The Jakarta Post
Students are flocking into Islamic-based higher education institutions as the government plans to turn Indonesia into a global center for Islamic study.
The Religious Affairs Ministry, in charge of managing Islamic higher education institutions, said on Thursday that the number of applicants taking the entrance exam for public Islamic universities grew 10 percent to 77,224 people compared with last year.
'It shows that Islamic higher education institutions are no longer second-class institutions, but have already become the primary choice [for many students],' said the ministry's academic development head Muhammad Zain.
The entrance exam is one of three ways to secure an enrollment in a public Islamic university. The other two avenues of entry are a selection system based on academic merit called the National Academic Achievement Selection (SPAN) and an independent enrollment system managed by each institution.
'In the past four years, the number of students interested in applying for the SPAN has also been growing. This year, we received 101,000 online applicants,' stated the ministry's Islamic education director general
According to the director general, public Islamic universities mainly get their students through SPAN, with 60 percent of students securing their enrollment this way.
'By contrast, we only accept 20 percent of the total entrance exam participants. If there are 77,000 participants, then we only accept around 16,000,' Kamaruddin said. 'The other 20 percent of the students get through from the independent enrollment system.'
From looking at the expanding interest in this area, the ministry is planning to increase the number of Islamic higher education institutions, both public and private. These institutions are divided into three categories: Universities, academies and colleges.
Currently, there are 55 public institutions. These institutions consist of 11 universities, 25 academies and 19 colleges. As for private institutions, there are 663 of them spread throughout the country, with 95 universities, 47 academies and 521 colleges.
Kamaruddin said that the ministry was pushing for some of these institutions to be upgraded, from colleges to academies and from academies to universities.
'There are 11 private institutions in the process [of getting permits]. Seven of them are new colleges, while the other four are upgrades from colleges to academies,' he said. 'Our plan is to transform all colleges into academies within the next five years so that they have greater authority and can provide better access to Islamic education.'
In order to do that, the ministry plans to provide the necessary support and technical assistance.
'We will provide the infrastructure. If they need land, we will give it. The same with lecturers,' said Kamaruddin.
He added that the government's program to improve the quality of the lecturers in Islamic higher education institutions is already well underway.
'The challenge is not only the quantity of lecturers, but also the quality. Only 11 percent of our lecturers hold a PhD. We are aiming for 80 percent,' Kamaruddin said.
This year, the ministry has awarded 1,000 doctorate scholarships for lecturers from public Islamic universities. They are expected to enroll in doctoral programs in universities across the country or abroad.
The government will award 1,000 each year until 2019.
The end goal is to transform Indonesia into the go-to place in the world for students, both Indonesian and international, who want to study Islam, according to Kamaruddin.
'Our imagination envisions that when people say Islamic study, they will think of Indonesia,' he said. 'We already have the largest number of Islamic higher education institutions in the world. We have thousands of lecturers. We have huge potential. It's only a matter of promoting our education and we have to be internationally connected. That's why we send our lecturers overseas.'
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