Ministry scraps need for thesis at undergraduate level

Indonesia’s education and culture ministry has dropped a mandatory requirement for final-year undergraduate students to submit a thesis in order to graduate. The thesis, or skripsi as it is known in Bahasa Indonesia, was seen as a time-consuming and expensive obstacle to many students completing their degrees and was considered irrelevant by many employers seeking real-world skills.

Skripsi is a research-based assignment that has been the main requirement for the undergraduate final exam in all state universities in Indonesia for many decades. But dropping the requirement will provide other options to develop skills and creativity, according to academics.

However, according to Professor Ir Nizam, director of higher education, research and technology at the ministry, skripsi has not been totally abolished.

Speaking in Jakarta on 1 September, a couple of weeks after the change was announced, he said: “Skripsi writing is still effective, but it is no longer the only requirement for the final exam as it was before. In the final year students can take other options, such as creative and innovation [options] and projects that have a positive impact on the community”.

Education, Culture, Research and Technology Minister Nadiem Makarim said undergraduates are only required to have knowledge of theoretical concepts in a particular subject and can instead submit an innovative project or creative work based on that knowledge. “It is up to his or her university,” he said.

During a hearing in the House of Representatives on 30 August, Makarim explained: “All we have done is to leave final exam requirements to the universities concerned. If a university decides skripsi writing is necessary, then go ahead.” Universities would also decide which other options to offer in place of the thesis, including creative, social and other options.

The compulsory journal publication requirement for postgraduate, masters and doctoral degree students remains in place. However, Nadiem said it was no longer the sole requirement. “There are many other ways of showing or proving one’s capability and skill; why stick only to journal publication?” he said during the House of Representatives hearing.

A big relief

The news comes as a big relief for Irfan Kafyama, a student in his final semester of a business management degree at Bandung-based Parahyangan University.

Kafyam has passed all his degree subjects but has to finish his undergraduate thesis. “If I had completed this skripsi assignment, I would have graduated from university and got a job somewhere,” he told University World News on 4 September.

“But it’s frustrating.”

He and many of his friends are having a hard time with their skripsi, he said. Writing the thesis is not difficult. The problem was meeting his skripsi mentor, who is head of the business management programme.

“We repeatedly made an arrangement, and repeatedly rescheduled it. He [the mentor] appears not to have enough time to read my script. He just made corrections on one or two pages and said we would discuss the rest at our next meeting,” he said.

This ‘next meeting’ is another headache, Kafyama complained: “I am now doing the last chapter of my skripsi but this kind of thing means it takes longer than it should.” He added that some of his friends spent six months to a year on the final thesis.

Many students say the new policy will make the final assignment easier and faster as the thesis requirement extends the time it takes to get a degree.

Monica, a student at Bina Nusantara University, Jakarta, said with the thesis no longer compulsory she will submit evidence of an innovation in food production instead. “I invented some recipes using new food products as ingredients. I think people would like it and I am prepared to offer it as my final academic assignment,” she said.

She heard from alumni who have already secured jobs that the companies they work for don’t care about the content and arguments in their final-year thesis. “They are more interested in what projects they have done,” she said.

Support from academics

Several academics lauded the ministry’s new ruling, with many saying the writing assignment is an imposition, inefficient, and a mere formality.

“I have been mentoring students in skripsi writing for almost 20 years, and for around 10 years, I have been suggesting the skripsi assignment be made optional,” said Moeflich Hasbullah, an Islamic history lecturer at the State Islamic University of Sunan Gunung Djati, Bandung.

“I find that only a few students are good at writing,” he told University World News. “Writing is a discrete skill and not many acquire the skill but they excel in other areas, such as creative work, art, and technical or social activities. So why not give them more options to express their abilities?”

Hasbullah said compulsory regulation is not enough to produce good results, pointing at the mounting archives of skripsi stored in university libraries, most of them with little real-world value.

Many students take the easy way out — paying someone else to do it. “And it is no secret that skripsi writing has become a business on university campuses,” he said.

For some universities the new ruling is not a problem.

“Here in the Political and Social Sciences Department of Gadjah Mada University (UGM) we have been used to giving final-year students assignments they can choose from, including skripsi writing. We have students who make short documentary movies or [undertake] social projects,” said UGM vice-rector Arie Sujito.

Cecep Darmawan, an education expert at the Indonesian University of Education, Bandung, agreed with the need to widen undergraduate students’ options beyond skripsi, but insisted that for postgraduate and masters students, research and writing for publication in academic journals is a must.

“Postgraduate and masters degree students are those who choose to live as academics or scientists. For them one of the basic skills is writing scientific works,” he told University World News.