Friday, June 21, 2024 | 20:53 WIB

The Promise of a Golden Generation strangled by higher tuition fees A burden for the working-class and middle-class

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Jakarta, IO – Every year, when universities/ colleges around the country open admission for a new academic year, we are perpetually confronted with the issue of steep tuition fees. This affects not only new students, but also those already enrolled. Now called “Single Tuition Fees” (UKT), the term actually originated from Education and Culture Ministerial Regulation (Permendikbud) 55/2013, later amended by Permendikbud 73/2014, which classifies UKT into eight groups, from the lowest (Group I) to the highest (Group VIII). 

The Permendikbud is the implementing regulation mandated by Law 12/2012 (“Higher Education Law”). It was then followed up with Directorate General of Higher Education Circular Letter 272/E.1/KU/2013, concerning UKT and UKT classification on campus, under the purview of the Education and Culture Ministry (Kemendikbud). The policy classifies students’ personal financial ability into five groups. The first group is for the underprivileged, whose tuition fees range from Rp0 to Rp500,000; the second runs between Rp500,000 to Rp1,000,000; while those falling under groups three to five will have to pay more as per necessary expenses and one’s financial ability. 

For universities/colleges under the purview of the Religion Affairs Ministry (Kemenag), according to the Religious Affairs Ministerial Decree (KMA) 124/2015, UKT was to be divided into three groups. However, since 2016, based on KMA 289/2016, UKT is classified into five groups, based on the students’ economic status. However, Religious Affairs Ministerial Decree 211/2018 concerning UKT at state religiously-affiliated universities/ colleges changed the classifcation into seven groups. Group I (Rp0 to Rp400,000), Group II (Rp800,000 to Rp2,920,000), and the rest having to pay according to necessary expenses. 

Thus, for public universities (PTN)/State University Legal Entity (PTN-BH) under either Kemendikbud or Kemenag, UKT applies only to those in Groups I and II. For Groups III to VII/VIII, the fees vary as per the policy of the institutions’ leadership. This creates a loophole for manipulation. Apparently, it was students from Group III and higher who are the most acutely affected by the planned UKT hike. 

The term UKT is actually not entirely accurate because it differs from student to student, in the same program and year. It is more properly suited to refer to tuition fees in the period before 2002, when there was no such difference. The year 2002 was the turning point, because it saw the deregulation in Indonesian higher education with the establishment of heavily-subsidized public universities as state-owned legal entities (PT-BHMN), in which funding policy is based on merit and achievements. They began to implement an early admission track, by holding their own entrance exam at the beginning of the calendar year, long before the unified admissions exam is held. In the registration form of Gadjah Mada University (UGM), for example, prospective students are required to fill in the sum they are willing to pay. 

While it could not be independently verified, there were widespread rumors that students who were willing to pay more had a better chance of gaining admission to UGM, considered one of the most prestigious public universities in the country. What UGM started was soon followed by other PT-BHMNs, such as Bandung Institute of Technology (ITB), University of Indonesia (UI), and Bogor Agricultural University (IPB). By 2010, the system had been adopted by seven PT-BHMNs, and the number has kept increasing since that time. 

Jenderal Soedirman University
Students at Jenderal Soedirman University, Purwokerto, protest against the hike in UKT for new students outside the Administration Building in late April 2024. (Source: BEM Unsoed)

The enactment of Law 12/2012 concerning higher education, in which article 73(1) stipulates that new student admissions for each program can be carried out through a unified nationwide exam and “other forms”, provides opportunities for regular PTNs to hold their own so-called “independent paths” which is always carried out at a later stage in order to attract prospective students from more advantaged backgrounds wishing to enroll at PTN without having to go through the “invitation path” (for high-achievers) or undertake the united university entrance exam. The Higher Education Law also predesignated PT BHMN to PTN-BH, giving universities more financial and structural autonomy. But in essence, the spirit remains the same. Since then, both regular PTNs and PTN-BHs have admitted new students through an independent path, where the admission and tuition fees are significantly higher than those admitted through other paths. This system, which gives university leaders the power to meddle in the enrollment process, tends to breed corrupt practices, as seen in the graft case implicating the rector of the University of Lampung (Unila) not too long ago. 

The passage of the Higher Education Law was followed by Permendikbud 55/2013, which was amended by Permendikbud 73/2014. Since then, the term UKT has become a “household term”. For ease of understanding, even though the author disagrees with this term, it is used in this article, because that is what the public is familiar with. 

The root of the problem 

Consider the expression “perspective is everything”. When the government treats higher education as a private sector, not as a public service, then the scourge of prohibitively expensive higher education emerges. As a member of the World Trade Organization (WTO), Indonesia has ratified the Marrakesh Agreement Establishing the WTO through Law 7/1994. It contains the General Agreement On Trade In Service of the WTO, commonly known as GATS, which lays down the basic rules for international trade in the services sector, which include education. 

Post-Reformasi, the national education system has undergone massive liberalization and privatization. Under the pretext of autonomy and democratization, the transitional administration of President B.J. Habibie issued Government Regulation (PP) 61/1999 concerning the determination of public universities as legal entities. This became the basis for the subsequent enactments, implementing regulations which led to the change of status mentioned above. 

This policy has aroused dismay among the public. Previously affordable PTNs, accessible to all (provided that one passes an entrance exam), has now become exclusive, where families with a formidable financial ability are allotted an unfair advantage. The “haves” are even allowed to undertake several exams at different public universities within the same year, which was not allowed previously. “Welcome to the new era of commoditized higher education”. In layman’s terms, this is no different than privatization, the transfer of a service from public to private ownership and control, where “money talks”. The state seems to turn a blind eye and simply hand over the matter to market forces. 

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