Scams in Indonesian Universities

The rector promoted 327 doctoral candidates in the period of 2012-2016— he supervised roughly 65 doctoral students per year

October 30, 2017

In early September 2017, the Indonesian Minister of Research, Technology and Higher Education suspended the rector of Jakarta State University, a doctoral degree granting universities in Indonesia, due to doctoral degree scams, widespread plagiarism and mismanagement of the university.

The rector promoted 327 doctoral candidates in the period of 2012-2016 — he supervised roughly 65 doctoral students per year. The total number of doctoral candidates he promoted was more than 25% of the 2,100 doctoral graduates of the university within the same period — fantastic numbers that were clearly ‘too good to be true’.

The plagiarism case was prominently featured in the national media as it included the governor of Southeast Sulawesi Province, who completed his doctoral degree summa cum laude from the university. It was later discovered that 74% of the governor’s dissertation had similarities with other writings, detected by Turnitin software. Moreover, the rector appointed his own family members as officials at the Jakarta State University.

Despite its location in the heart of the capital city, gross mismanagement in the university went unnoticed for a couple of years. It was only when the Minister appointed an independent evaluation team in 2015 that the scale of mismanagement and academic misconduct was revealed to the public. It was clear that no one within the University could stop the rector. Neither the university’s internal audit unit or the academic senate could control the Rector. He had the power to do as he wished, even going against government regulations and university by-laws.

This high-profile case is only the iceberg in the Indonesian higher education system—a system that has 4,560 higher education institutions and more than 6 million students. The minister’s independent evaluation team discovered even worse problems in lesser known, more remote universities. They, unfortunately, did not grab media’s attention. Given the lack of transparency and poorly managed institutions, it is not surprising that little is known about the Indonesian higher education system in the international context.

The Jakarta State University’s case provides a glimpse into the problems plaguing Indonesian higher education: accreditation, institutional management, and research training quality. A key issue is the lack of quality assurance. The National Accreditation Agency of Higher Education (BAN-PT) has been underfunded and understaffed. Its accreditation process examines each study program in each institution, currently numbering 26,053 programs. There has been a backlog of programs without accreditation or reaccreditation. To reduce this backlog, the agency has begun to shift to institution accreditation, but this is still a Herculean task as there are more than four thousand institutions. Consequently, the results of the accreditation are not a guarantee that the universities are of any quality. Despite the long period of gross misconduct, Jakarta State University received the top classification of institutional accreditation in 2015.

Indonesian higher education institutions suffer from insufficient checks and balances. While universities have boards of trustees and internal audit units, they are often established only to fulfill formal requirements. They have no real authority, ability to dissent or contest the rectors’ decisions. Moreover, Indonesian state-owned universities are mostly run as bureaucratic organizations, where seniority matters most and performance indicators are not articulated. Without clear performance indicators rectors, as the most senior decision maker may be able to do as they please.

The inadequacies of accreditation and internal management bring about poor quality doctoral programs that have been growing in number. In the early days of Indonesian higher education, only a limited number of universities could offer doctoral programs. These were the oldest and most prestigious state-owned universities such as the University of Indonesia and Gadjah Mada University. The doctoral programs were limited and highly selective so could not cope with the growing demand for research training in the country. This unmet demand caused many to enroll in bogus doctoral programs from unaccredited international providers. To curb this problem, the government began to allow doctoral programs at other state and private universities in the 1990s. There are now 710 doctoral programs throughout Indonesia. Unfortunately, the growth of the doctoral programs was not accompanied by better quality assurance or research capacity among the smaller universities.

The road to reforming and improving the Indonesian higher education system is wrought with challenges, but not necessarily without a solution. For quite some time, international academics specializing in Indonesian studies have proposed allowing reputable international universities to operate in the country. They will be able to offer quality programs in country, thus absorbing the unmet demand, replacing poor quality domestic doctoral programs. However, the idea was unpopular among the associations of private and state universities. Despite the provision in the Indonesian higher education law to allow international branch campuses, the minister has not issued regulations to govern the mechanisms needed to make this possible. A combination of systemic reform in institutional management, improvements in quality assurance, and utilizing research training capacity from international partners is long overdue for Indonesian higher education. Without clear steps to rectify the situation, cases like Jakarta State University’s will continue to emerge and Indonesian graduates will fail to meet either national or international education standards, leaving the country with neither a skilled or trained academic workforce.


Agustian Sutrisno holds a PhD in higher education management from Queensland University of Technology. He lectures at Atma Jaya Catholic University of Indonesia and is a Fulbright Visiting Scholar at The Center for International Higher Education, Boston College.


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