Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express on Wednesday 2 September 2009. I am repeating the columns here with a lag because the Express columns are not on line. You can see all the columns by clicking here.
In June 2009 the Indonesian Government released new rankings for degrees from Australian universities. I was alerted to this by Tikno, an Indonesian blogging colleague, who was worried about the impact on the 14,000 or so Indonesian students studying in Australia.
Tikno’s concern lay in the fact that the ordinary bachelor degrees from major Australian universities are classified as associate degrees for Indonesian purposes. This means that Indonesian students returning to Indonesia find that their qualifications are not recognised when applying for jobs back home, especially in Government agencies.
I was quite startled by this and tried to find out more. After all, education is now our third largest export sector, and I had seen no references to this in the Australian media.
A check of the official Indonesian list of degree equivalences confirmed that ordinary Australian bachelor degrees do not qualify as full degrees.
There appear to be two reasons for this. Indonesian regulations require 144 credit points for a degree, whereas the ordinary Australian degree requires 120. Indonesian degrees also require a thesis, something that is generally required in Australia only at honours level.
From a story in the Jakarta Globe, it appears that the problem first emerged about four years ago. Mohamad Fahmi, interim chairman of the Indonesian Student Association of Australia (PPIA), is quoted as saying that his group wanted the Ministry of National Education to resolve the four-year-old issue.
“Some who have finished undergraduate programs here and returned home with high expectations are disappointed,” Fahmi told the Globe by telephone from Australia.
Indonesian officials defend the current position.
According to Fasli Jalal, the education ministry’s director general of higher education, “It is not fair for university students studying in Indonesia who have to finish a minimum of 144 credits, while other people who studied overseas, with smaller credits, ask for equal approval,”
Presently, students who graduate from undergraduate programs at Australian universities take an additional year at an Indonesian institution to fulfil the 144 credit point requirement. After that, they are officially holders of recognized bachelor degrees.
The question of equivalence of qualifications across borders has always been a difficult issue.
Australia has, rightly to my mind, been cautious about recognising certain degrees from certain countries in areas such as medicine. Indonesia is entitled to set and apply its own standards.
However, accepting this, I can understand the position of PPIA’s Mohamad Fahmi when the effect of the changed approach is to disadvantage Indonesian students already studying in Australia.
I also found it interesting that discussion around this issue actually centred first on questions of standards, not credit inputs to use modern jargon.
Ramana, an Indian blogger wrote:
“I am not qualified enough to comment on this without having more information…. What I do know is that there are a number of fly by night institutions in Australia that rip off unsuspecting overseas students by promising a lot, but not delivering. This is a matter of great concern here in India too. Many of our students go to Australia and return with qualifications that do not compare in quality to their literal equivalents in India.”
Ramana is actually talking about private vocational colleges, not universities, something that I pointed out.
However, the fact that I and others first interpreted this matter in terms of the standards of Australian education shows just how much damage has been done to Australia’s education reputation by recent events.
The entire education sector has been tarnished by the actions of a few.
I will be watching the statistics on overseas student numbers with interest. My feeling is that we are likely to see a significant decline.
Linking this back to one of my recurrent themes in this column, a recent story in the Financial Review began:
“All Vice-chancellors are deploying corporate style tactics to lift employee output and create leaner, more responsive workforces before a new era of performance-base funding agreements with the Commonwealth.”
Now compare this to what I have just written.
There is little room for students in a world of lean, mean, fighting machines!
UNE has again ranked high on the recent student satisfaction rankings. It does so because it is still, to my mind, a university.
This is UNE’s real competitive advantage. The issue is how to build on it.