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Jakarta: New law opens door to foreign universities

The House of Representatives (DPR) endorsed the much-debated Higher Education Bill which gives universities from around the world the chance to open branches in the country.

Critics claimed the bill would give foreign institutions the opportunity to indoctrinate values into the student body and absorb qualified human resources from Indonesian institutions. They also feared the bill would encourage local universities to become profit-oriented as the bill gives them authority to raise money from students.

Despite criticism over several contentious articles, the government and House endorsed the bill during a House plenary meeting, claiming that not only is the bill pro-poor, but would improve the quality of higher education in the country.

“The bill will undoubtedly help students, especially those with limited financial support, because it obliges higher education institutions to allocate 20 percent of seats in all faculties to poor students in the hope that Indonesians, rich or poor, have equal access to quality tertiary education,” Education and Culture Minister Mohammad Nuh said at the House’s meeting on Friday.

He made it clear that foreign universities operating in Indonesia would operate under government control.

“These institutions will not operate as freely as some people suspected. We will only allow foreign universities to operate if they are non-profit-making and up-hold the Constitution, Pancasila and our religious values,” Nuh said.

Chairman of House Commission X overseeing education, Agus Hermanto, said that allowing foreign universities to operate in Indonesia would raise standards among institutions as Indonesian universities would be motivated to boost their performance.

“It will also encourage our most brilliant students who prefer to study overseas to stay here. Such students will no longer go abroad to pursue a university education because quality education with international standards will be available at home,” the Democratic Party lawmaker said.

Article 50 of the Higher Education bill stipulates that foreign universities are allowed to set up branches, centers on the study of Indonesia and independent research centers in the country.

Article 90, however, authorizes the Indonesian government to determine areas at which foreign universities can operate, and the types and disciplines they may offer. It also requires foreign universities to hire Indonesian lecturers and staffers.

Even though Article 74 of the bill mandates state-owned universities to allocate 20 percent of seats from all disciplines to poor students, several other articles of the bill, such Article 62 and 64, allow such universities to manage their own operations including in terms of the budgeting.

Thus, state-owned universities are allowed to continue implementing their special entrance tests, in addition to the national university entrance test annually held nationwide.

“Nothing will change in the quality of education at public universities because they will still favour students from rich families. How can public universities give only 20 percent of seats to the poor? We call them public universities because they are supposed to serve the Indonesian public, who mostly have limited access to quality higher education,” Educationalist Darmaningtyas told The Jakarta Post.

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