Universities in Indonesia are having difficulties matching the world's prominent universities and even Asia's best.
None of our universities are on the list of the 100 best Asian universities in 2013, according to Times Higher Education, while Singapore, Thailand and Malaysia have institutions on the list. Despite the abundant resources spent by the government on improving the quality of education, it seems our "best universities" cannot even be the best (or even close to the best) in ASEAN, let alone in Asia or globally. Here are some problems we face in improving our higher education system.
First, the best people do not become lecturers. All parents, if they had the choice, would pick the best people to teach their children. It is widely accepted that the quality of education systems cannot exceed the quality of teachers.
However, the best students have no desire to become lecturers. They usually go to large multinational companies, which compete aggressively to recruit our best graduates. Some companies provide scholarships to top students, with the agreement that the students must work for the companies following graduation.
On the contrary, our universities do not usually have clear recruitment strategies and procedures. University officials are mostly very passive and not very creative when it comes to recruiting new lecturers. Faculty staff do not bother to attract talented candidates or seriously look at selecting the best students who could become excellent teachers.
Second, there is no financial security for lecturers. The main salary of a lecturer is insignificant compared to those with similar education levels who work in other industries. Low salaries make university lecturer positions unattractive to the country's best and brightest.
There are many great Indonesian PhD holders who have opted to teach in universities abroad, earning much more than they would have done working in Indonesian universities. Unfortunately, we cannot expect them to return to Indonesia to strengthen our educational systems for many reasons, one being the amount of salary involved.
Further, faculty members resort to other sources of income to survive. The side jobs include teaching in other universities, becoming consultants, establishing a business and public speaking. These side jobs have significantly distracted our lecturers from their commitment to the quality of higher education.
As a result, being a lecturer is a full-time job only on paper. Some are even willing to cancel classes for these side jobs, especially if the jobs provide significant monetary incentives. Further, many offices of lecturers are vacant most of the time. This would never happen in good universities with established governing systems.