Meanwhile in Malaysia…

Meanwhile in Malaysia, ‘soft authoritarianism‘ seems to get tougher. Elections are coming up and since the Malaysian people are not yet ready for open dialogue, voices have to be silenced. So what do you do? First you silence the blogs that cause ‘disharmony’. That should be enough since – as Marina Mahathir (yes, the outspoken daughter of…) shows – the government has nothing to fear from the regular Malaysian media.

But it was not enough. This news by rising politician Tony Pua should really worry Malaysians. Apparently, instructions were given by some government commission to the various TV stations in Malaysia to ban all footage of opposition leaders. Although this was denied by some TV stations, Malaysiakini published the proof, black on white.

Now…who isn’t ready for an open dialogue?

Higher Education Funding in Indonesia

The Jakarta Post reported that the Indonesian Director General for Higher Education, Satryo Soemantri Brodjonegoro would increase the subsidies for universities. The government would disburse a Rp 13.5 trillion (US$1.5 billion) fund next year to subsidize costs at state-run and private universities. Good news for Indonesian higher education? Of course, every extra dollar or rupiah is welcome. But…

He admitted that the increase would not cover education costs for university students. “The amount is too small to meet the demands of poor families who want to have access to higher education,” he said. In recent years the government has decreased its subsidies for state-run universities and encouraged them to find their own funding sources. As a result, some state-run universities began offering courses for exorbitant fees.

Starting from 2000, Indonesia’s leading four institutions have – in financial terms – basically been privatised. Institut Teknologi Bandung, Institut Pertanian Bogor, Universitas Indonesia and Universitas Gadjah Mada received the so-called BHMN status (Badan Hukum Milik Negara or ‘state owned legal entities’). The other public universities in Indonesia are meant to follow this path in the future. Universitas Sumatera Utara (USU) received the status in 2003, followed by the Universitas Pendidikan Indonesia (UPI) in early 2004. BHMN meant greater autonomy and autonomy was necessary because the universities, under the Suharto regime, suffered from a serious lack of academic freedom. But autonomy did not just mean academic autonomy, it also meant financial autonomy. And this basically translated into budget cuts. These cuts were so severe that Continue reading Higher Education Funding in Indonesia

Excellence for Productivity 2

Two days ago I had a post on the Dutch report Excellence for Productivity of the Netherlands Bureau for Economic Policy Analysis. A good study that deserved some more attention. I wrote a Dutch article on the outcomes of the report for ScienceGuide:

Adriaan Hofman van de RuG presenteerde recent nog een pleidooi voor meer evidence based discussies in het onderwijs. In dit licht, moet het onderzoek ‘Excellence and Productivity’ verwelkomd worden door belanghebbenden en belangstellenden in het Nederlandse onderwijs. Terwijl vaak maar aangenomen wordt dat excellentie bijdraagt aan economische groei en dat in Nederland het ‘niet-boven-het-maaiveld’ syndroom de ontwikkeling van talent in de weg staat, is het goed dat deze assumpties kritisch onder de loep worden genomen door het CPB. Kort samengevat laat het onderzoek zien dat ‘top skills’ belangrijk zijn voor productiviteit en dat Nederland gemiddeld gezien zeer goed scoort op skills maar dat het toplaagje het relatief slecht doet. Met andere woorden: we hebben relatief slimme domme leerlingen en relatief domme slimme leerlingen. Daarover later meer; eerst even de media aandacht.

Ten eerste werd mij al snel duidelijk dat ook ‘evidence’ niet altijd tot de juiste discussies leidt. In de media leek het of het hoger onderwijs hier ter discussie stond. Een paar voorbeelden. De Volkskrant: “niet het vmbo is het probleem van het Nederlandse onderwijs, maar de universiteiten en hogescholen“; Nederlands Dagblad: “op de universiteiten in Nederland is middelmatigheid troef“; en dan Elsevier: “ als het hoger onderwijs geen ruimte schept voor toptalent, dan wordt Nederland een tweederangs natie“. Nou nou…

Wat is echter het geval? Continue reading Excellence for Productivity 2

Smart dumb people and dumb smart people

The Netherlands Bureau for Economic Policy Analysis (CPB) published an interesting study yesterday. The report – Excellence for Productivity? – investigates the position of the Netherlands vis-a-vis other OECD countries in terms of their skill distribution.

The findings in short:

  • The Dutch perform very well on average
  • The ‘not so bright’ Dutch students are smart compared to their ‘not so bright’ counterparts in other countries.
  • The smartest students in the Netherlands (the top (99th) percentile) are less brilliant than their brilliant counterparts in other OECD countries.

The findings mainly refer to pre-tertiary education. According to the CPB, the findings indicate that there is scope for improvement of skills at the right-hand side (the ‘smart side’) of the distribution. Therefore, policies that raise the Dutch performance at high- and top skill levels may improve Dutch productivity.

The (problematic?) balance between egalitarianism and excellence has been an issue in Dutch politics for the past years. And history shows that shifting the balance is easier planned than done, also in higher education. Measures like the selective admission of students or differentiation in student fees have not (yet) had the desired effects. However, various initiatives are being experimented with such as honours programmes and ‘elite’ colleges. Elitism isn’t really a Dutch thing, I guess… Or is it?

Indonesia Too Democratic?

Can a country be too democratic? Vice President of Indonesia, Jusuf Kalla, thinks it can be. The Jakarta Post reports on his visit to China, and it seems like Kalla is quite impressed by what is going on in China. If only Indonesia was a bit less democratic they would be able to make the same progress as China is making.

“China’s strength is that it can plan and implement. Our system, which is too democratic with too much individual freedom that often disregards the rights of others, has made it difficult for us to build infrastructure”

“As long as individual right is above public responsibility, we will not progress… That’s the only problem we have now.”

A strong government role can help economic development, as is shown by Indonesia’s neighbors Singapore and Malaysia. But going the same way as China is simply not an option for Indonesia anymore, after almost 10 years of democracy. And despite all the troubles in its short history of democracy, the country is showing progress. Progress not just in terms of economic development but also in terms of intellectual and artistic freedom. Sure…Indonesians might hit the streets a few times too many, but I guess that’s a healthy sign, even though it might not always correspond with the governments plans.

An interesting example is the TV show Newsdotcom, better known as ‘Republik Mimpi‘ or the Republic of Dreams (below is an item on the show by Australian current affairs programme Dateline). Continue reading Indonesia Too Democratic?

Group of 8: Seizing the Opportunities

The Group of 8, the group of Australia’s leading universities (or self proclaimed Ivy League) has today shared its vision on the future of Australian higher education, or better, what needs to be done to keep it dynamic and competitive. According to the Go8, the current system was designed for a past era and does no longer provide the right framework for universities to perform in a global knowledge economy (something that National University of Singapore president Shih Choon Fong seems to agree with).

The current Australian higher education and research system is under-resourced and over-regulated (hear hear!). But it is also under-planned and insufficiently diversified for the needs of contemporary Australia. The Go8 provides eight proposals that should increase the flexibility that the universities need to remain competitive and that will serve the Australian community: Continue reading Group of 8: Seizing the Opportunities

America and the Bologna Process

The European process of harmonisation of degree structures is also causing discussions on the other side of the Atlantic. The participating countries have implemented (or are implementing) a three tier degree structure (Bachelor, Master, PhD). In most countries, the undergraduate phase will take three years. In my opinion, one reason for this rather short duration, is the fact that many countries – like the Netherlands – saw their previous 4 year degrees (doctorandus, licentiaat, magister and what have you) as equivalent to a Master’s degree. And because governments did not want Bologna to lead to extra funding, they needed to stuff the Bachelor and Master into 4 years.

But what if you plan to do a Master’s degree in the US, after your European three-year bachelor? According to Daniel Denecke of the US Council of Graduate Studies, resistance to recognizing three-year degrees at American graduate schools is rampant, although there were some trends toward acceptance of the new European model: Continue reading America and the Bologna Process