The Trouble With Academic Malpractice in Indonesia

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The Trouble With Academic Malpractice in Indonesia

A closer look at a disturbing trend.

Recently, Indonesia has been, once again, flooded with news related to academic misconduct in its higher institutions. Two of the most common manifestations of academic malpractice in Indonesia are fake diplomas and document forgery, and they deserve greater attention by the Indonesian state as well as society more generally.

Fake Diplomas and Documents

The latest news in the area of fake diplomas comes from Universitas Negeri Jakarta (State University of Jakarta) which reportedly gives “fake” degrees and certificates.

According to a document published by an online-based news outlet Tirto, the irregularities of the academic process in the Graduate Program at UNJ is spelled out in the mismatch between the number of doctoral graduates and the number of certificate issued from December 2004 to September 2016. From there, it is clear that there are indications of buying and selling of diplomas at UNJ’s doctoral program. During this period, there were 2,104 doctoral graduates, while there were 2,557 certificates issued.

Within this sample, the most important case is the former governor of Southeast Sulawesi, Nur Alam, whose doctorate summa cum laude from UNJ has been questioned due to his dissertation, which was found to have a 74 percent similarity score on the program Turnitin and it was reportedly written in only five days.

While this is not a new problem and has been going on for many years, the case of UNJ surprised many as it demonstrated that the disease of plagiarism has spread not only among the usual unregistered or private universities, but also well-established and state institutions as well.

Ironically, the issue of plagiarism is also widespread among university staff, who would like to apply for higher positions or for scholarships to pursue higher education. Recently, it was reported that there were nine university lecturers who had been found guilty of using fraudulent English proficiency certificates when applying for BUDI, a government-supported scholarship for university lecturers.

Among lecturers, this seems to have become common practice. One case that received a lot of attention from the public was a lecturer in Law Faculty of Universitas Lambung Mangkurat in June last year. He was not only guilty of falsifying his Masters certificate, but also of forging an equivalency letter for foreign degrees from DIKTI (Ministry of Research, Technology, and Higher Education). These documents were used to apply for a doctoral program at Universitas Brawijaya in Malang, East Java.

Besides lecturers, universities themselves are often perpetrators of forgery. They seek and pay Masters and PhD graduates to be registered as formal academic staff. These individuals, however, never come to teach or do anything for the institutions. They are ‘hired’ because the universities need their names and degrees to obtain accreditation.

What’s Behind This?

There are a number of reasons why such a level of academic misconduct takes place in Indonesia.

The most important reason is societal pressure. The pride and prestige one receives as a university graduate, and, conversely, the negative perceptions that those without a degree face, lead people in Indonesia to be willing to spend money to buy fake diplomas. There is also a widespread belief among Indonesians that by having degrees, they will surely have a better job and a higher position in society. This mindset is then exploited by some people in the country.

Two, on the part of universities, many of them treat giving degrees as a business. Rather than considering the sharing of knowledge a noble act to better equip people to contribute to the country’s development, many higher education institutions see themselves as providing the ‘backdoor’ way to obtain education. These universities could care less about changing people’s perception regarding knowledge or providing the best education possible to the society. For them, the unstated goal is to increase revenues.

Third, there is a lack of supervision in terms of verifying the authenticity of the documents in the university admissions and quality assurance offices.

Ideally, at universities, the validation process should not stop just at verifying whether the certificate is fake or not, but also be cross-examined for plagiarism along with other submitted. After all, plagiarizing dissertations or other academic publications is not only illegal in the eyes of law, it is also a mistake that will very likely hurt a future career.

For scholars, the originality of an idea is something sacred. Academics are like inventors as they produce new theories, patents, and technologies through their research. And they, of all people, should be the ones who understand best that appreciating work and giving proper credit when it is due are the principles that must be upheld.

When the monitoring process to verify fake diplomas and indications of plagiarism is not conducted with caution and thoroughness, it can lead to inappropriate institutional decisions to employ unqualified academic personnel. A key way to ensure the quality of education is preserved is by ensuring that academic malpractice is not taking place.

The Way Forward

The government should realize that this problem must be resolved. The institutions that grant fake degrees and issue false certificates must have penalties handed out and be closed. They have tarnished the academic dignity entrenched in higher education institutions that are regarded as centers that maintain moral integrity. The government has begun to take this action and should continue to do so, including towards state universities.

Furthermore, despite the fact that DIKTI has established a team known as Evaluasi Kinerja Akademik (EKA) – Academic Performance Evaluation – which is tasked with investigating plagiarism and document forgery at the central level, the team unsurprisingly has little capability to handle all cases on the national level. Here the roles of universities themselves should be emphasized.

This means that it is the responsibility of each university to do their part to make sure that there is credibility behind their quality. Tangibly, this can be done by forming a directorate of quality assurance starting from the faculty level, where its objectives could be similar to that of the EKA. The use of plagiarism detection software must also be applied rigorously. In addition, strict sanctions should be enforced not only for students, but also lecturers and other employees.

The decisive step taken by the Indonesian government in publicizing the data of those who falsified the required documents when applying for scholarships should be commended and continuously taken in order to prevent similar cases happening again in the future. By making the selection process transparent, it is hoped that there will be a deterrent effect felt by the perpetrators. This will also offer optimism with respect to the improvement of the education system in Indonesia, as well as eliminate plagiarism and forgery in any form.

Lastly, there is a need for changing perceptions. On the one hand, people need to realize that seeking knowledge is not only about getting degrees. Rather, it is about sharpening their understanding and garnering their skills in a correct way to contribute to society at large. On the other hand, universities should not treat educating people as a business. They must contribute to transforming people’s perception about knowledge and make sure that they provide education in a right manner in order to realize the common goal of a better Indonesia.

Dikanaya Tarahita and Muhammad Zulfikar Rakhmat are independent researchers focusing on social issues in Indonesia. Both are the founders of Sekolabilitas, an Indonesian-based NGO dedicated to helping individuals with disabilities access education.