The Vicious Cycle of Indonesian Legal Education

I've spent the last three weeks collecting law journal articles for my personal research and I was very surprised when I realized that I had obtained around 900 articles from only 20 or so US law professors. I note that Richard Posner and Cass Sunstein are probably the most productive ones. Posner himself has written more than 290 articles for law journals (that's what I've gotten from Hein-Online) and I know that he also write countless books and opinions as a federal judge. So yes, saying that he is a prolific writer would be an understatement.

My first reaction to this fact is making a comparison with Indonesian law professors. Honestly, it is very rare to find Indonesian law professors who actively write their thoughts in Indonesian law journals or books. Heck, it is even harder to find law journals which can survive their first publication. To the best of my knowledge, most professors spend their times writing newspapers op-ed or acting as expert witnesses. It's a pity, but I cannot blame them entirely.

The Problem of Compensation and Lack of Funding

There are two key issues relating to the poor performance of our professors and journals. First, it's the lack of compensation . It's just too small compared to their US counterparts! A US law professor in a prestigious law school can obtain around US$150,000 dollar per year. By Indonesian standards, this is ridiculously huge. Even the salary of a senior lawyer in a first class Indonesian law firm does not reach that amount. The last time I heard about the salary plan for a professor in University of Indonesia, it's around Rp10 million per months or around US$14,000 per year (not clear though whether this is a gross or net amount). For junior or mid term lecturer, the salary is even lower.

The fact that the legal status of some state universities is in turmoil does not help solving the above problem. Not only that it is not clear how universities should be able to procure their own internal funds, the employment status of their lecturers are confusing. What are the incentives then for them to focus on doing useful research and producing high quality academic products?

A major source of this compensation problem is lack of university funding. I must admit, there is a huge discrepancy of school fees between Indonesia and United States and it affects the overall compensation for the professors and lecturers. Imagine this, between 2001 and 2005, my yearly tuition fee for studying at the Faculty of Law, University of Indonesia is around US$250 (assuming that US$1 is equal to Rp9,000). That is 1/192 of my current tuition fee at the University of Chicago. I know that University of Indonesia's tuition fee has increased considerably within the last 6 years, but I am quite certain, it is still far away from our US counterparts.

Tuition fee is the primary source of university funding, other than sponsors and donors. That's the hard fact. Asking universities to cut down their fees while requiring them to maintain or even improve their quality is absurd. Asking the government to finance the entire education costs is also difficult, especially in a period where we don't know whether having a government is worse than having no government at all. Two basic principles that should be adhered: (i) great education does not necessarily have to be cheap and (ii) people should not be discriminated from getting high quality education based on their poor financial condition. The solution? Cross subsidy between the rich and the poor.

Another way for getting fresh money for the University is by finding a sponsor. I applause University of Indonesia's decision to bring Starbucks to the campus. If these shops can attract more money from the rich kids and they are being used to foster the University, why not? Unfortunately, instead of having realistic and pragmatic debates such as does the University get a good deal from this transaction and does the University put the money for good use, we have some ridiculous debates on whether this decision brings the University of Indonesia toward consumerism or whether it is appropriate for the University to bring Starbucks, which  is owned by a "villain" (by the way, the said villain's company owns countless major products and brands across Indonesia and I wonder whether people know that they might actually use the products without knowing who own the company, but that's for another discussion on liability of shareholders and their companies), to the campus area.

As long as this funding issues cannot be solved, I do not expect that the life quality of the professors and lecturers can be significantly improved and the incentives for them to perform better are getting smaller. Why do you think that professors choose to write for op-eds instead of journals? It's a gate for becoming famous, and once you're famous, Indonesian people will mostly hear what you said. Then you can become an expert witness or a speaker in seminars and workshops. The payment is quite good. Why bother doing research that produces almost nothing?

Another people may argue that being a lecturer means devoting yourself for the betterment of the society. True, but it is hard to find those kind of people, and even if you find them, how many of them will stay the same for a long time if they can't properly feed themselves and their family. In the end, incentives matter. Compensation means a lot, and you can't expect to have a better compensation with lack of funding.

Lack of Research Culture

This might sound like a broken record, by the second key issue is very typical, there is a lack of research culture in Indonesia. I don't have a solid empirical data to back up my claim, but at least for the subject of law, I have not found any legal groundbreaking ideas for the past 10 years, either in the form of books or journal articles. The days where professors wrote countless books, such as the legendary Subekti and Wirjono Prodjodikoro, are over. I think the only remaining productive legal writer is J. Satrio and that's it. Most professors only publish unedited anthology of their articles and therefore it's difficult to find a coherent and systematic thinking within the book.

I can also tell my experience during my law undergraduate study days. Most of the time, the lecturers have already summarized the reading materials to be read by the students and they instruct to student to purchase those summarized reading materials. Yes, learning is easier by this way, but it also discourage our reading and writing culture which is essential for creating a culture of research! I can tell you that living as a law student, at least in my time, was not that hard. In fact, I had plenty of leisure time during my study. If you really want to advance your own thoughts, there are no other ways than investing your own time to read materials and write by yourself. For some people this is good, meaning that they will have additional time to learn new things without having to cope with too many tasks from the school. The ultimate question is, how many people actually choose this way?

Since the professors and lecturers don't have enough time to maintain their student (i.e. too busy to do other additional jobs), they usually don't give the students plenty of reading materials or ask the students to make papers. Even if they do, papers are usually made in group. Furthermore, since they won't have much time to read too many papers, grades are usually determined by a mid test and a final test. If you have read the summarized reading materials, I can assure you that you should be able to obtain good grades. Thus the vicious circle of our legal education is created. The lecturers have little incentives to conduct academic researches nor to encourage students to do their own research and the students also have little incentives to give extra effort in their study since in the end of the day, they can always survive the test by only reading the summarized reading materials. Life is easier, of course, but it's a dull one.

To solve this vicious circle, there is no way other than giving the correct incentives and I say the first priority should be given to the academics since they are the life and blood of the university. Without them, there would be no one to educate the students. So compensation should be the start.

To close this post I want to show the irony in Indonesia with respect to the quality of the University outputs. The admission test in Indonesian Universities is extremely competitive. I bet that getting admitted at the University of Indonesia is harder than getting admitted at Harvard (in terms of the amount of people submitting their application and the percentage of those who are eventually admitted). Yet, with such rigorous application process, we are not yet able to produce the quality of output as good as Harvard. Isn't that a waste of time? Collecting the best of the best of Indonesian young students but fail to nurture their maximum potential. Let us do what we can to contribute for the betterment of our legal education system.


toko bunga said…
very well mas , in Indonesia we rarely find people who want to write an article for publication of certain knowledge for free through the media that is easily accessible.

Of course we would greatly appreciate people who are willing to share about their knowledge, especially relating to the cases of the law let alone academic

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