Jakarta – Education, Culture, Research and Technology Minister Nadiem Makarim needs to immediately evaluate the university student admission system following the arrest of Lampung University (Unila) rector Karomani by the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) last week, in light of the fact that the alleged bribery case that has implicated the professor could be just the tip of the iceberg.
Ironically, the case comes on the heels of Nadiem's much-vaunted vision of Kampus Merdeka (free campus), which is supposed to liberate higher education from not only the barriers to academic freedom but also corrupt practices.
Rumors about bribery at state universities have been heard for years, including the practice of students paying money to lecturers in order to pass exams, but as no action has ever been taken it has remained hearsay.
The criminal investigation into Karomani for allegedly asking for bribe money from prospective students who chose the autonomous admission scheme is very disturbing because universities are touted as centers of excellence that prepare future leaders of the country. The professor, who had often criticized rampant corruption in this country, is accused of demanding from those who failed the enrollment test between Rp 100 million (US$6,728) and Rp 350 million to get admitted.
The KPK has also declared deputy rector Heryandi a suspect in the same scandal. As the antigraft body widens its investigation, more suspects are likely to be named, including parents of students who might have initiated the bribery.
The KPK has warned universities across the country that it receives a lot of complaints from the public about bribery during student admission tests, which usually occur in July.
Karomani may have sought a loophole in the autonomous student admission mechanism, which allows state universities to allocate 30 percent of seats to those who are willing to pay higher tuition fees than students admitted through the normal procedure. With the extra funding, the universities are expected to upgrade their quality by promoting research and other academic activities.
The government also allows state universities to accept the best graduates of prominent senior high schools by invitation.
Based on the government policies, Unila is allowed to accept students through invitation (40 percent), conventional entrance test (30 percent), and the remainder through the autonomous mechanism. This academic year, the university accepted 5,755 new students.
Karomani is accused of capitalizing on the autonomous mechanism to seek personal gain. He allegedly asked his staff to collect money from students who enrolled through the scheme, in the process enriching himself and his accomplices from the money collected.
The KPK allegedly caught him red-handed accepting bribes in Bandung, West Java, last week. According to KPK investigators, the professor had raised Rp 5 billion from this practice, but this figure may rise as the antigraft body investigates previous student admission programs.
According to the KPK, the autonomous admission mechanism is vulnerable to bribery, because of the absence of specific guidelines from the education ministry, leaving state universities to do as they please without supervision, which is an unacceptable situation.
We call on Nadiem to take immediate action to clean house. Universities are not immune from corruption, but the Unila bribery case is indeed scandalous because the absence of supervision appears to have allowed corruption to flourish.