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31140RI universities cannot compete i nternationally + Fulfilling Ind onesia’s urgent need

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  • Sunny
    Dec 9, 2013
      RI universities cannot compete internationally
      Fuad Rakhman, Yogyakarta | Opinion | Sat, December 07 2013, 1:08 PM

      Universities in Indonesia are having difficulties matching the world’s prominent universities and even Asia’s best.

      None of our universities are on the list of the 100 best Asian universities in 2013, according to Times Higher Education, while Singapore, Thailand and Malaysia have institutions on the list. Despite the abundant resources spent by the government on improving the quality of education, it seems our “best universities” cannot even be the best (or even close to the best) in ASEAN, let alone in Asia or globally. Here are some problems we face in improving our higher education system.

      First, the best people do not become lecturers. All parents, if they had the choice, would pick the best people to teach their children. It is widely accepted that the quality of education systems cannot exceed the quality of teachers.

      However, the best students have no desire to become lecturers. They usually go to large multinational companies, which compete aggressively to recruit our best graduates. Some companies provide scholarships to top students, with the agreement that the students must work for the companies following graduation.

      On the contrary, our universities do not usually have clear recruitment strategies and procedures. University officials are mostly very passive and not very creative when it comes to recruiting new lecturers. Faculty staff do not bother to attract talented candidates or seriously look at selecting the best students who could become excellent teachers.

      Second, there is no financial security for lecturers. The main salary of a lecturer is insignificant compared to those with similar education levels who work in other industries. Low salaries make university lecturer positions unattractive to the country’s best and brightest.

      There are many great Indonesian PhD holders who have opted to teach in universities abroad, earning much more than they would have done working in Indonesian universities. Unfortunately, we cannot expect them to return to Indonesia to strengthen our educational systems for many reasons, one being the amount of salary involved.

      Further, faculty members resort to other sources of income to survive. The side jobs include teaching in other universities, becoming consultants, establishing a business and public speaking. These side jobs have significantly distracted our lecturers from their commitment to the quality of higher education.

      As a result, being a lecturer is a full-time job only on paper. Some are even willing to cancel classes for these side jobs, especially if the jobs provide significant monetary incentives. Further, many offices of lecturers are vacant most of the time. This would never happen in good universities with established governing systems.

      Therefore, if the Education and Culture Ministry has difficulties finding ways to absorb the 20 percent budget from the government, it might start thinking about increasing the salaries of university lecturers.

      Third, reward and punishment systems are ineffective. University lecturers are perceived as the most valuable assets to the academic institutions. In fact, some argue the lecturers are the university itself, as most decisions concerning the institution are made by lecturers. However, these so called “assets” can be classified into three groups: Operating assets, non-operating assets and troubled assets.

      Many faculty members are great teachers, productive researchers and effective administrators (operating assets), while some of them are ineffective in their main assignments (non-operating assets), and there are usually a few who create chronic problems for the institution and who are persistent in their bad behavior (troubled assets).

      Ideally, the operating assets are rewarded, the non-operating assets are warned or further trained and the troubled assets are “liquidated”. Unfortunately, what sometimes happens is that the institution punishes the high performing (usually young) lecturers by giving them more assignments (with no financial incentives), while the university does not have the authority to warn misbehaving, or fire troubled lecturers.

      Fourth, there is too much teaching and not enough research. To promote research, world-class universities usually limit teaching loads to three or fewer courses per semester for their faculty. Some lecturers hired to conduct research will teach even fewer classes.

      College deans are pure administrators and they do not usually teach, while department heads might teach one class per semester. Their income is not dependent upon how many classes they teach as they receive a fixed salary, and the teaching load is agreed during the hiring process.

      Yet in Indonesia, many lecturers are severely overloaded as they might teach more than 10 classes per semester — with financial incentives for teaching more classes. Even deans, department heads and other officials sometimes teach many classes. Thus, it is difficult for a lecturer to control his teaching quality and to find time for research.

      What usually happens is that our lecturers will co-author studies with their students and shift the research workload to the students. In good universities, most lecturers co-author with other lecturers. This difference in research partnerships definitely affects the quality of research.

      Even lecturers in a so-called “teaching university” abroad do not usually teach more than five classes per semester.

      A university in Indonesia wanting to declare itself a “research university” should limit the teaching load of its faculty members to provide space for research. We need to establish a compensation system to reduce the teaching load without lowering the income, and a system that fosters research.

      The writer is a lecturer at the School of Economics and Business, Gadjah Mada University (UGM) in Yogyakarta. He has lectured in the US and the Middle East.




      Fulfilling Indonesia’s urgent need to develop skilled human resources

      Said Irandoust, Jakarta | Opinion | Mon, December 09 2013, 10:17 AM

      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.