In conversation with
Prof. Dr. H. Musafir Pababbari, M. Si

Rector | Universitas Islam Negeri (UIN) Alauddin Makassar

Higher Education Spotlight: Is now the right time to shine the light on Indonesia’s higher education sector for the readers of Newsweek?

Prof. Dr. H. Musafir Pababbari: This is the right moment. Indonesia has realised that education is the only way to improve human capital. As the only state university in eastern Indonesia, this is a great time for us to play a role.

What is the main philosophy of UIN Alauddin Makassar? How would you describe your role within education in Indonesia?

Prof. Dr. H. Musafir Pababbari: The idea behind UIN Alauddin’s precursor, IAIN, was to help Muslim people integrate Islam into their lives. Religion is not just ritual, it can also be part of the academic process. We can gain knowledge from religion. We can study it from different perspectives— theology, anthropology, sociology, and more.

Now, our main goal is to integrate Islamic knowledge with secular knowledge. We teach students science and technology alongside Islamic studies. Our lecturers must be comfortable with both sides of this. They must be equally knowledgeable about their specific subject matter and Islam.
My contribution as rector has been opening new programs that accommodate this combination. We now have health sciences, medicine, Islamic business, and Islamic economics. We have also built centres that focus on Islam and the environment, Islam and technology, and gender studies.

How do you balance the different mindsets behind science, on one hand, and religion, on the other?

Prof. Dr. H. Musafir Pababbari: It is not easy. For many years we have provided all our students with general Islamic education in-faculty. We have developed a module for our teachers to integrate religion and science. Islamic Studies lecturers help students of all subjects integrate their work with Islam. Our CBT, Character Building Training, gives students a space to exchange and reflect on their thoughts and experiences with each other.

What are your plans for expanding UIN Alauddin faculties and infrastructure? Are you looking to create partnerships with industry and academic institutions to help in this process?

Prof. Dr. H. Musafir Pababbari: I think a lot about how to bring our university closer to the community. We are one of only two Indonesian universities to collaborate with the Supporting Islamic Leadership program (SILE), which sends participants to short courses in Canada and the Philippines.

Many students want to join UIN. To support them we have to expand our infrastructure. We are securing funding from the Islamic Development Bank (IDB). We already worked with them when we were securing phase one funding. We are also pursuing funding from the Ministry of Religious Affairs to build new facilities.

We are redesigning our curricula based on the needs of the community. We have collaborated with a number of companies to ensure employment for our students after graduation. So far this has mostly been related to Science and Technology and Health Sciences.

Generally, we collaborate with companies in South Sulawesi. At the same time, specific departments collaborate with companies elsewhere. The Department of Pharmacy, for example, has a partnership with a large company in Bandung, West Java. Pharmacy students can apply what they’ve learned practically in a business setting.

Students representing UIN have joined a national technology contest funded by Microsoft. They didn’t win nationally, but were the best in South Sulawesi! This is part of a strategy to link UIN with industry, and get our name out.

What key research projects are you working on? How are you increasing your research capabilities?

Prof. Dr. H. Musafir Pababbari: We are very focused on improving our research. We aim to build a number of research clusters. In the last few years we have collaborated with three universities in Malaysia, UKM, UUM, and Monash University. Our research is not only read by local people, but also the international community.

We have our Centre of CBR, or ‘Community-Based Research’. Research must come from the community, not only universities. We adapted this approach from Canada. Our research into health is an example of CBR. We work with people living in the communities surrounding the campus, and educate them on things like the importance of clean water. We work with the government on recycling, to reduce the amount of waste dumped in our local area. And, as an Islamic university, our work with local Islamic boarding schools is important to us. We work on their methodology and discipline, in order to reduce the risk of extremism.

How have you used technology to enhance your teaching processes at UIN Alauddin Makassar?

Prof. Dr. H. Musafir Pababbari: I have a special program called ‘One Touch Data’. We plan to eventually integrate all university data into this one service. All lecturers and students can get information from the same application. Even students’ parents have access to this electronic library, where all our publications are posted.

How do you encourage your students to develop an entrepreneurial spirit?

Prof. Dr. H. Musafir Pababbari: We want to develop an entrepreneurial spirit in our students and the country as a whole. All students must study entrepreneurship as a subject. Even philosophy students. Before students graduate they have to do community service. They choose a government organisation or NGO based on their discipline, and do an internship there. They have learned what they can from the theory, and now they must put it into practice.

Malaysia is one of the leaders in Islamic finance. Do you believe that Indonesia, with the largest Islamic population in the world, could overtake them in this area?

Prof. Dr. H. Musafir Pababbari: I believe that Indonesia will play the main role in Islamic finance. Indonesian Islamic banks are growing, and we will eventually overtake Malaysia. Even conventional Indonesian banks have an Islamic section within the same company.

Our understanding of Islam is much greater than Malaysia’s. They don’t have Islamic public universities like UIN. I feel that is an indicator of our comparative strength in this area, but in the end it will depend on the government.

Do you believe that Indonesia as a country has opened itself to the full benefits of ASEAN membership? How will UIN Alauddin Makassar benefit from ASEAN and globalisation?

Prof. Dr. H. Musafir Pababbari: I believe that Indonesia already benefits from its partnerships in ASEAN. UIN has students from Thailand. We send students to Thailand for community service. We conduct many seminars and conferences in collaboration with Thailand and Malaysia. We perform research together. And when the students and visitors come to us, they pay for visas, which means income for Indonesia!

The closer we grow together, the more we will benefit. We are receptive to partnerships from anywhere across the globe.

What will we find at UIN Alauddin Makassar in ten years time? What is your vision for the university?

Prof. Dr. H. Musafir Pababbari: You will find a different kind of student. They will be very familiar with science, technology, and Islamic studies. The integration between Islam and technology will be complete.

Our new facilities will lead you to believe that you are in a western country. Everything will be organised and well-maintained. Many of our current lecturers have graduated from western universities, and we are keen to bring that mindset to the future of UIN Alauddin Makassar

What is the most important advice you could give to your students and our readers?

Prof. Dr. H. Musafir Pababbari: They should not just be religious, they must be ethical people. They must know about Islam in practice as well as theory. We teach about respect and multiculturalism, but the challenge is putting this into action.

Students have to adapt to a changing world. They must know about their chosen discipline, alongside development and social sciences. You will find many of our alumni in positions seemingly unrelated to their discipline. But we teach entrepreneurship. We give them the combination of soft and hard skills they need to succeed in any area.