What's in a name? Sometimes everything
Indonesia’s top business school should review the way it does business.
A few days ago I had a chat with an office mate. Apparently he went to the same school as I did: The Econ Dept. of the University of Indonesia (FEUI). Only he graduated more recently; i.e. in 2006, six years after I graduated.
Reminiscent of the good old days, I asked him what it was like during his time at campus. Surprisingly from what I heard, the common problems I encountered during my days unfortunately haven’t been fully sorted out.
For one thing, lecturer attendance was still not well managed, meaning at times some students still had to come to class for nothing because the lecturer was "too busy" to do what he/she was paid to do: give lectures.
Secondly, there were still instances where lecturers didn’t grade their student’s work. Imagine a whole class indiscriminately getting a C or “average” grade. This usually happens when a lecturer is, again, “too busy” to take a look at his/her student’s final exam.
Thirdly, the lecturing modality hasn’t improved substantially: lectures are still textbook-based, with little emphasis on research, information gathering and writing papers. I don’t know if it’s still the case now but a typical two-hour module during my days involved the lecturer arriving 30 minutes late, blah blah blah… then finishing 15 minutes earlier. The assignments given were limited to 3-4 questions which answers could easily be found in the textbook.
The lack of change after over seven years of my leaving Uni is, honestly, saddening. Current FEUI students may be used to living with the school’s shortcomings, as I was myself back then. I and other students at the time were very acquiescent or “legowo” with the many indiscriminate C grades that we had to accept for our hard work (or equivocally lack of work).
It wasn’t till I left Uni and took my masters degree overseas that I realized the flaws of FEUI, which supposedly is one of the best schools in the country. In the West I noticed how dedicated the lecturers were to their students. It was completely unacceptable for professors to skip lectures or give out non merit-based grades.
Furthermore the lectures given in class were very up-to-date with the recent empirical research, of which many of the professors did themselves. And in many subjects the students were urged to write papers using various references, as opposed to being given questions which answers one can all find in the textbook.
So I figured, what does this country still see in FEUI graduates? Why do many employers continue to have high hopes for FEUI alumni?
Well, the first reason is probably the school’s reputation for producing high profile graduates; many top professionals and high ranking officials are FEUI alumni. The second reason is probably, well, nothing.
During my first year at FEUI, the initiation rituals and self-boasting attitudes of the seniors made me and a lot of other freshmen actually believe that FEUI was on the top of the world, just because and many of our alumni were occupying prestigious positions in the government and private sector.
But looking back I think: what more could FEUI give to its students compared to, say Trisakti or Atmajaya (private Unis in Jakarta) give to theirs? The answer is: very little (if anything).
Many take pride in the fact that FEUI lecturers are respectable people occupying top positions. But that’s as good as it gets. What good are they to their students if they don’t bother coming for lectures or give-out proper grading? A dedicated full time lecturer in, say, Atmajaya University is probably of much more use to students compared to, say, the government minister FEUI professor whom the students can see only once a year.
The only apparent reason FEUI can still manage to stay popular is its past. Having high profile alumni makes FEUI highly regarded by the public. So the number of applications every year is enormous—making selection very tight. Accordingly, most FEUI students are bound to succeed, regardless of the actual quality of education received in the school. The lecturers may or may not attend class, but FEUI continues to produce highly desirable graduates.
How long could this system last? Probably some time. But this is no grounds for complacency, especially if we are to stay competitive with the rest of the world. Mind that it’s no coincidence that FEUI is nowhere near the list of Top 10 business schools, even in Asia!
FEUI needs to be improved in many aspects. For one thing, it must start by employing dedicated lecturers. They don’t have to be highly decorated and work as government ministers. Research institutions such as LPEM, LD, etc. have many bright academicians who conduct actual academic research which students can learn from… plus they have offices located on campus. It’s a safe bet that dedicated academicians would be of much more use to students compared to the minister or CEO who’s never around.
Once dedicated academicians are employed, they must also be urged to incorporate their research into their class syllabus. This is to enable students to challenge current paradigms and schools of thought. Over reliance on textbooks must be avoided. Making students write papers, in contrast to questions which answers could be found in the textbook, would be a good way to achieve this. (But of course the lecturers must first have time to grade their work).
Thirdly, the school must expand its information database. Most western universities subscribe to online academic journals. I didn’t even know what a journal was when I was an FEUI student, and fellow students writing dissertations had to go to the library to physically sort out data.
Of course changes would need money, and one can say it’s always easier said than done. But it’s certainly not my job to figure out how to do all this, so for now this is where I get off. I hope all FEUI alumni and stakeholders who read this article take it as “constructive criticism”… as saying goes.