The Jakarta Post
When the government announced plans for universities to have foreign rectors last week, there were rumblings of a budding resistance. One rector, Al-Azhar University’s Asep Saefuddin, blamed a lack of progress at local universities on “excessive bureaucracy” that resulted in little campus autonomy, uncreative rectors, underpaid lecturers and challenges to obtaining research permits.
Many might agree with him, but as Research, Technology and Higher Education Minister Mohamad Nasir said, the government is looking to learn from the experiences of overseas universities that have managed to make significant progress with foreign lecturers and rectors, such as those in neighboring Singapore.
Some Indonesian professors have carved out stellar careers overseas as lecturers and researchers. Look no further than Yanuar Nugroho, a presidential staffer at the University of Manchester in the United Kingdom, Ariel Heryanto, a scholar at Monash University, Australia, and Vedi Hadiz, professor of Asian Studies at the University of Melbourne, Australia. Elsewhere in the world is Merlyna Lim, who leads research into digital networks and has taught at universities in the United States and Canada.
Ask these professors why they have spent decades overseas instead of contributing to developing students back home and their responses might be similar: A more vibrant university culture in Indonesia would enable them to make more productive use of their time.
The latest reports of suspected corruption in university rector elections are reminders of the country’s stagnant campus culture, to say nothing of a lack of university funding and lack of scientific papers and research progress. The post-New Order era has seen a euphoria of freedoms, including the decision to allow elections for rectors. Such elections were seen as a breakthrough in cutting out red tape and boosting creativity in the higher education sector.
Instead, rector elections have become just another political commodity. On July 31, Jakarta State University (UNJ) senate chairman Hafid Abbas and other university officials asked the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) to help safeguard the university’s rector election from the threat of corruption and conflicts of interest, as we reported. Officials cited reports of alleged bribery and promises of gratuities surrounding the election process. Similar allegations have been reported regarding the ongoing rector election at the University of Indonesia, which managed to rise in the ranks, becoming a top 500 university worldwide according to the 2020 Quacquarelli Symonds World University Rankings.
Current rules on state university elections require close review, as the research, technology and higher education minister has the equivalent of 35 percent of the vote, which exposes the process to favoritism and conflicts of interest, a researcher from the independent Indonesia Corruption Watch said.
Possible solutions to ridding our campuses of pervasive and chronic corruption include educating students on the importance of integrity early on. This issue is clearly a battleground, as long as universities themselves are a source of this scourge.