In conversation with
Dr. Sofyan Anif, M.Si

Rector | Universitas Muhammadiyah Surakarta

Higher Education Spotlight: There have been a lot of changes in Indonesia in order to create more sustainable and global human resources. Following the identity of UMS, how do you see the role of the university within the government’s vision for changing the higher education sector?

Dr. Sofyan Anif: UMS plays a great role in helping the government to improve the quality of human resources in Indonesia. The average HDI (Human Development Index) in Indonesia is middling. This must be improved so we can be leaders in the global community.

UMS is one of 176 higher education institutions belonging to Muhammadiyah, all working together to improve the prospects of our graduates — be that by improving facilities, or improving the teaching and learning process. Simply put, our main contribution to the government’s efforts is the quality of our graduates.

UMS is also cooperating with partner institutions in line with the UMS vision plus research and community service guidelines set by the government. Our vision is that, by the end of 2029, UMS will be recognised as an international university. To that end, it is good for us to be engaging more and more in quality research.

UMS has a large number of students, almost 30,000 in total and a yearly enrollment figure of 8,000. That makes us one of the biggest universities in Indonesia, so if we produce consistently high achieving graduates it will have a big impact on Indonesia overall.

How do you plan to sustain your high enrollment figures?

Dr. Sofyan Anif: There are two key words: trust and excellence. Sustainability requires that people trust you will give a consistent quality of service, and how do you build that trust? By consistently providing excellence! Providing highly qualified lecturers, excellent equipment, excellent facilities, and excellent IT services.

It’s very important to provide a service without complex bureaucracy. It must be simple, seamless, and computerised. In the future, all of our services will be IT based and available online. Not only must we have qualified lecturers, we must have qualified administrative staff. We try to have the best quality possible for the sake of our students.

How is UMS contributing to research that positively impacts society? What are the key areas that you are focusing on?

Dr. Sofyan Anif: I have three strategies. First, establishing the road map. This will consider the stakeholders as well as the human resources in UMS. Every expert in UMS will create their own road map, which will then be taken together to form the overall UMS road map. We call this Personal Human Development.

Second, we want to have mutual collaboration with industry. We want to work together with businesses to promote innovation. In Surakarta most businesses are SMEs. This is good, as it means that any innovations coming from UMS can easily be implemented immediately. This is happening right now.

The last strategy is maintaining good communication with government, because they create the policies and rules that affect our research. In many cases, innovations cannot be implemented because the rules forbid it or because there is no government policy that enables its implementation. For example, we have produced research in biogas. Because the government has no program for biogas energy our research into finding biogas-rich areas cannot be used. If we maintain a good relationship with government we can work on creating an environment where policy and research complement each other.

Do you seek support and collaboration with businesses directly?

Dr. Sofyan Anif: Yes. Some businesses have partnerships with UMS, especially in relation to our vocational programs.

How are you supporting the government’s vocational agenda? What vocational programs are you developing?

Dr. Sofyan Anif: We have many MoUs, for example with Solo Technopark. We have real action in line with the partnership program in mechanical engineering and chemistry.

We have twelve vocational programs. Six of these are six month long short courses, for example in banking, marketing, and digital animation. There is no guarantee that students will gain employment with the partner companies upon completion of the programs but in practice most will.

UMS was appointed by the government to create a technical high school in line with vocational programs. We will complete this project 2017 or ‘18, opening a school in East Kalimantan, namely SMK Mekanisasi Pertanian (Agricultural Mechanization Technical High School). We also have an engineering certification program. In Indonesia only four universities have such a program.

What opportunities have you identified within ASEAN? What direction will UMS be taking?

Dr. Sofyan Anif: We have our international program at UMS, and then our international collaborations as well. Our latest collaboration is with Kyungdong University, Korea. Most departments have their own individual collaborations with international universities in countries like Taiwan and especially MEA countries like Thailand, Malaysia, and Singapore. These collaborations often function in terms of student and staff mobility with aims for educational and cultural exchange.

For the next step, we would like to give our students the opportunity to have mobile lecturing, perhaps attending one semester in Malaysia and the next in Singapore, for example. The Faculties of Education, Science, and Medicine have done this already, but we want to develop it more and more.
ASEAN is composed of some very different countries, with different languages and different beliefs. However, they also have much in common and wish to collaborate more with each other.

Do you believe education is at the heart of the mission to create a united identity for ASEAN? What is Indonesia’s role in this?

Dr. Sofyan Anif: Education can create an identity for ASEAN. When the Muhammadiyah movement was established in 1912 our founders started with education. Indonesia itself has many cultures, and it was thought that Muhammadiyah could unite them through education. For example, everyone can come to university, whether they are Muslim, Christian, or any other religious background. This could happen on an ASEAN-wide scale as well.

In Muhammadiyah we are founding an international Muhammadiyah university in Malaysia Malaysia supported by 12 Muhammadiyah Universities, expected to open this year. We expect students from all countries in ASEAN and we hope that many institutions around ASEAN will be making similar plans. In the long term, UMS will be supporting Muhammadiyah to develop some universities across ASEAN.

Given your background in teachers training, do you think that Indonesia needs to produce more teachers? Do you have any plans to produce more teachers in UMS?

Dr. Sofyan Anif: We have a lot of teachers, but most of them are qualified to quite a low level. It is estimated that there are around 3.5 million teachers in Indonesia (70% of them are elementary school teachers) and that about 36,6 % have qualifications mismatched with the subject that they teach.

This mostly happens outside of Java, especially in the eastern regions of Indonesia because it is very difficult to find good teachers who want to work there. In 2019 the number of teachers who will retire is around 200,000, a huge number. The idea of the ‘In House Training’ initiative is that the new teachers graduating from university should be in sufficient numbers to replace those retiring and they should be graduating from programs that match the subjects needing taught.

What can we expect to see from UMS in the next four years, over the course of your rectorship?

Dr. Sofyan Anif: I hope to improve the standard of research and teaching so much that everyone is a professor! Or if not everyone, then at least increase the total number of professors at UMS and have 75 % of our teaching staff be PhDs.”