Ian Ahong – November 17 is the commemoration of International Student Day. This commemoration does not automatically emerge from nothing but has a history of struggle against tyrannical power.
This includes the Czechoslovakian people struggle against Nazi German authoritarianism during the Second World War. This was then followed by the revolution against communist power in the Soviet Union in 1989.
Unfortunately on this historical day, at least for the struggle of ordinary people in Indonesia, the Education Ministry is on holiday. Indeed we are well aware that the ministry has no sensitivity about the historical momentum of the ordinary people's struggle.
Regardless of all this, the Indonesian Student and Youth National Action Committee is using the historical momentum of this day to articulate the problems facing the education system.
In broad terms, the problem faced by the ordinary Indonesian people is economic and social inequality. This is made worse by laws which actually make this inequality even sharper. One of which is the Draft Law on Labour which will provide more labour flexibility for the capitalists.
For workers, the impact will be economic uncertainty. These kinds of policies are like the arrival of mob to torture the ordinary people. The Draft Labour Law comes together with a package of other policies which are being forced through.
Meanwhile the legal avenues for the people's voice and politics such as the parliament are controlled by the same powers that oppress the ordinary people. On the other hand, peaceful demonstrations opposing the government are met with repression and violence.
In confronting the problems which are actually created by those in power, education can be used as a concrete tool of struggle. So we are aware that the pressure of mass actions is needed to realise "Education which is free, scientific, democratic and people based".
The reasons are simple. Without strong political pressure, the Education Ministry will continue to pursue policies which are an extension of the oppressive hands of power.
The concrete form of the issues above is the legal monopoly of education justified by campus autonomy.
The impact is that alternative voices from various elements are silenced because they disrupt campus administration. Democratic space on campus meanwhile is being progressively closed down.
The latest case was the dismissal of members of the University of North Sumatra Student Press Institute who recently lost an appeal with the State Administrative Court against their own rector. Likewise in the case of the rape of a Gajah Mada University (UGM) student in Yogyakarta.
When challenged about this, the Education Ministry used campus autonomy as an excuse, while campuses can silence critical students on the grounds of safeguarding the campus' good reputation.
The other problem of campus autonomy relates to students' economic situation which on a larger scale relates to the Indonesian people's relationship to the economic and political situation.
Students, without being allowed to ask too many questions are required to pay large amounts of money to be able to study. Then when the campus arbitrarily decides to pursue some development students are forced to accept an increase in tuition fees.
Meanwhile those that criticise are threatened with being dropped out or suspended. Drop out is a campus policy to get rid of students who are critical. The other reason is because they are unable to pay tuition fees. The Education Ministry responds to these problems by citing campus autonomy – meaning that the state is washing its hands of dealing with this disarray in education.
The problems cited above only represent the tip of the iceberg. Because of this therefore the Indonesian Students National Action Committee is demanding and urging the Education Ministry to:
- Revoke Law Number 12/2012 on Higher Education
- Reject the commercialisation of education
- Ensure campus bureaucratic and financial transparency
- Create democratic space on campus
- Push for the release of pro-democracy activists still being detained b police
Viva the Indonesian People!
November 17, 2019
Indonesian Students National Action Committee
[Translated by James Balowski. The original title of the article was "Mahasiswa Desak Pendidikan Gratis, Ilmiah, Demokratis, dan Berbasis kerakyatan,'".]