When Dr Samsul Rizal wants to buy chalk for his blackboard, he has to call the central government. This is true for all academics at Universitas Syiah Kuala.

The university now wants more freedom to make decisions without government approval. GI interviewed Dr Rizal, the university’s Rector, to find out about how he plans to achieve this.

Universitas Syiah Kuala is the oldest public university in Indonesia’s western state of Aceh. Its Rector
has two priorities to achieve his freedom: Improving financial planning, and upping the quality of lectures.

Financial planning

To improve its financial planning, Dr Rizal plans to start using data. Unsyiah teaches 32,000 students and employs 2000 staff. “If we use information technology, it is easy for me to modify and to know what we need for planning in the next few months or the next year,” he said.

For instance, the university is tracking lecturers’ performance to calculate their pay. Video cameras in classes monitor lecturers, automatically detecting how many classes they teach. This approach is being tested in the Faculty of Education and will be expanding to three other faculties next year.

Lecture quality

Dr Rizal’s other priority is to improve the quality of lectures by collaborating with international universities. He wants students to be exposed to new material and ways of learning from other universities.

Unsyiah has “faculty exchanges” with National Tsing Hua University in Taiwan, Keio University in Japan, and Florida State University in the United States.

But instead of having the lecturers travel to Indonesia, they teach through a video conference system. This is cheaper and faster than hosting the lecturers in the university, Dr Rizal explained.

Road ahead

Unsyiah must overcome challenges to make this programme a success. Some of its students fail courses taught by overseas lecturers because they are weak in English, Dr Rizal said. English is a mandatory subject, but classes are usually taught with a mix of Bahasa.

Lecturers are also reluctant to use videos because they have not used it to teach before. “Not many lecturers are interested in doing e-learning or video conferencing”, he said.

Next year could be a big one for Unsyiah. It has applied to become an autonomous university and the government will announce the result. On paper the university meets all the requirements, Dr Rizal said: “We are optimistic.”

The former engineering academic hopes to construct a better future for thousands of students and teachers in Indonesia.