Jakarta. Close to one million young Indonesians will enter university in September, and the number is set to grow in the coming years.
But the quality of that education varies widely, and each year, tens of thousands also head to public and private campuses in countries such as Singapore, Malaysia and Australia.
In a bid to improve access and standards, foreign universities and private education providers will be allowed to set up campuses in Indonesia under a new higher education law.
The government says the law, which also regulates how universities are run and courses are accredited, will significantly raise the quality of tertiary education at a time when the country needs more highly skilled graduates to help it move up the economic ladder. Only one in six Indonesians in a cohort goes on to university.
But the proposal to liberalize the sector by letting in foreign players is getting a backlash, with critics and administrators of private universities fearing an influx of foreign influences and teachers, and the flocking of students to better brand name institutions.
Opponents are set to file a challenge to the law in the constitutional court, which means interested foreign universities and private education providers are not likely to move in just yet.
“Education is not a locally manufactured product that can at any time be substituted with imported goods,” Indonesian Private Universities Association chairman Edy Suandi Hamid told reporters.
There are more than 3,000 private universities across the archipelago, catering to some 70 percent of undergraduates, and observers expect that the new rules could force weaker ones to close.
But Education Minister Mohammad Nuh said foreign universities wanting to open will be governed by strict criteria. “There will be filters,” he told the parliament (DPR).
“They will have to enter partnerships with Indonesian institutions and their recruitment policies must put Indonesian nationals first.”
Several academics hope the liberalization will raise the quality of teaching, which various international studies show lags behind that in other Asian countries.
“Local universities will be encouraged to raise their standards to stay competitive, and this will benefit students,” said Arista Atmadjati, who teaches aviation management at state-run Gadjah Mada University in Yogyakarta.
“Hopefully before long, Indonesian universities could also see more students from abroad coming to study here,” he added.
There are some 100 public universities in Indonesia. Gadjah Mada, the University of Indonesia, the Bandung Institute of Technology and Airlangga University in Surabaya rank among the top.
Competition for places is stiff at these universities, and a number of their students go on exchange programs at regional varsities.
But Arista is also concerned that the entry of private institutions will see a rise in university fees overall, and disadvantage students who are less well-off.
Minister Nuh, a former academic, said varsities will be mandated to reserve 20 percent of places for students from poorer households.
The ministry will also issue regulations spelling out where foreign campuses can operate and what programs they can offer, with priority given to disciplines uncommon at Indonesian universities because they require significant investment or skills.
Member of Parliament Agus Hermanto, chairman of the parliamentary commission that oversees education, hopes the move will help stem a brain drain of young Indonesians.
“It should encourage our brightest students who prefer to study overseas to stay here,” he said.
Reprinted courtesy of Straits Times