`The govt sells education like a commodity to highest bidder'
Zakki Hakim and Arya Abhiseka, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta
A lot of tension was in evidence on most students' faces on Tuesday, when they gathered in a hall at state vocational school SMKN 39 in Cempaka Putih, Central Jakarta, before taking a state university admission test (SPMB).
As the school bell rang, the level of nervousness showing on each student's face increased dramatically. Some sighed and some were saying prayers.
Rifki, 18, one of the students who just graduated from state high school SMUN 47 in Tanah Kusir, South Jakarta, said that he was hopeful that he could enroll at a state university and therefore he was willing to take the two-day SPMB, which began on Tuesday nationwide.
He said that his entire future depended on the test because he found out recently that he had failed a special admission test held by Bandung Institute of Technology (ITB), making the SPMB his last resort for admission to a state university.
Rifki is one of 53,403 students in Jakarta, who wish to enroll at 48 state universities involving 1,583 study programs, nationwide, through SPMB.
In total, there are about 440,000 students nationwide vying for 82,969 spots at various state universities across Indonesia.
This year's number of SPMB participants in Jakarta declined from 57,604 students in 2002. An official said that there were various reasons for the decline.
Koesmardiono, who chairs the state university admission test of the Jakarta chapter, said the higher prices for registration forms was one reason.
"Last year, the registration forms cost each participant only between Rp 75,000 (US$8.4) and Rp 90,000. Now, the forms cost between Rp 95,000 and Rp 120,000, and many families still cannot afford that," he said.
Koesmardiono said another significant factor was the autonomy granted to four state universities -- University of Indonesia, ITB, Gadjah Mada University and the Bogor Institute of Agriculture -- to hold their own special admission tests, apart from the SPMB.
Around 20 percent of the total admissions in the universities were allocated for students taking part in the special admission tests.
In order for students to take part in the special tests, they had to pay between Rp 25 million and Rp 250 million for admission fees. However, the money would not guarantee them acceptance to the universities, unless they passed the tests.
However, a student claimed on Tuesday that he failed to pass a special admission test for one state university because he stated in his registration form that he could only pay Rp 45 million for his admission fee.
Later, he found out that some of his friends, who were accepted, agreed to pay Rp 75 million in admission fees.
Parents have criticized the universities for charging expensive fees to be accepted through the special admission tests.
Hadi Isuryadi, one of the protesting parents who accompanied his son to the SPMB, said on Tuesday that if the schools needed more operational funds, they should obtain it from other sources instead of squeezing parents for tens of millions of rupiah.
It shows that the government has treated education as nothing but a commodity on sale to the highest bidder, rather than a process to improve the intelligence of the nation, he asserted.
Apart from paying high fees, Hadi said he and other parents had to spend a lot of money to send their children for extra lessons, termed "test guidance courses" so they would have a better chance of passing the SPMB.
Meanwhile, Brojo Koesworo, a student from SMUN 78 in Kemanggisan, West Jakarta, said the subjects taught at his school and extra courses he had to take after school hours were still insufficient for him to be optimistic that he would be accepted at a state university.