Indonesian House Passes Higher Education Bill
Anita Rachman, Fitri & SP/Natasia Christy Wahyuni
The government and the House of Representatives heralded a new era of greater access to university education with the passage on Friday of the bill on higher education, but students across the country greeted the new legislation with protests.
The bill, passed at a plenary session of the House, is intended to give state universities greater autonomy in terms of governance and seeking non-state funding, while still allowing the government to closely regulate them.
Education Minister Mohammad Nuh said the ultimate aim of the new law was to ensure wider access to higher education for all Indonesians.
“The main objective of this law is to widen education access, especially for low-income students,” he said.
“In 2011, only 26 percent of our high-school graduates went to university. We want to raise that figure through this law.”
He said he understood concerns by student activists about the provisions on school autonomy, but insisted that these new freedoms did not give universities carte blanche to hike fees.
“Universities cannot charge their students whatever they please, because we will set standards for tuition fees,” he said, adding that the government would have standards for each region.
Nuh also called on those opposing the new legislation to share their concerns with his ministry. “We can accommodate them through a ministerial regulation or government regulation on the law,” he said. “But please don’t play a zero-sum game or a negative game. Please don’t lose your objectivity.”
The bill’s passage was met with protests in several parts of the country. In Mataram, West Nusa Tenggara, dozens of demonstrators from the municipal chapter of the National Students Front (FMN) staged a rally outside the provincial legislature.
They called the new law a betrayal of the people’s right to affordable education, claiming that the provisions on autonomy would pave the way for the commercialization of higher education and result in increased fees. They also called on the provincial legislature to issue a statement rejecting the law.
Student demonstrators also rallied in Bandar Lampung, the capital of Lampung, where they aired similar concerns about the “privatization and liberalization of universities, which will turn higher education into a business commodity.”
Syamsul Bachri, the head of the House working committee that deliberated the higher education bill, said the legislation was nothing like what the critics made it out to be.
“There will no doubt be accusations that it’s too liberal, doesn’t benefit the poor and is discriminatory,” he said.
However, he said it was really a “constructive effort toward managing and regulating the higher education sector to be more modern and globally competitive.”
Additional reporting from Antara