The Jakarta Post
In Indonesia there will be a significant shift in job market priorities because of the ongoing transition of the country from an agrarian to an industrialized economy and its alignment with regional and global markets.
This transition is expected to result in not only industries/workplaces absorbing greater numbers of employees, but also in employers requiring higher levels of skills. There is already a strong and growing demand for high-quality, high-skilled human resources across a variety of sectors and this will only grow stronger in the days ahead.
To cope with this expected increased demand for high-skilled workforce, the Indonesian economy will not only need higher enrolment from students in its higher education but also for university programs to significantly improve their relevance and quality.
In Indonesia today, there is a skills mismatch between what universities are preparing their graduates for, and the market requirements. The research and surveys conducted recently by the Economist Intelligence Unit (The Economist) for the British Council; McKinsey & Company; and the World Bank all reveal that there is serious concern among employers in Indonesia on existing general skills mismatch between the demands of the job market and the skills of the university graduates.
The overall quality and relevance of the educational programs offered by Indonesian Universities need improvements. Despite increased years of schooling and greater overall participation in higher education, graduates are found to be unprepared for the job market.
Today, a university education does not necessarily guarantee a student that he/she fits the needs of industry/workplace.
This is partly blamed on the inadequate standards and inappropriate focus of the national universities. They seem often either not providing an adequate standard of teaching and learning in the discipline, or fail to combine theoretical knowledge with practical skills relevant to students' future careers.
This has resulted in a shortage of appropriately-skilled workforce and a surplus of unemployed university graduates.
According to a 2008 survey distributed to a number of Indonesian employers (Economist Intelligence Unit, The Economist), 'core skills' such as numeracy, literacy and other generic skills and practical experience are perceived to be nearly as important as theoretical knowledge for professionals and the skilled workforce.
Such skills are often lacking among managers and professionals, with English and computer competencies particularly scarce. The survey also points out behavioral skills as being especially desirable in managers, yet nearly one third of employers see a gap here for managers and professionals.
What Indonesia now badly needs is a university with strong focus on the needs of various professions.
Current employment prospects for many Indonesian graduates are unfortunately rather limited. Indonesia suffers from one of the least graduate-friendly employment markets in the region. This is reflected in the high levels of unemployment that many recent university graduates face.
This, however, is not because of a lack of demand for university-educated talent in Indonesia, rather a result of the lack of confidence that Indonesian employers have in the quality of Indonesia's university graduates.
Indonesian employers are willing to recruit more university graduates if they possess the skill-sets and meet the requirements. Skilled university-educated human resources will continue to be in great demand in the market.
It is also interesting to note that youth unemployment in Indonesia suffers disproportionately from the skills gap. Surveyed employers refer here to the youth's lack of practical experience and the poor quality of schooling.
Hence, the higher education sector needs to not only be reformed but restructured to fit the demands and needs of an industrializing economy. But this will take considerable time which Indonesia cannot afford.
One immediate solution and way forward which also would accelerate the much needed reform and restructuring work of the Indonesian universities would be to establish a new type of university, a university of professions, dedicated for the needs of various professions, a university by the professions for the professions, in addition to the existing universities.
What Indonesia now badly needs is a university with strong focus on the needs of various professions, their knowledge development needs, their recruitment needs of competent human resources and their needs of training and life-long learning, etc.
With the shift from resource-based labor-intensive industries to more advanced, knowledge-based, technology-intensive sectors of production, there is a rise in the demand for more sophisticated education. This development will lead to greater affluence in some sectors, with a concomitant further increase in demand for higher education.
At the same time this situation will also create more and different challenges related to alleviating and abolishing poverty as well as massive urban and environmental problems.
The quality of development in the country is hampered by the shortage of qualified human resources available at senior and middle management levels in both the public and private sectors.
The main characteristics of a university of professions include among others the following: integration of scientific knowledge and knowledge from the professional practice; research questions being generated from praxis fields; encouragement to solve inter/trans-disciplinary problems, and collaboration with stakeholders in private as well as public sectors of society.
Some important considerations include: recognizing the validity of the vocational experience-based knowledge; engaging professions in partnership; emphasizing the criterion of relevance; forming strategic alliances; implementing new models of doctoral studies; and implementing an appropriate organizational structure.
The current higher education model of Indonesia is largely a campus-based model, one in which instruction is a highly variable process guided by individual faculty and movement through the education experience is time based.
Using this model, students sit in classrooms for an allotted period of time with individual faculty creating highly variable learning experiences through curriculum and instruction.
The university of professions emphasizes competency-based education which is an outcomes-based approach to education where the emphazis is on what comes out of postsecondary education rather than what goes into the curriculum.
With a competency-based approach, one does not begin preparing a course syllabus by identifying content and readings.
Instead, one begins by identifying competencies and then selecting the content, readings and assignments to support student attainment of those competencies.
With a competency-based approach, students advance when they have demonstrated mastery of a competency, which is defined as 'a combination of skills, abilities and knowledge needed to perform a task in a specific context'.
Mastery is the sole determinant of progress, which means that delivery options multiply and expand since any instructional method or instructional provider that can move a student toward mastery is theoretically acceptable.
In competency-based education, assessment is embedded in every step of the learning process in order to provide students with guidance and support toward mastery. This heightened level of assessment is designed to build competencies in real time.
It is clear, given this description, that the design of the learning experience is dependent upon standardized and agreed-upon definitions for skills, abilities and knowledge; competencies; and demonstrations.
The writer is the former president of the Asian Institute of Technology, former rector of the University of Boras, Sweden and former vice president of the renowned Chalmers University of Technology, Sweden.
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