Global Competition in Education: Where is Indonesia?

Several days earlier, every governmental bodies including educational institution held ceremonies commemorating the National Education Day. During 90 minutes ceremony, speeches were given to invigorate the spirit of every actors involved in educational sector. The question really is what do we commemorate?

As one of the four objectives of the Republic explicitly stated in the preambulatory clauses of the 1945 Constitution, several questions emerged. One is ‘how appropriate is educational services are provided throughout the nation?’

Whether it’s in spite or despite of the unstandardized educational facilities especially in remote islands and even non-elite venue in the capital, the number of participation in every level showing a rather sad decrease as recorded by Statistics Central Bureau (BPS). In 2010, only 13.67% of those aged 19-24 participated in (higher) education according to BPS latest statistics.

Appreciation is due for citizens’ initiative concerned about the well being of Indonesian education such as Indonesia Mengajar instigated by nation’s leading education figure, Anies Baswedan.

In terms of quality, major cities still enjoy favorable advantages compare to the rural areas. Then, however, if we look at the bigger picture of Indonesia education beyond our borders, we would notice that students are not the only one with homeworks.

One particular work needed to be done is to picture Indonesia higher education institutions in the global map which currently threatened under the uncertainty of status following the ruling of Constitutional Court which ended the regime of legal entity status or BHMN in Indonesian leading universities and institutes. This task related with the second question of ‘how are the circumstances affecting the future Indonesian higher education institutions?’

In the bigger picture of the transformation over legal status of several higher educational institutions (from legal entity—BHMN—to public service agency—BLU) which for number of constituents emphasized on the increasing price of good quality education in Indonesia, lies global competition in the educational sector as an international commodity which is traded globally, in unprecedented sense of borderless realm of competition. Simply said, education is one commodity in the global trade ruled under the international trade regime under GATS (General Agreement on Trade in Services). As a commodity in the realm of borderless academic community, Indonesian educational service providers are vulnerable in the international market if progress and improvement do not make their presence.

With slightly more than 20% of national budget allocated in the educational sector and, according to FITRA—The Indonesia Forum for Budget Transperancy—around 28 trilion rupiahs was allocated for higher education in 2011, our learning institutions seem unable to catch up with  neighboring Singaporean, Thai and Malaysian universities in the worldwide rankings. Although, at the current state, high potential students continue to mark their achievements in the campuses’ hall of fame.

Though the global rankings may or may not be the priority in academic development, the implication of such rankings placed Indonesia leading public universities (UGM, UI, and ITB) in the periphery of worldwide campus competition map since none is placed in the top 200 universities, according to one reliable ranking agency.  Thus, as education functioned as socioeconomic ladder, the brightest of minds among Indonesian youth will logically pursue education overseas in world leading universities such as Cambridge, Harvard, Oxford, Johns Hopkins, Stanford and other universities as those campuses offers higher elevation at the end of the program which is actually proportionate to the tuition cost and expenses to pursue such educational program.

Consequently, Indonesia tend to become the target market for universities worldwide seeking the prospectus students whom academic services as international commodity in trade in service is offered to.

Regardless the different versions of bill drafted currently by the government and the House, the new regulation for Indonesia higher education institutions needs to consider the followings:

First, with new arrangement and regulation as public service agency (BLU) university’s independence so favorably enjoyed during BHMN status that contributed to the growth and development of university are fear to lessen as the status changed. One of the main highlight of the circumcision is the ability for BLU-universities to strengthen their research and teaching capacity. Several universities formerly BHMN universities were able to develop their research to the level attracting international donors and partners. However, with the uncertainty in the BLU status, this capacity is to be further questioned. In one institution, a senior lecturer even advised his/ her junior researcher to consider other career opportunities as incentive for young researchers might be returned to prior-to-BHMN level.

Second, with notable number of Indonesian alumni from world leading universities, how do our educational institutions prepare and facilitate the potentials academicians to return home as the lecturers or researchers under the new arrangement (BLU)? This question increase its relevance as threat of ‘brain drain’ become self-fulfilling prophecy since more Indonesian scientists are attracted by foreign and international entities while domestic facilities appropriate to conduct excellent research are yet to be established.

Third, revisiting our global competition for academic services, it is almost assured that the BLU transformation status will not aid Indonesian leading universities in leveling the playing field with their worldwide competitors and partners if their independency is stripped or the government totally liberalized them. Some even feared that the transformation will evaporate the progress made during the almost a decade experience under BHMN status.

In order to grasp understanding over education as commodity in the international trade, it is prudent to learn from countries triumphant in educational sector. Australia, for example, has the Group of Eight comprises of eight leading universities in the country to facilitate joint researches which aided in taking several of the member entering the top world list of universities. The constellation is quite different within our country where leading universities are weighed in more for competition than collaboration.

This gotta be changed! Indonesian universities need to go hand in hand in collaboration of academics and curriculum improvements, researches, and other possible form of cooperation to go advance together because the competition is tougher ‘out there’!

The other way to aid Indonesian educational institutions has actually commenced under the Achiever Scholarship or called ‘Beasiswa Unggulan’ administered by Ministry of Education and Culture which contribute in university’s capacity building. It is expected from the program that the awardees would return to respective home universities to strengthen their institutions. At the same time, the scholarship recipients can also be empowered to improve nation-wide educational institutions through programs coordinated by Ministry of Education and Culture as the way they pay it forward. Otherwise, our national interest in the educational sector remained ‘divided and ruled’ by foreign actors.

The last question remained is where do we want to put Indonesian institutions in the global map of higher education?

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