A volley of misguided higher-ed policies and now, we’re supposed to import university presidents?

In 2016, Minister for Higher Education, Research, and Technology (just “DIKTI” for short), Mohammad Nasir, proposed importing university presidents to chair in national universities. The proposal was buffeted with negative criticism and eventually died down. Three years on, it has resurfaced.

Why did this proposal resurface? According to the Jakarta Post, Nasir, speaking on behalf of the government, basically wants to “get local universities listed among the top 200 universities in the world.”

Great, another policy driven by obsession with numbers. A couple years back, DIKTI also issued a controversial policy of making faculty, particularly full professors, publish articles in Scopus-indexed journals. The policy was later relaxed, thankfully. But, even then, some academics were accused of “gaming the system” through excessive self-citations and inflating citations.

And now, DIKTI wants to import university presidents? At this point, I’d prefer Nasir to just step down because he has demonstrated an insufferable lack of knowledge of the roots of problems in Indonesian universities, from excessive bureaucracy to an obsession with metrics of “excellence”, all of which erode institutional autonomy and affect research quality. Importing foreign university presidents is akin to applying a band-aid over a festering wound.

I get it. Indonesian universities are not exactly paragons of academic or even ethical virtue. From plagiarism to diploma brokering, from silencing student presses to sexual harassment, there isn’t a shortage of sad news about the country’s expansive network of universities. To add insult to injury, many aren’t even listed in the top-tier of “prestigious” international university rankings such as Times Higher Education or Quacquarelli Symonds. 

There has been a lot of chatter about progress, and the DIKTI along with individual universities have been attempting to get their act together. As far as I know, the National Higher Education Accreditation Body (BANPT) began to implement its more stringent 9-point accreditation instrument (from the previous 7-point) which accounts for new metrics such as “research impact” (likely inspired by Journal Impact Factor and mostly likely in violation of the Leiden Manifesto), and providing more research grants through DIKTI. But even then, progress is slow. 

Instead of mulling over this preposterous proposal, DIKTI should focus more on improving human resources and educational infrastructure. Provide more funds for university journals and their staff. Encourage cross-pollination; faculty should be free to move across universities to enlarge their networks and academic experience (the current system incentivises staying at one institution for decades). Ease collaboration with foreign academics, especially since the procedure for foreign researchers to gain a research permit is arduous. Invest in subscriptions to international journals, which many universities lack. Those are some ideas I can list off the top of my head, and none of them require having foreign university presidents.

Foreign university presidents, therefore, aren’t the solution. Nobody in their right mind would think that just by changing the top leadership, problems at the bottom would miraculously solve themselves.

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