Isolated Academics

University of Indonesia (UI) awarded a honorary doctorate degree to the King of Saudi Arabia for his humanitarian work, at a sensitive time when recently Ruyati, an Indonesian migrant worker, was beheaded on murder charges. Have the management in UI lost their touch with the ground?


University of Indonesia (UI) awarded a honorary doctorate degree to the King of Saudi Arabia for his humanitarian work, at a sensitive time when recently Ruyati, an Indonesian migrant worker, was beheaded on murder charges. Have the management in UI lost their touch with the ground?


If it makes any difference, UI’s Rector Gumilar Rusliwa Soemantri did apologized for the inappropriate timing of the award. The follow-up after this outcry is the increasing demand to unseat the rector, because the awarding process only added to the list of mismanagement in the university – one of them is the clarity of the status of UI workers – whether they are part of the civil servant, corporate or honorary staff of the university.

One can look at the issue of mismanagement in two ways – whether it lies in the leadership of the current management, or whether it lies in the institution design itself – knowing that UI, along with several other universities is in limbo after the transition between being a state university to a state-owned legal entity (Badan Hukum Milik Negara – BHMN).

I remember when I was still studying in UI, students have doubts whether turning UI into a BHMN would be a good idea. This would mean that the university no longer receive funds from the government, thus they have to find creative ways to generate money to finance the operation of the university.

For years, state-funded universities in Indonesia have benefited from government aid and managed to have low-cost tuition fees which enabled students from low-income families to access higher education in Indonesia. Consequently, the top universities in Indonesia are also the ones considered to become BHMN: UI, Bandung Institute of Technology (ITB), Gadjah Mada University (UGM), and Bogor Agricultural University (IPB).

By becoming a BHMN, these universities gains autonomy but consequently struggle to find ways of generating money outside of setting a higher tuition fee.

When I graduated, I remember how high-school students (and most importantly, their parents) were confused with how complicated and expensive the entrance to these universities are. I also remember how UI manage to come up with different “international programs” – partnering with overseas universities – but I doubt whether their curriculum and results out of these programs match with the high price associated with it.

Coming back to the honorary doctorate degree, despite the list of reasons given by UI’s rector on why King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia is worthy of the cause, there were of course rumors that the degree was given based on how much the King contributed to UI financially, especially since it is rumored that little consultation was done with the honorary degree committee. Thus, the issue of transparency and good governance comes up in the speech given by Emil Salim, a former minister and UI’s economic professor yesterday.

I fear that despite the issues of mismanagement in the university, the idea of unseating the rector is getting way out of hand, because in an institution where meritocracy is supposedly the norm, it is increasingly becoming more politicized.

However, academia politics aside, I would see that as universities in Indonesia behaves more like a corporation, it isolates those who don’t have the financial capacity to access higher education. There is also a heroic assumption that if you behave like a corporation, management becomes more professional but this is apparently not the case.

Since higher education is the training ground for the next generation of presidents, bureaucrats and business leaders it would be a shame to see if universities in Indonesia don’t get their act together. Let UI be an example of how mismanagement in universities should be avoided, and how the state should not stray away from their responsibility for providing education for its people.

6 thoughts on “Isolated Academics”

  1. You’re spot on with your comment on UI’s programs.
    FHUI alone now has 3 programs that rack up more than 5 million IDR of tuition fee per student. The extension program’s tuition free was less than 4 mil. IDR in 2008, in 2009 the fee has gone over 5 mil. IDR. Do you still remember the fee for the 2004 batch regular program? Now the fee for the regular program is more than 7 mil. IDR.
    So what do the students get?
    Gone is the access to Westlaw. Gone is the campus library (now replaced with a shiny new central library equipped with iMacs). And campus internet has gone the way of the turtle.
    The upside?
    The threshold of education is still good (in my opinion) compared to a nearby University that has similar tuition prices).

    1. Shocking indeed, back then (2008) it was Rp. 1.3 million (USD 146) per semester. Even if you count inflation, it shouldn’t have risen to Rp. 7 million per semester. If the rise of the tuition fee does not tally up with the rise of the quality of education – then we should really question where exactly is the money going. One thing for sure, it’s not going to the lecturers and staff. They are certainly still underpaid.

      1. I’m thinking the money went to the new library.
        Here are the photos:

        Having been there myself recently, it certainly is a sight to behold.
        The consensus among students is that it seems that the rector wants the new central library to be his legacy.

        Well, that and the first Starbucks to open at Universitas Indonesia grounds.

  2. In my opinion, public universities should not become BHMN. Eventhough it is said that being BHMN will bring more facilities to the student (internet, students organizations, etc), it’s still unfair for students that come from low income family because they seek for affordable education in order to have a better future. But since BHMN forces the student to pay more, those prospective students hence got no options left. This situation will give negative impact for Indonesia, especially because education is driving force for country to reach a more prosperous condition.

    Besides, the constitution has stated that 20% of state budget must be alocated for education. It means that from Rp 1.2 T of the 2011 state budget, education has Rp 245.9 billion for educating Indonesia citizen. This amount of money should be enough in providing education fee for young citizen.

    Hence if the 20% allocation is implemented properly, we won’t encounter the honorary doctorate degree nor academic isolation issue.

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