Interview: Djisman Simandjuntak
How can the education system better contribute to Indonesia’s overall competitiveness?
DJISMAN SIMANDJUNTAK: Indonesia is at a critical juncture of its economic development. It needs to safely sail away from the middle-income trap as both Malaysia and Thailand did in the past. Indonesia has been trapped in middle-income growth for decades now, and getting away from this threat has always been a historical challenge for the nation. We have to take the opportunity now, when the world is going through rapid technology changes, and when everything is becoming mechanised, automated or virtualised.
We need to reinvest in manufacturing, as we lost industrial momentum in the 1990s when China rose up to become the giant of manufacturing that it is known as today. At that time, Java was set to be transformed into a manufacturing hub; however, between 1992 and 1995, it lost its momentum due to its failure to make its currency more competitive compared to China. In my opinion, Indonesia has never truly recovered from this.
Now, we need to look again at science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) education, which is in short supply. STEM education has never been expanded at all levels. The Centre of Excellence in STEM education, for instance, has remained small, despite the economy growing to become the ninth-largest worldwide, and the population growing alongside it.
Although Indonesia excels in liberal arts, social and political science, and religious science in international assessments, we perform weakly when it comes to the mastery of science and engineering. We need to relocate education resources as we currently rank second-lowest in the Programme for International Student Assessment, ahead of only Colombia, and progress has been relatively slow. A shift towards STEM education will enable Indonesia to get out of this trap and become a more competitive nation, globally.
On a separate note, a number of major universities are working on a study which analyses the potential cost of Indonesia becoming a member of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, and in what ways the country would benefit from it.
In what ways is the private sector gearing up to support the local education sector?
SIMANDJUNTAK: Indonesia has understood that putting resources into training is essential. Currently the government spends at least 20% of the national budget on education. But the public sector suffers from a weak structure, particularly in the higher education sector, as a result of which, 70-75% of higher education students are enrolled in private universities rather than public ones. On the other hand, private universities are not very enthusiastic about entering STEM programmes, so a great deal of progress could be made if we can elevate our private universities.
Indonesia’s prime minister has also specified spending a part of the budget on private education. The government has just created a lot of scholarship schemes, and has made facilities accessible to private universities. For example, the prime minister developed 11 programmes which allow for cooperation with businesses in developing commercially viable ideas or projects through an incubation platform. The majority of these developments are still at an early stage, but local players are hopeful of a positive shift.
Today, business is still very underdeveloped because of the disconnection of academia, government and industries. Nevertheless, with a very supportive prime minister and minister of research and higher education, new programme approvals are currently being fast-tracked.
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