CampusAsia, Januari 2009 - Prof Dr Priyo Suprobo, rector of Surabaya-based 10 November Institute of Technology (ITS) believes that universities that do not have anything unique to offer will find it increasingly difficult to retain students.
Students enrol at a university because they want to learn something unique and useful for their future. Those who run the show at every university must realize this, otherwise students will cross over to better universities in search of such quality, he theorizes.
The question is, how many of Indonesia’s universities realize what their students really want? In many cases, students just get themselves registered and then find the courses that they can afford to pay for, without actually considering what will happen after they graduate. There are also students who take certain study programs because their close friends are taking such programs.
Many Indonesian parents don’t really know how to choose the right study programs for their children. Such parents are more concerned about how to make their children graduate quickly so they can find a job.
In higher levels of society where parents are well educated, the choice of children’s study programs is the result of family decision. Children and their parents agree that one should take this or that study program so that after graduation he can rely on his knowledge and expertise to either find or create a job. But what many Indonesian families are not aware of is the fact that saturation does occur in the labor market.
Prof Probo—as the ITS rector is usually referred to by close friends—recalls the situation during the era of president Soeharto. During that era, civil engineers were very much in demand. Everybody rushed to enrol for this particular field, hoping to finally be employed in lucrative places. Today, the opposite is true. This particular area is already over-flooded and civil engineering departments are being abandoned.
Nowadays, students think that civil engineering can no longer attract them because of market glut. The same situation happens to informatics and visual communication and design courses. Universities that can still attract students with these study programs are the ones which has what the ITS rector describes as “special attractions.”
Even ITS is itself facing this situation. But Prof Probo knows how to go about it. He has changed the attribution of Water Resource Engineering to Hydro-Informatics as a way to attract students. He has also increased utilization of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) to make learning more attractive to new students.
Prof Probo believes that universities need to conduct a thorough analysis of their strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, as well as threats against them amidst tough global competition.
According to the ITS rector’s observation, students are losing interest in natural resource related studies, even though Indonesia is very rich in natural resources.
Universities have reported a serious decline in the number of students taking such courses as fishery, agriculture and poultry, agronomy, pest control and plant management science, soil conservation science, water management, etc.
This is an irony for a country that has for decades been recognized as an agriculture-based economy. The funny thing about Indonesia is that at a time when students’ interest in agrarian studies is declining—as their interest in modern sector increases—their employability level is still low in many modern sectors of the economy.
The reason is that what is being taught in schools is not what the market actually needs. In most cases, university graduates have difficulty getting a good job because their knowledge and expertise do not match market needs. This mismatch has been there for many years but many schools are still holding on to their old curricula.
Only in schools where total transformational education is implemented do students have a better guarantee for getting employed after graduation.
This is the reason why globally oriented schools or universities are now doing everything possible to increase their graduates’ employability levels. One way to do it is by benchmarking their curricula with that of world-class universities abroad.
In this context, it is good to see an increasing number of Indonesian universities and high schools adopt internationally recognized quality standards.
Institutional cooperation with top schools and universities in North America, Europe, Asia, and Australia is a good way to realize this.
ITS is one of the handful of Indonesia’s top universities to have maintained good institutional cooperation with the world’s best centers of excellence abroad.
But due to the fact that Indonesia’s education system has now been decentralized—in the sense that provincial and regency-level governments have been tasked to finance and supervise educational endeavors up to high school level—perhaps universities must redefine their orientation to fit their respective regions’ condition and need.
In this way, final-year students, for instance, could be asked to conduct research that has to do with the specific potentials of their regencies or provinces.
The East Java-based ITS that is rich in engineering studies should take the lead in promoting specific engineering for the many modern sectors of the Indonesian economy. It should at least be the leader in introducing for instance, manufacturing technology or concepts that could be developed further for mass production. This is because East Java, where ITS is located, is one of Indonesia’s biggest centers of manufacturing industry.
Using the same principle, universities in other parts of Indonesia must now redefine their survival strategy by synchronizing their curricula with the actual needs of their respective regions so that their graduates may find it easier to get a job.
A failure to do this would encourage graduates to flock to big cities in search of industrial jobs; and this would in turn create greater imbalance in employment distribution, educational observers say.
So, perhaps universities elsewhere should adopt ITS’ survival strategy including Prof Probo’s continuing efforts to retain the university’s charm.
The only thing that may hinder ITS’ ambition to attain world-class quality is the quality and extent of its scientific researches. As is always the case in Indonesia, universities do not have sufficient fund to finance significant research activities.
Indonesian universities have yet to link up with industry in a comprehensive and systematic way in order to produce industrial products that can compete in the global market. Whether ITS can do anything to reverse this impression remains to be seen. CA