Help announced to avoid ‘lost generation’ of students in Indonesia

Emergency measures exemplify different treatment of public and private universities, critics say

July 6, 2020
Jakarta Java Indonesia
Source: iStock

Indonesia’s government has unveiled tuition fee relief measures for students whose families have suffered a financial hit from the coronavirus, amid predictions that the pandemic could spawn a “lost generation” of student dropouts in the country.

However, only public universities are obliged to provide the concessions, leading to fears that students at private institutions – which comprise about 90 per cent of the sector – could miss out.

Education minister Nadiem Makarim has announced a new regulation authorising a tranche of support measures including fee discounts, deferrals and pay-by-instalment plans.

Fees will be waived for those whose degrees have stalled because of campus closures, and halved for final-year students on reduced study loads. Students can also apply for hardship scholarships and contributions towards their internet connection charges.

Mr Makarim told a Jakarta media conference that students should be able to continue learning during the pandemic and to pay less if they were unable to access campus facilities or services, according to a report from Indonesia’s Cabinet Secretariat.

The government is supporting students so that they can “surmount the existing challenges”, he said. The aim is to “ease the burden…so that they can still graduate, still be able to continue their schooling and are not prone to dropping out”, he added, according to the newspaper Kompas.

Some of the country’s top public institutions have agreed to the concessions. They include Java’s Gadjah Mada, Sebelas Maret, Semarang State, Surabaya State and Yogyakarta State universities and Gorontalo State University in Sulawesi.

Mr Makarim said that he wanted similar conditions made available at private universities and announced that the government would allocate 1 trillion rupiah (£55 million) to underwrite fee reductions for private college students.

This would boost the number of students receiving government financial assistance by about 410,000, adding to almost 470,000 already receiving benefits under the Indonesia Smart Lecture Card programme and “mission-aim” scholarships for academically talented students from low-income families.

Indonesia’s Association of Private Higher Education Institutions (Aptisi) praised the new funding but questioned whether it would be enough. Chairman Budi Djatmiko told the Jakarta Post that a failure to alleviate the pandemic’s impact on university students could result in a “lost generation” of students, as withdrawals mushroomed.

He said that private institutions attracted only 7 per cent of state higher education funding despite educating the majority of students: “Private universities are also part of Indonesia. Why are they being treated differently?”

Aptisi has petitioned the central government for emergency funds from the education ministry, after its survey during the earlier stages of the pandemic found that 80 per cent of Jakarta’s 300-plus private higher education institutions were already struggling to pay salaries.

Meanwhile, a survey by the Alliance of Student Executive Bodies (BEM-SI) found that 83 per cent of respondents’ family incomes had been reduced by the pandemic and that 77 per cent did not know how they would pay their fees.

BEM-SI has campaigned for fee reductions and a freeze on fee increases in the latter half of the year. However, the new regulation appears to allow fee hikes.

The Conversation reported that unemployment in the archipelago was predicted to almost double to 9.2 per cent, with young people – one-sixth of whom were jobless even before the pandemic hit – expected to bear the brunt. Reduced graduation rates would further exacerbate youth unemployment, it warned.

john.ross@timeshighereducation.com

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