Ronna Nirmala & Vento Saudale
A recent decision by a leading state university to stop prioritizing graduates from international-standard public schools for admission has once again called into question the relative merits of such schools.
The Bogor Institute of Agriculture (IPB) announced last week that as of Feb. 1, students from international-standard schools (RSBI) would no longer receive preference when applying for admission. Prior to the announcement, IPB reserved 70 percent of seats in its guaranteed placement intake program, or PMDK, to RSBI graduates.
The PMDK allows academically gifted students to join the intake program at state universities without having to take the entrance exam.
Herry Suhardiyanto, the IPB rector, said the decision to end preferential treatment for RSBI graduates would allow equally gifted students from regular high schools a better chance of qualifying for a place.
“This year we won’t make any distinctions between graduates of RSBI or other schools, because there are so many conflicting perceptions of RSBIs,” he said. “Whereas in previous academic years we accepted 100 percent of all RSBI graduates who applied for the PMDK, starting this year those graduates will have to be evaluated based on their grades, like all the other applicants.”
Darmaningtyas, an education expert from the Taman Siswa school network, welcomed the decision by IPB, saying it was a positive step toward ending the discrimination between RSBIs and other schools.
“If state universities continue to prioritize RSBI graduates in the PMDK, then that’s the same as supporting social inequality in education,” he said.
RSBIs are state schools that adopt an international-standard curriculum and use both Indonesian and English as the languages of instruction.
They also receive greater funding than other schools for their more advanced and better-equipped facilities, and in turn are allowed to levy considerably higher fees. This has prompted criticism of elitism, with students from poorer families typically unable to enroll in such schools while those from more affluent families are readily accepted.
In March last year, the Education Ministry froze the RSBI program, citing a poor grasp of English by the teachers as well as a failure by most schools to properly allocate the extra funding they received from the government. Although existing RSBI schools are allowed to operate as usual, no new schools may sign up for the program.
Darmaningtyas said IPB’s move should be emulated by all state universities to give rise to “the ideal education system, especially for those outstanding students from any kind of high school who want to enroll in university.”
Djoko Susanto, the Education Ministry’s director general for higher education, conceded that the national school-leaving exam scores of RSBI students were not always superior to that of regular high school students.
However, he denied IPB’s decision was an indictment of the RSBI’s failings, saying the university had the right to implement policies as it saw fit.
“Let the rectors decide what kind of students that they want in their universities,” he said. “It’s their prerogative to draw up the requirements, and we can’t do anything as officials.”
He added the revised PMDK policy at IPB “doesn’t affect RSBI students or those from regular schools.” Djoko also said that even if other universities went on to adopt similar policies, “it won’t matter” in terms of the standing of RSBI schools.
Hamid Muhammad, the ministry’s director general of secondary education, said the Bogor university’s decision did not indicate growing distrust of the merits of RSBI schools.
“I don’t believe the policy will impact on RSBI schools in any way, because the point of these schools is to give students the best education possible, not to hog the PMDK,” he said.
“So there’s no fallout. The principle is simple, whether for an RSBI school or a regular one, and that’s to give our students an education that allows them to compete in any field.”