have less than 1,000 students, don’t have laboratories and run unaccredited study programmes,” he added.

Supriadi suggested the Education and Culture Ministry should temporarily stop issuing new university licences, except in less-densely populated or remote areas. In addition, universities or colleges with fewer than 1,000 students should be merged.

Universities prepare lawsuits

Not all the universities whose licences have been revoked have accepted the government’s decision.

Mitra Karya University in West Java, and the Tribuana College of Economics (STIE Tribuana), both situated in Bekasi, a satellite city of Jakarta in West Java, plan to file a joint lawsuit against the decision.

“Their accusation is one-sided and baseless,” Suroyo, chief executive of Tribuana Foundation which owns STIE Tribuana, told local media.

“They said we run fictitious classes. This is not true. The truth is we adopt the Free Learning scheme the Ministry itself wants us to adopt.

“This means students attend classes only for four semesters. After that, they are given the choice to learn at any campus they want. And after the fifth semester, some students begin job training in different companies. This is part of the programme. Of course, they are not in the classroom,” Suroyo said.

During the seventh semester, students take part in a cross-study programme. “So, they are present at another campus. They are not here on their own campus,” he said.

Suroyo said Mitra Karya University will join his institution in legally challenging the ministry’s decision. Mitra Karya University has 3,031 students while STIE Tribuana has 2,980 students – well above the minimum requirement.

“They accuse us of withholding the student fund. This is also not true. The truth is we withdraw the fund collectively and give it to the students. During the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic, banks refused to cash out the fund, and asked us [universities] to withdraw it all at once. Now the money has been distributed. All students have received the money,” Suroyo said.