5 Universities Crippled by Database Obsession

Issued in THE JAKARTA POST 11 March 2014

For quite some time Indonesian universities and their lecturers have been experiencing a head-scratching burden. They should spend a huge amount of energy and time to meet a new breed of database obsession of the higher education bureaucracy. Almost no single day of university’s life is free from database obligation. The most recent enigma is the obligation to all certified lecturers to electronically fill in the “Lecturer Career Development Information System” abbreviated in Indonesian as SIPKD.

The lecturers are supposed to complete the SIPKD, which include uploading softcopies of all printed or written proofs of their academic work during the last three semesters. The deadline for this assignment has already been passed , i.e. 28 February 2014. This highly ambitious endeavor has gone astray, due to the system malfunction.  Anyone who tries to visit the site,  http:// sipkd.dikti.go.id (until March 1, 2014), will be greeted by the following disclaimer “Sorry SIPKD in maintenance, and thank you for your patience in filling SIPKD data, time lost during maintenance will be compensated in the future data entry of SIPKD, greetings”.

This database over-obsession seems not only rely on assumption that “data is power”, but it also signifies the overly regulated nature of the higher education regime in this country. A year ago, Satryo Soemantri Brodjonegoro, the former Director General for Higher Education, has already warned that ‘Our education progresses slowly because there is no room for creativity to develop education that is up to the challenge of our times. Neither teacher-pupil nor lecturer-student gets the opportunity to create because our education system adheres to the bureaucratic service system (“jawatan”). All policies are set by the government in the form of legislation that must be adhered to by both teacher-pupil and lecturer-student, like a government agency’ (Kompas, 9/3/2013). Therefore, he proposed a “dejawatanisasi” of education.

Our universities – which are a league of teachers and students – fail to actualize themselves into communities of learners who joyfully explore science and knowledge. The joy of learning is hindered by the extremely centralistic regulations and procedures. Universities as a learning place have changed into a place of transactional transfer of knowledge from the lecturer to the student and regulated with a multitude of shackling rules.

Ironically, regulations which really should aim towards quality improvement often produce results that not as expected – our universities’ competitiveness are still poor. Borrowing Gus Dur’s famous phrase ‘..begitu saja kok repot’, Satryo’s critique instead opens our eyes to the opposite phenomenon ‘.. repot kok begitu saja’. The complex rules and regulations of higher education turn out just generate much ado with so-so results. Our overly-regulated higher education is evidently unable to move from backwardness compared to other countries. Daily, universities are preoccupied by energy-consuming procedural matters, such as filling Higher Education Database (PDPT) as half-yearly report, lecturer performance reports, and courses operating permit, to mention some examples. It is open secret that in procedural matters, administrative things is more emphasized than the quality of the substances.

Grouping

Uniquely, ‘jawatanisasi’ of higher education does not only affect state universities. Although it is the exact opposite with their private nature, private universities are also unable to fight against the wave of ‘jawatanisasi’ – and always even at a weaker position. Autonomy, which is still a dream for state universities, is an illusion for private universities. Let alone to promote a Professor, private universities do not even have the authority just to promote an  “Asisten  Ahli”  –  the  lowest  functional  academic  position. It can also be said that every instruction, policy, and decision by each level of higher education bureaucracy have succeeded in establishing an alert attitude in private universities. No little time and energy is wasted to respond to the requirements of the bureaucracy, which these days are coming insistently.

Private universities are like being on the sidelines or really at the sidelines although they are home of approximately 70% students in this country. There is an impression with the current power of huge budget, the government starts to undermine private universities – who existed as higher education provider for citizens far before, when education budget are very limited. In reality, some private universities were actually born earlier than state universities and keep being hotbeds of knowledge to this day.

It would also be too naïve to grant total autonomy to all state universities  (and  colleges)  –  without  first accounting  for  each university’s level of development. Autonomy should be granted in a tiered way, corresponding to objective performance and quality of  the  university.  It would be a difficult challenge, especially when decisions on higher education in this country are often still entangled with political considerations.

The diversity of size, performance, and quality of more than 3,000 private and 100 state universities and colleges requires a clear and consistent development strategy by the government. For the sake of Indonesian universities competitiveness, the government should be bold to group universities according to objectively measured performance and quality. And that boldness has existed before, so it would not be totally new. In 2007, the government “dared” to specify “50 promising Indonesian Universities”.

Who knows if it’s related or not, three years earlier Germany selected nine elite universities which are expected to be “major players” in global higher education – of course after passing through a lengthy and complex selection process (Barbara M. Kehm, IHE– fall 2009). Further, the German government supported the nine selected universities with massive fund for five years – to increase the visibility of German universities by breakthrough researches.

As a good initiative, the group of 50 Indonesian universities unfortunately was not being followed up consistently and without clear development road map. The boldness to do the grouping ought to be followed by total support by the government in the shape of resources and academic autonomy to the members of the group – without political entanglements and state-private dichotomy. Without the bravery to carry forward the initiative, our universities’ competitiveness won’t move from their current state. Universities with potential to be global players will only be busy grappling with bureaucracy resulting in so-so results.