TEMPO.CO, Jakarta - Campuses should be centers of public discourse uncontaminated by any governmental vested interest. They should not be institutions for only churning out an able workforce.
JUDGING only from its name, the Kampus Merdeka (Independent Campus) project initiated by the Minister of Education and Culture Nadiem Makarim sounds like an effort to create fully independent and academically free institutions of higher learning. Ever since President Joko Widodo recruited civil society activists as his aides in the State Palace, campuses indeed are expected to act as a balancing and critical ballast from outside the system.
But let us not be too hasty. That is not what the education ministry has in mind. The Independent Campus according to Nadiem’s vision are ones that allow their students to take classes outside their stated majors. There are also opportunities for students to intern for three semesters and obtain exchange courses on foreign shores. Campuses will be freed up from the hassle of accreditation and legal status. Said Nadiem, thus far, Indonesian students have only been trained to swim in one style only. In an Independent Campus, they will be thrown into the sea, and be trained in all manner of skills to enhance their survival capabilities.
If what the former Gojek CEO aims at is boosting connectedness between campuses and industry and preparing students to be ready for the workplace, the name Independent Campus is off the mark. The more accurate term would be Industry-ready Campuses or simply Link and Match Campuses.
Beyond terminology, it appears that Nadiem is on a wrong footing. After for so long being enmeshed in administrative issues, universities should be allowed by the minister to return to being cauldrons of public discourse. Campuses should go back to providing inspiration for civil movements. Prepping a workforce that is ready is the task of vocational schools who can adjust and adapt to any industrial need.
There has long been criticism: the voice of the university disappeared along with the political appointments that sucked professors and lecturers into government. When the Corruption Eradication Commission was in the process of being emasculated, for all the students that took to the streets, there was barely a single sound in tandem from the campuses to oppose the wicked act. Neither have campuses reacted fiercely against the job creation omnibus law – the all-out effort the government is making to stamp out civil rights in the interest of obtaining investments. A number of campuses were heard to have backed down from holding learned discussion surrounding the omnibus law after being “reminded” by the authorities not to meddle.
For these reasons, Minister Nadiem’s “Kampus Merdeka” should initially aim at freeing campuses from government appointments with specific political aims and the goal of tamping down criticism. The government needs to give freedom to higher education institutions to create, think, and give birth to concepts and strategies for the public good – with no ulterior motive to defend a specific political interest.
Academic freedom is given in a democracy. Power, however polite and empathetic the leader acts towards the people, tends to corrupt. Absolute power tends to corrupt absolutely. For this very reason, it is the imperative power that has to be controlled by civil society, including campuses. The history of change in Indonesia has always been the movement of youths arising from the campuses and civil society.
If he really wishes to create free campuses, Nadiem can put back the essence of the word “independent” into academic freedom and social control. He has to allow campuses to criticize government policy and oppose any effort to enfeeble higher education institutions. Without that, campuses will only be suppliers of workers for factories and industry – cold institutions with no soul, and lacking fresh ideas and initiative.
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