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.