TEMPO.CO, Jakarta - It is ironic that at a time when the government is accelerating the development of infrastructure around the country, there are not enough engineering graduates. Moreover, the quality of engineers seems to be uneven. Many important positions are today occupied by expatriates.
This is not as an overnight phenomenon. It is the long-term result of a lack of visionary policies. Data from the Ministry of Research, Technology and Higher Education show that more than half of the seven million students at universities in Indonesia are taking up social sciences or humanities. Only 16 percent, or 1.1 million students, are studying engineering.
The lack of engineers is due to the fact that every time a new university opens, either state-owned or private, the first courses offered are in social studies, economics and humanities. This is understandable because establishing an engineering faculty is an expensive business, especially if setting up laboratories and facilities for practical study and the required equipment. Even if the facilities are available, they would be in poor condition. The consequence of this is seen in the quality of graduates. Indonesia only has a surplus of industrial engineers and IT technicians.
Clearly, the government needs to do something drastic to overcome this critical shortage of engineers. Many private companies have established universities, as have state-owned companies such as PLN, Telkom, Pertamina and Semen Indonesia. But they have not made much difference to the numbers. They do not produce enough graduates for their own needs, let alone to supply engineers for other projects.
The government has allocated Rp5,500 trillion up to 2019 for the acceleration of the construction of infrastructure in 12 sectors. Hundreds of thousands of engineers in at least 15 fields of study will be needed for every stage of these projects, up to and including the operational phase. This year alone, the government needs 72,000 engineers, but there are only 18,000, or 25 percent of the needed personnel. With the increasing pace of development, this gap is bound to widen.
The government needs to allocate more funding to engineering education. This could be done by a massive reallocation of education funding over the next 5-10 years to build high quality engineering faculties. The government could also make improvements to existing faculties. The building of faculties and engineering colleges also need to be expanded beyond Java. It will not be possible for the government to leave this matter to regional governments or university rectors because their funding is limited.
Without concrete measures, it will not be possible to close this gap, and this could lead to foreign workers taking advantage of the situation. Since 2015, with the start of the ASEAN Economic Community, Indonesian can no longer restrict the entry of skilled foreign workers, including engineers. Indonesia may well send unskilled workers to Malaysian plantations in exchange for engineers to work at construction sites here.
This would not only reduce opportunities for Indonesians in the domestic market, it could also have adverse social impacts. It would be sad indeed if anti-foreigner sentiment increased because of our inability to provide adequate education for the people of Indonesia. We would lose not because of lack of competitiveness, but because of an inability to produce engineers. (*)
Read the full story in this week's edition of Tempo English Magazine