Fri, 05 Mar 1999

University entrance system lacking

Iwan Pranoto

BANDUNG (JP): In Indonesia, most high school graduates plan to continue their studies. The first choice for the majority of these students is a state university. However, among the state universities, there are two "leagues". Of course, the "major league" universities are the most sought after by the students and their parents. If they cannot get into a "major league" university, they usually lower their sights and try for one of the lesser state universities. Others also try to get into private universities.

To get into a state university, in general, high school graduates must take a university entrance test, a UMPTN. This written test is given annually, and students can take the test in various cities around Indonesia.

The entrance exam is quite difficult. Moreover, the competition to get into the top universities is tough. For example, to get into the Department of Electrical Engineering at the Bandung Institute of Technology (ITB) last year, a student had to score at least 81 percent on his or her entrance test. It is true that the competition depends on which department a student chooses, but in general this required score was higher than at other universities. This strong competition is one of the reasons why ITB was rated a top university by Asiaweek a couple of years ago.

The present university entrance system works fine. The questions on the entrance exam are relevant to the curricula. Moreover, relatively speaking, we have never heard of the "leakage" of the test questions. This is of course not the case with the national evaluation test, EBTANAS, which is each year accompanied by stories of "leakage".

However, there are two issues concerning the present entrance system which need to be addressed, and hopefully can be implemented before the next university entrance exam is given.

The first issue is whether the entrance system itself promotes academic values. Specifically, does the present entrance system promote the values which the academic community strives for. For instance, does the system strengthen the fairness, honesty, trust and accountability which all universities try to develop among the academic community?

The previous entrance system in Indonesia did not merely evaluate the intellectual merits of high school graduates. For example, on the registration form, each student had to fill in personal information. This information was in no way relevant to the students' intellectual merits. The students were required to supply such personal data as race, religion, sex and so on. They had to provide this information, otherwise their registration would have been annulled.

Of course, asking students these questions is completely wrong. It is inappropriate to ask such irrelevant questions on the university entrance system. However, did the officials in charge of the test use this data when they considered whether a student should be admitted to a state university or not? Did a student's acceptance depend on this data? The answer to both questions is yes. Minister of Education and Culture Juwono Soedarsono and Director General of Higher Education Prof. B. Soehendro admitted that the data was used to decide whether some students were accepted to state universities. At least they admitted that race was factored into the equation of determining whether a student was accepted.

Moreover, they also admitted that the previous entrance system limited the percentage of Chinese-Indonesians allowed into the state universities.

In particular, in July 1998, Juwono increased the percentage of Chines-Indonesians allowed into state universities from 10 percent to 15 percent. So, clearly, the system did discriminate against some Indonesian citizens. Amazingly, Soehendro added that the percentage was quite fair because Chinese-Indonesians were less than 5 percent of the total population. So, he said, "Chinese-Indonesians were overrepresented".

In my article in Media Indonesia on July 31, 1998, I stated that the issue was not how high the percentage was. The real issue was that labeling one person as the representation of a certain ethnicity, race or religion was wrong.

We cannot continue these practices. They are wrong. They are against academic values, and they contradict the practices of fairness, honesty, trust and accountability. More importantly, they contradict academic freedom.

In particular, they contradict point five of the Lima Declaration, which states that "every person has the right, without discrimination of any kind, to become part of the academic community, as a student, teacher, researcher, worker or administrator". The declaration was presented in Lima from Sept. 6 to Sept. 10, 1988, and it was sponsored by, among others, the UNESCO convention against Discrimination in Education.

It is not know whether other irrelevant data was used to select students for state universities. It is not know, for example, whether sex contributed to certain student's acceptance.

It is clear that our previous entrance system did violate the ideal of academic freedom. If we want to improve the quality of our institutions of higher education, we must improve our academic freedom. This means we must improve our university entrance system, a relatively simple task. We should simply discard all irrelevant questions.

If we really want to have a statistical analysis of students entering universities, we can ask for their personal data on a volunteer basis after they have been accepted. There is no reason to ask personal questions of those students who are merely taking the entrance exam. Alternatively, students taking the entrance exam could be asked personal questions on separate forms which would remain unmarked, thus allowing the students to remain anonymous.

It is universally accepted that weak students must be supported. However, it is wrong to simplistically make it easy for students from a certain ethnic group to enter state universities, while limiting the number of students from another ethnic group.

Similarly, it is wrong to accept a student because of sex or religion. These practices contradict academic freedom.

The second issue concerning the present entrance system is the fact that our universities still concentrate on the national level. Generally, they only consider national students. Our universities have to expand their horizons. It is time to attract international students to our universities. Therefore the entrance system must accommodate international students who want to study here.

For example, University of Gadjah Mada (UGM) in Yogyakarta has already had a number of international students. UGM is a very strategic institution because much of the research conducted at UGM has a rich local flavor. Many other universities across the country have similar advantages.

A university which attracts foreign students will benefit in many aspects. In particular, the university can improve its international recognition. This recognition is needed, for example, in the world of research. This would propel the university's scientific activities onto the international level, and the quality of research would improve. Also, students at the university would create international bonds which would improve the learning process.

Foreign students will only be able to study in our state universities if the entrance system provides them this opportunity. Also, the entrance system must respect the universal values. Specifically, the system must support the development of academic freedom in state universities.

The previous entrance system did not support academic freedom. In particular, the system opened up the opportunity for discrimination to occur. If we want more foreign students to enter our state universities, then we must improve the entrance system so that it promotes our understanding of academic freedom.

We will not receive global acceptance unless our educational system respects universal values. Also, we cannot develop and strengthen universal human values if we continue to practice discrimination. Moreover, government leaders have pointed their fingers at a neighboring country, saying that the country's government practiced racial discrimination. Therefore, after making unnecessary and, possibly, incorrect statements about another government, is not it the time for us to abolish our own discriminatory practices which prevent some students from entering state universities?

The writer is a math teacher living in Bandung

Window: ... the entrance system must respect the universal values. Specifically, the system must support the development of academic freedom in state universities.