Kampus Merdeka: Indonesia’s Once-in-a-generation Response to Educational Reform

Feb 1, 2024 | Issue 22, Startseite


Indonesia has been grappling with complex economic and cultural interdependencies that have, for many generations, seriously hampered its economic and social growth. This unfortunate situation has been brought about by the largely colonially imposed Further Education Framework, which is now widely regarded as being culturally unfit for purpose. Government records show that there have been many failed attempts to redress this issue, but these many well-intentioned International aid educational interventions have been unable to engage with what seems, at times, to be an insurmountable plethora of challenges. A new vision of emancipated learning, known as Merdeka Belajar Kampus Merdeka (MBKM), is aimed at crafting a more de-centralised, localised and industry-based response to skills development in Indonesia. However, it must be noted that MBKM’s acceptance has not been universal, with many stakeholders questioning the policy’s implementation, motives and ongoing sustainability. This paper aims to closely analyse how MBKM has been accepted up to this point and examine its current impact across the Indonesian FET sector. It is anticipated that this analysis will allow a better understanding of the impacts of the implementation of MBKM, and clearly define the potential challenges and opportunities which will be faced by educational institutions as they go about implementing this radically different policy initiative.

Keywords: Further Education and Training, Merdeka Belajar Kampus Merdeka, Educational reform, Experiential education, Industry and Academic Institution cooperation

1        Introduction

In recent years, the landscape of Further Education in Indonesia has undergone a profound transformation with the introduction of the Merdeka Belajar Kampus Merdeka (MBKM) policy. This initiative, spearheaded by the Ministry of Education, Culture, Research and Technology of the Republic of Indonesia, represents a bold departure from traditional Indonesian educational paradigms (Lhutfi & Mardiani 2020). MBKM, which translates to “Independent Campus” in English, is what some consider a visionary educational reform initiative that aims to revolutionize the way Indonesian students can access, experience and benefit from Further Education. It is of interest that this ambitious policy has garnered significant attention not only within Indonesia but also in some neighboring countries and global education communities (Afriansyah et al. 2022).

MBKM is rooted in the belief that education should be a dynamic, inclusive and liberating experience, enabling students to harness their full potential and be capable of involvement in the drive for societal progress (Defrizal et al. 2022). This educational paradigm shift seeks to empower students by granting them greater autonomy and flexibility in shaping their academic journeys (ibid.). It is driven by the recognition that the traditional, one-size-fits-all approach in Further Education and Training may not fully meet the diverse needs, interests and aspirations of today’s learners(Fairman & Voak 2023). That said, Maurer et al., opine that education and training interventions in low- and middle-income countries can only be understood within the broader postcolonial context; in other words, existing political and economic structures and dominant cultural ideas in these countries still reflect the power structures of the colonial period (Maurer et al. 2023). In this respect, the central tenets of MBKM are focused on experiential learning, industry engagement and the democratization of educational opportunities. Working under the aegis of this policy, students are encouraged to explore learning pathways that align with their talents and interests, and they can experience a blurring of the lines between classroom and real-world experiences (Sobri et al. 2023). Students can engage in internships, independent research, community service, student exchange programs, entrepreneurship ventures, and work-related project-based learning. This multifaceted approach aims to bridge the gap between academic knowledge and practical skills, better preparing graduates for the demands of the modern job market (Sobri et al. 2023). This is an approach that is gaining universal acceptance across the Further Education and Training sector, whilst also drawing some criticism. Wheelahan et al. (2022), for instance, posit that the commodification of skill as a resource which is then traded in markets is related to Marx’s fetishisation of commodities more broadly. Keeping the above in mind, this article focuses the “lens” on the Indonesian Further Education sector whilst at the same time acknowledging the current and expansive literature on skills formation internationally.

Institutional autonomy and collaboration with industries are key pillars of MBKM. In keeping with this idea, educational institutions have been granted more freedom to design and manage academic programs that cater to their students’ needs, whilst the forging of partnerships with various sectors of the economy gives direction and industrial relevance to their curricula (Fairman & Voak 2023). Indeed, in this way, industries, businesses and non-governmental organizations can play an active role in shaping their coursework, providing mentorship, and offering opportunities to students to gain real-world experience (Lhutfi & Mardiani 2020). This symbiotic relationship between Academia and Industry is seen as a pragmatic means to produce a workforce that is not only academically competent but also industry-ready and adaptable across a range of workplaces. This introduction of the policy of MBKM reflects the Indonesian government’s commitment to fostering a knowledge-based economy and preparing its youth for the challenges and opportunities of the 21st century (Fawaid et al. 2022). It recognizes the importance of aligning Higher Education with the rapidly evolving landscape of increased technological developments, together with the organizational demands relevant to expanding globalization and an understanding of recent industry advancements (Voak et al. 2023). Furthermore, MBKM aligns with Indonesia’s broader aspirations for balanced National socio-economic development and National global competitiveness.

As a relatively new policy initiative, MBKM has generated significant interest and debate among educators, policymakers, researchers and students. The growing recognition of its potential to reshape the educational landscape and to empower students to take ownership of their learning journeys has ignited wide discussions about its implementation, challenges and possible long-term impacts. This article attempts a comprehensive exploration of MBKM by delving into its core principles, implications for students and educational institutions, alignment with global educational trends, and the critical perspectives and opportunities that it appears to present. By drawing together these multifaceted aspects of MBKM, the article aims to generate a more comprehensive understanding of this transformative policy and its potential to redefine the future of Further Education in Indonesia. The article also aims to underscore the relevance of MBKM in the broader global discourse on educational reform and innovation.

2        Literature Review

MBKM is a disruptive, divisive and unconventional educational policy reform, with the potential to be a transformative initiative aimed at reshaping Further Education in Indonesia by providing students with greater autonomy and flexibility in their learning experiences. In this literature review, we explore key themes and findings related to MBKM from an Indonesian perspective, drawing insights from scholarly research and publications. It is important to recognize that interest in this reform is steadily increasing, both within Indonesia and in neighboring countries, which is anticipated to catalyze future research and studies examining this educational initiative. The existing research has primarily focused on evaluating the readiness of Further Education institutions that are charged with implementing this program and managing its complexities. In time, as MBKM continues to evolve and gain momentum, we can expect more comprehensive research and analysis, which will shed further light on the implications of this reform for the Indonesian educational landscape.

2.1       Challenges of MBKM

The MBKM policy grants Further Education institutions an increased level of autonomy and independence as they develop strategies to implement the initiative’s key philosophies. However, notwithstanding this easing of centralized control, determining the ultimate authority within the framework of MBKM can be challenging, especially in the context of curriculum development and program implementation (Restu et al. 2022). According to Purwanti (2021), the implementation of the MBKM policy may pose difficulties in ensuring the quality, relevance, and accreditation of study programs and localized curricula. Educational institutions may also need to establish clear and consistent standards, methods, and systems for facilitating and monitoring students’ off-campus learning activities. Additionally, Purwanti (2021) suggests that collaboration and coordination with various stakeholders, such as employers, government agencies, non-governmental organizations, and other educational providers, are integral to successful implementation of MBKM by educational institutions.

Purwanto and Citraningtyas (2021) have noted that the MBKM policy can foster an environment of innovation and collaboration within Further Education institutions, enhance their reputation and quality, and strengthen their relationships with the business sector and society. As mentioned before, these institutions can gain greater autonomy and independence in developing and overseeing their academic programs, accreditation processes and legal recognition. Furthermore, they can leverage technology and information to establish an efficient, innovative and inclusive learning community that caters to the diverse and changing needs of learners (Purwanto & Citraningtyas 2021). The implementation of MBKM in Indonesia presents a range of developmental opportunities for both employers and Further Education institutions. In this respect, the reform policy opens up opportunities for industries to help in creating a more diverse and job-ready workforce. In turn, industries stand to gain from MBKM reforms by having direct access to a workforce that is more diverse, adaptable and skilled in the areas of interest to the employer, equipping them to confidently tackle the challenges of the 21st century. These benefits can stem from the skills and competencies that students acquire through various experiential learning activities developed outside the traditional classroom setting, including internships, independent research, community service, student exchange programs or entrepreneurship experience (Kusnadi et al. 2022).

Furthermore, industries have the potential to collaborate with educational institutions in designing and delivering courses that align with a suite of educational objectives relevant to both the needs of industry and society. The MBKM reforms permit industries to offer accredited courses directly to students, shifting the responsibility from Further Education institutions to acknowledge and develop industry-required competencies. It must be kept in mind, however, that this changing reform exerts unfamiliar pressures on the management structures and accrediting bodies of educational providers, understandably leading to some reticence on their part when it comes to undertaking these substantial changes. Because experiential learning is a cornerstone of MBKM, advocates of the policy need to continually promote meaningful conjoint engagement between the appropriate contributors to a student’s training, with industries, businesses and educational organizations actively and cooperatively involved in shaping the curricula and providing mentorship opportunities. Sila et al. (2022) also underscores the benefits of experiential learning in preparing students for the workforce and enhancing their employability. This emphasis on industry collaboration resonates with the concept of work-integrated learning (Billett 2009a; 2009b), which emphasizes the intimate integration of academic and workplace experiences.

2.2       Challenges and Opportunities for the Institutes and Stakeholders

Kusnadi et al. (2022) cautiously suggest that students may encounter challenges as a result of the MBKM policy, as they note that it could become challenging for students to effectively and efficiently manage their time and resources, including unfamiliar responsibilities. Finding suitable and relevant learning opportunities beyond the campus that align with their interests, goals and aspirations, might also pose difficulties. In this regard, students may have to grapple with the uncertainties and risks associated with charting their learning paths. On the other hand, Supriati et al. (2022) have opined that students can potentially benefit from the MBKM policy by being encouraged to explore their interests and passions rather than having a fixed curriculum experience. Experiential education can allow students to hone their emerging skills and competencies, establish and expand their networks and contacts, thus gaining readiness for the changing future job market. In acquiring greater freedom and flexibility in choosing the style of their educational journey, students can tailor their experiences to align more closely with their developing objectives and aspirations. Furthermore, students can gain valuable experiences and insights from diverse contexts and perspectives, which are a part of experiential education, and this will contribute to their growing knowledge and comprehension.

Purwanti (2021) delves into the perspective of potential employers or industries that are likely to partner with Further Education institutions, finding that these partners may encounter significant challenges when it comes to providing adequate and appropriate supervision, mentoring and evaluation for students participating in various off-campus experiential learning activities. Such challenging issues as organizing internships, planning independent research activities, establishing community service opportunities, arranging student exchange programs, or providing entrepreneurship experiences, are time-consuming and difficult demands. Employers may therefore need to adjust their expectations and requirements of the entering students, specifically accommodating those from diverse backgrounds, appreciating the different learning needs across various disciplines, and providing relevant assistance for students with a range of skill levels.

While MBKM holds immense promise, researchers have identified several challenges and implementation issues as well. For instance, Purwanti (2021), raises concerns about ensuring the quality and accreditation of study programs and curricula. The rapid expansion of experiential learning opportunities has also placed a burden on institutions to design effective monitoring and assessment mechanisms (Kusnadi et al. 2022). Additionally, the policy’s shift towards a more decentralized approach has led to questions about authority and transparent decision-making strategies within educational institutions (Restu et al. 2022).

Researchers have highlighted the importance of ensuring equity and access in the implementation of MBKM. While the policy aims to provide greater opportunities for students, it must also address potential disparities. Supriati et al. (2022) argue that MBKM can benefit students by expanding access to a more diverse range of learning options. However, it is crucial to ensure that these opportunities are accessible to all students, regardless of their backgrounds or circumstances. This aligns with global efforts to promote equitable access to further education and has obvious implications for efforts to create a balanced socio-economic system (Bokova 2015).

2.3       Student-centred Learning and Autonomy

One of the central tenets of MBKM is its focus on student-centred learning and autonomy. This approach recognizes that students have diverse interests, talents and career aspirations, and it seeks to empower them to take ownership of their educational journeys. Kusnadi et al. (2022) have claimed that MBKM allows students to shape their learning experiences based on their individual needs and goals. Sumani et al. (2022) contend that the Campus Teaching program, a component of MBKM activities, influences the development of students’ social skills, suggesting that Indonesian policymakers concentrate efforts on augmenting the proficiency of students’ social skills, aiming to better equip students for future challenges more effectively. This shift towards student agency aligns with global trends in education, that are designed to prioritize personalized learning experiences (Thomas & Brown 2011). Apoko et al. (2022) suggested that students demonstrate a comparatively elevated level of awareness and active engagement with the MBKM policy; they note the merits of the system as encompassing enriched learning experiences, the recognition of 20 credits for industry engagement, and the cultivation of soft skills. Apoko et al., (2022) point out that there are significant and multiple implications for MBKM implementation, notably (i) the sustained high level of enthusiasm among students for the MBKM program, (ii) anticipated enhancement in the quality of off-campus learning attributable to substantial student interest, and (iii) the capacity to instil diverse skills, cultural awareness, and adaptive proficiencies, including leadership skills (Apoko et al. 2022). MBKM grants Further Education institutions greater autonomy in designing and managing academic programs, and it is understood that this flexibility allows institutions to adapt their curricula to meet the evolving needs of students and industries. Purwanto and Citraningtyas (2021) argue that this autonomy encourages innovation and collaboration within educational institutions. It aligns with the broader trend of curriculum innovation in Higher Education (Gibbs & Coffey 2004), promoting responsive and relevant academic offerings.

Furthermore, Kampus Merdeka’s focus on experiential learning and industry engagement has the potential to enhance students’ employability. Sofyan et al. (2023) have highlighted how the program can create a learning environment that prepares graduates for the specific demands of the job market. By fostering collaboration between universities and industries, Kampus Merdeka aims to bridge the gap between academic knowledge and practical skills (Richardo & Cahdriyanra 2021). This aligns with the broader goal of producing graduates who are well-prepared for the workforce (Bridgstock & Cunningham 2016). Nadeak (2023) contends that the MBKM program will enhance all levels of higher education by providing opportunities for both students and faculty members to gain experience outside the traditional classroom setting. Nadeak (2023) argues that for students, the MBKM program can have a positive impact on their ability to enhance knowledge and skills, while for lecturers, the MBKM program can positively influence their capacity to improve teaching abilities (Nadeak 2023). MBKM’s emphasis on experiential learning, industry collaboration and student-centred approaches, aligns well with global trends in Further Education. It reflects the growing recognition of the importance of producing graduates who are not only academically competent but also equipped with practical skills and real-world experience (Marginson 2017). This focus on preparing students for the demands of the modern job market resonates with discussions about the future of work and skills development on a global scale (World Economic Forum 2020). However, Haryanto et al. (2022), caution Further Education Institutes’ implementation of MBKM as their research indicates that a significant portion of students remain hesitant and harbour reservations about actively participating in the MBKM program. Haryanto et al. (2022), further contend that universities must enhance efforts in imparting a comprehensive understanding of MBKM implementation, including fostering enhanced preparedness for meaningful student engagement in the program (Haryanto et al. 2022).

3        Discussion

3.1       Collaboration practices

While exploring internship programs in private universities in Aceh, Fuadi and Aswita (2021) found that these institutions encountered significant management hurdles primarily because they lacked appropriate mechanisms for establishing collaborations with external entities. In this respect, collaborations would include engagement with companies such as state-owned enterprises (BUMN) and regional-owned enterprises (BUMD), as well as governmental agencies. Zainal (2021) contends that as long as MBKM remains “optional” and there is a dearth of comprehensive dissemination of the policy throughout the Further Education sector, there exists a “lack of comprehension” among university administrators, regarding the requisites for effectively implementing the policy. Consequently, the significance and necessity of forging partnerships with industries still remains somewhat elusive (Voak et al. 2023).

Siregar et al. (2020) also point out that barriers exist in motivating universities to change their educational offerings, and these authors emphasize the necessity of establishing processes and procedures to effectively “socialize” MBKM policies across the university landscape, and to augment wider awareness regarding the advantages of this policy for students. Agung et al. (2020) observe that in the three universities they examined, obstacles revolved around accrediting “external” study programs concerning agreed accreditation status (Agung et al. 2020). This potential impasse necessitates deeper analysis and more effective efforts for resolution, which could be partly achieved through more comprehensive dissemination efforts. Such dissemination would help in cultivating a wider understanding of the policy, and garner additional support from stakeholders for the MBKM policy. It goes without saying that reform in the Further Education sector is imperative, particularly concerning campus accreditation. Rosser (2022) has highlighted that the poor quality of Further Education institutions in Indonesia partly arises from the long-term deficiency in institutional governance, and Rosser further argues that this deficiency reflects the prevalence of exploitative officials and business entities commonly found in institutional governance, a system that tends to side-line important governance aspects aligned with research, teaching and community service which are more congruent with neoliberal or idealistic concepts of quality.

3.2       Curriculum change, its impact on competency requirements (hard v soft) and skills development

Indrawati and Kuncoro’s (2021) perspective on the MBKM program suggests that effective and determined leadership is an essential prerequisite for the implementation of this policy. They propose a phased approach, where the Ministry of Education and Culture might initiate the MBKM program through several pilot projects before the nationwide implementation of regulations. As earlier noted, the MBKM policy opens avenues for students to acquire broader learning experiences and novel competencies through diverse activities beyond their primary study programs, intending to produce graduates well-equipped to navigate the intricate challenges of the 21st century. In this respect, Junaidi and Wulandari (2020) contend that Indonesian universities have a responsibility to adapt their curricula to the Ministry of Education’s SN-Dikti program guide, thus directly supporting the MBKM program. This guide outlines the necessary curriculum changes appropriate for fostering the new areas of (i) Data literacy, (ii) Technological literacy, (iii) Human literacy, and (iv) the ethical values founded on religious comprehension.

Although the primary aim of MBKM to cultivate adaptability and flexibility in education appears straightforward, its implementation poses various challenges. The execution of this implementation involves an extensive overhaul of numerous systems, encompassing both paradigmatic and administrative dimensions, and during the initial phase, universities often grapple with administrative intricacies, as has been openly outlined in the extant literature. An example comes from the work of Fuadi and Aswita (2021), who have delineated current limitations and issues faced by further education institutions in Aceh as they attempt to undertake MKBM principles. These private Further Education institutions in Aceh are currently in the process of modifying their curricula to align with the MBKM framework, which marks their preliminary steps in implementing MKBM. However, and as mentioned earlier, Fuadi and Aswita’s study reveals that while doing so, they are confronting difficulties in forging connections with campuses, corporations, state-owned enterprises (BUMN), regional-owned enterprises (BUMD) and other governmental bodies. 

Furthermore, the current situation in Aceh accentuates the significance of addressing the quality of teaching staff and entrant students, as the more robust curricula demand proficient and productive personnel. In this regard, there are important concerns about the readiness of existing educators and the abilities of entrant students to engage with the changed circumstances. Another critical challenge pertains to the budgetary aspects of internship activities, which warrant serious consideration to avoid crippling economic stresses in the future. 

The challenges being experienced in implementing the MBKM program can also be seen in a private campus situated in Bogor, West Java. Hudjimartsu et al. (2022) have highlighted the process underway here of rejuvenating its curricula to achieve greater autonomy and flexibility, adapting to the curriculum requirements posed by MBKM. They have already established a document to serve as a blueprint for execution. However, challenges have emerged concomitantly, such as (i) the ongoing development of an outcome-based Education-centred curriculum, (ii) the implementation of a fresh internal learning management system, and (iii) the capacity of the server to support these new learning activities.

In addition, Zunaidi et al. (2021) have delved into the process of community engagement, which focuses on disseminating the MBKM curriculum across campus circles. They claim that the scope of KM-related awareness remains notably limited, and consequently, this limits the community service endeavor focused on fundamental MBKM concepts, the formulation of MBKM curriculum objectives, the developmental phases, curriculum preparation, and the progression of an independent campus orientation. This reinforces the notion that numerous universities are still grappling with the intricacies of MBKM implementation. Indeed, many are still outlining MBKM policies and their practical execution strategies, and amidst the task of curriculum development, restricted resources for teaching personnel emerges as a vital challenge.

Suryaman (2020) further highlights the significance of enhancing learning quality through adept curriculum design in Higher Education, noting that to create appropriate curricula, it is essential to formulate a curriculum development policy that aligns with the university’s vision and mission. This policy should take into consideration knowledge advancement, stakeholder needs, and curriculum development guidelines that integrate input from stakeholders while addressing their strategic concerns. According to Suryaman (2020), the curriculum transcends the mere achievement of learning goals since it also acts to impart an understanding of the principles of a lifelong learning journey for students.

Moreover, Mariati (2021) outlines the array of obstacles that campuses encounter while formulating an MKBM program, further asserting that crafting graduates who are well-prepared for forthcoming transformations necessitates a robust curriculum that is attuned to (i) scientific advancements and technological progress (scientific perspective), (ii) societal requisites (community demands), and (iii) the preferences of future graduates (stakeholder requirements). In a description of a practical application, Mariati (2021) highlights that diverse interpretations of the MBKM program persist, particularly concerning the development of curricula in alignment with the regulations stipulated by the National Standards. Academic institutions operating in Further Education should conceptualize curricula and institute inventive learning processes to enable students to attain optimum educational outcomes. Mariati’s (2021) elucidation of these issues underscores the problem that orchestrating changes within MBKM necessitates precise management, as numerous aspects demand simultaneous fulfilment. The campus’s internal capacity and networking capabilities are thus imperative to bolster the successful execution of the MBKM initiative.

According to The Future of Jobs Report 2020 which was released by the World Economic Forum, there has been a notable upswing in the adoption of novel technologies across diverse enterprises in recent years. Thus, the demand for a workforce equipped with a comprehension of topics such as cloud computing, big data and e-commerce has emerged as a top priority. The report consistently posits that future labour dynamics might witness a substitution of human tasks by automated systems, with a consequent significant extent of disruption contingent upon the nature of work and expertise. These reports from prominent global institutions have captured the attention of the Ministry of Education, Culture and Technology, prompting universities to be ready to impart new skill sets. For example, data literacy involves the comprehension of reading, interpreting and utilizing data and information (including big data) in the digital realm. In this context, Gee (2014) discusses several assertions that attempt to demonstrate the potency of literacy, given that literacy (i) fosters logical, analytical, critical and reasoned thinking, (ii) provides a broad and conceptual utilization of language, (iii) encourages a sceptical and inquisitive mindset, (iv) develops a clear differentiation between mythology and historical facts, (v) gives specific acknowledgment to temporal and spatial significance, (vi) describes and defines intricate and modern governance structures (including the separation of religious and political spheres), (vii) illustrates political democracy and increased social fairness, (viii) helps to reduce crime rates, (ix) enhances wide civic participation, (x) catalyzes economic growth, affluence, and efficiency, (xi) contributes to the establishment of political stability, defines and helps to install urbanization and (xii) assists in decreased birth rates. However, Gee (2014) also indicates that as far back as 1980, many scholars engaged in debates on these subjects, contending that only a minority of students had benefitted from data literacy, possibly due to the multifaceted nature of literacy which is influenced by many competing factors.

Technological literacy encompasses the grasp of how machinery operates and an understanding of the applications of technology (such as coding, artificial intelligence and engineering principles). (UNESCO IITE 2011) has defined technological literacy (formerly referred to as computer literacy) as a more profound comprehension of digital technology, encompassing both user-oriented and technical computing skills. Indeed, UNESCO has posited that technological literacy constitutes a facet of digital literacy and, using a broader scope, has added that technological literacy is an integral aspect of digital literacy. Other constituents of digital literacy encompass ICT literacy, referring to the skill set that enables active engagement in a society where services and cultural offerings are digitized and dispersed over the internet. In essence, information literacy is seen to be focused on a fundamental aspect of our Knowledge Society: the proficiency to effectively locate, discern, retrieve, process and leverage digital information (Forster 2017). 

Mariati (2021) highlights that there exist several misunderstandings among educators and education stakeholders concerning MKBM policies, particularly regarding the integration of new literacies and the difficulties associated with crafting curricula during the Industrial Era 4.0. However, it should be noted that there are indeed curriculum-related hurdles, particularly in the design and development phases. Mariati (2021) underscores that the primary objective of the MBKM policy is to establish self-directed and agile learners, noting that the long-term goal is to foster creative learning environments which are not constrained by existing educational thinking or the demands of individual students. Furthermore, the primary learning objective is to encourage students to achieve mastery in a variety of subject areas and provide them with the opportunity to autonomously select their learning pathways and courses. That said, whilst creative learning pathways may satisfactorily meet an individual’s learning needs, the accessing of specific competencies needed in the Era of Industry 4.0 requires further examination. The MBKM policy strives to enhance connections and an alignment with industry and the realm of work, to equip students with the skills necessary to seamlessly enter the workforce.

As part of engaging with MBKM, students can receive “credit” for engaging in an external study program for up to three semesters, which is equivalent to 1.5 years of study. However, Agung et al. (2020), have claimed that universities encounter difficulties when attempting to implement such programs. These difficulties encompass (i) the revision of the existing curriculum to effectively meet the new program requirements, (ii) the enabling of smooth execution of at least two semesters’ worth of appropriate study, (iii) competently managing the financial aspects of the program, considering that funding might originate from the institution or from self-funding by the student, and (vi) openly addressing the limited awareness and understanding of the MBKM policy, in order to garner support from external stakeholders, especially concerning the external study initiative (Agung et al. 2020). 

3.3       Institutional Preparedness for MBKM

It is evident from the previous sections that the achievement of sound educational institutional preparedness for MBKM is a critical aspect of its successful implementation. Since this reform aims to provide students with more freedom and flexibility in their educational journey, and emphasizes experiential learning and industry engagement, effective adaptation to this new educational landscape requires that institutions be fully prepared. By drawing insights from various scholarly references, this article will now explore some shared concepts of “educational institution preparedness” for MBKM. 

First, it is widely agreed that developing and adapting the curriculum to align with industry needs and students’ interests is one of the key components of MBKM. Consequently, educational institutions need to be prepared to revise and create flexible curricula that offer a diverse range of learning pathways and suit a variety of students in a range of course areas. The importance of curriculum development to meet the evolving demands of further education, including new approaches such as e-learning, blended learning and virtual campuses, is a critical perspective relevant to the goals of MBKM (Bacsich 2012; Bijnens et al. 2008; Staring et al. 2022).

Second, it is vital that intellectual and practical engagement is developed between Institutions and Industries. The nature and practicalities relevant to this issue of engagement must be transparently addressed since MBKM specifically encourages these closer collaborations. Institutions must be prepared to establish partnerships with various Industries, as a mechanism for providing students with meaningful experiential learning opportunities. The benefits of Industry engagement, including knowledge transfer and enhanced learning outcomes, align with MBKM’s objectives (Kay et al. 2019; Peach & Matthews 2011). 

Third, the infrastructure and technology required for the implementation of MBKM activities presupposes access to, and adoption of, advanced technologies and infrastructure designed to support various learning modes. These can include online and experiential learning; Institutions should be prepared to invest in and maintain these technological resources. Indeed, Bates (2000) stresses the importance of technology in Higher Education, particularly in supporting flexible and innovative learning approaches like those encouraged by MBKM. 

Fourth, faculty members must play a crucial role in the presentation of MBKM, by guiding students in their learning journeys. In this regard, Institutions should be prepared to provide faculty development programs to equip educators with the necessary skills and knowledge to facilitate diverse learning experiences. Guskey (2002) highlights the significance of ongoing professional development for educators in Higher Education, which aligns with MBKM’s emphasis on student-centered learning. 

Fifth, maintaining quality standards and ensuring accreditation for the various learning pathways offered under MBKM is essential. Educational institutions need to have mechanisms in place to assess and assure the quality of these diverse educational experiences, to maintain the status and recognition of their graduates. Harvey and Green (1993) emphasize the importance of quality assurance and accreditation in Higher Education, which are principles applicable to MBKM’s multidimensional approach.

Finally, in conjunction with the increased level of freedom and flexibility, students may require additional support services to effectively navigate their educational paths. Institutions should be prepared to offer comprehensive support services, including academic advising, career counselling and mental health resources, implying that the role of student-support services in enhancing student retention and success is a significant element aligned with MBKM’s student-centered approach. (Tinto 2003a; 2003b). In its construction, MBKM necessitates collaboration and coordination among various stakeholders, including educational institutions, employers, government agencies and non-governmental organizations. Institutions should thus be continually prepared to engage in collaborative efforts to ensure the success of the program. Kezar (2001) underscores the importance of continual collaboration in Further Education for achieving innovative and transformative initiatives such as MBKM.

3.4       Unravelling Dimensions of the MBKM Program

Wati et al. (2022) have emphasized that collaboration between universities and industries is critical in preparing individuals for the digital era, and Sila et al. (2022) clearly illustrate that the MBKM concept offers significant opportunities to shape university graduates’ competencies to meet the demands of the professional job market. The MBKM program is expected to address the challenges that all universities face in producing graduates that align with (i) the needs of evolving times, (ii) an understanding of scientific and technological advancements, (iii) appreciation of current business and industry requirements, and (iv) the changing societal dynamics of the industrial world (Ministry of Education and Culture 2020). Furthermore, Richardo and Cahdriyana (2021) also emphasize that the MBKM program aims to establish meaningful connections and alignments between universities and industries. This compels universities to structure their curricula keeping in mind industry needs. It must be pointed out that before the institution of the MBKM policy, State Higher Education Institutions with Incorporated Legal Entities, or Perguruan Tinggi Negeri Badan Hukum (PTNBH), had already begun to establish closer ties between universities and industries, allowing curriculum adjustments to occur based on industry demands (Utami et al. 2023). 

Sofyan et al. (2023) describe how the government-launched MBKM program transforms Higher Education into an environment that offers extensive and secure learning opportunities for all. Additionally, education and vocational training have become central points of educational policy, as is exemplified by the establishment of the Directorate General of Vocational Education within the Ministry of Education, Culture, Research, and Technology. Meanwhile, Crysdian (2022) argues that the program will foster long-term collaboration between universities and industries driven by students’ demand for industrial experiences. Richardo and Cahdriyana (2021) further suggest that students can engage in industry internships to adapt, align and potentially secure positions in industries upon graduation.

Nevertheless, several criticisms have arisen regarding the implementation of the MBKM policy (Lhutfi & Mardiani 2020). These criticisms of the MBKM policy often center on the observation that educational objectives tend to focus on income and personal well-being, rather than shaping individuals who are capable of fulfilling substantial roles in a democratic society. In this context, Resa, Azahra, and Ramadoni (2023) contend that MBKM primarily carries a responsibility for guiding an educational orientation aimed at producing workers capable of serving corporations (Resa et al. 2023). Kodrat (2021) argues that within the philosophy of education, MBKM tends to promote neo-liberalization and individualization, leading to a learning emphasis on individuals and directing education toward industrial or market needs (Kodrat 2021). Furthermore, according to Saputra (2023), the internship program may become a mechanism for providing industries with inexpensive labor (Saputra 2023). Riandy (2022) further argues that within the context of MBKM, Indonesian educational institutions tend to become training centers, with internships leading to job insecurity and exploitation, inadequate compensation, problematic employment agreements, and resulting job shortages (Riandy 2022). Utami et al. (2023) highlight the importance of preventing the MBKM policy from exacerbating social class inequalities, stressing the need to establish a solid foundation among the nation’s youth through an educational framework that prioritizes humanistic values over economic ones.

Regarding collaborations between Private Higher Education Institutions and external entities (service companies, industries, communities, other universities, public and private institutions), Arifin and Muslim (2020) point out challenges that need clarification, especially within smaller Private Higher Education Institutions. Conversely, larger Private Higher Education Institutions face fewer challenges when collaborating with relevant entities. Kande (2022)underscores issues related to (i) adaptability and flexibility within some aspects of institutional and human resource capacities in Further Education institutions, (ii) unclear collaboration mechanisms between study programs within and outside the institution, and (iii) the financial burden faced by students from remote institutions (Kande 2022). Sabriadi and Wakia (2021) stress the need for clear regulations governing collaborative mechanisms to facilitate partnerships between small universities and larger institutions.

Additionally, both the Gadjah Mada University Student Executive Board (BEM) and the University of Indonesia Student Executive Board (BEM), have expressed critical perspectives through online media. In a public hearing held in conjunction with Commission X (Education) of the Indonesian House of Representatives (DPR RI), the Gadjah Mada University BEM voiced concerns about discrepancies in institutional status and accreditation, particularly regarding their impact on access to partnerships, quality assurance and curriculum adaptability (Maharani 2022). Similarly, the University of Indonesia BEM highlighted several student issues, including challenges with credit unit conversions (SKS), limited information about MBKM and delays in receiving incentives.

4        Findings

The MBKM program has garnered significant attention from researchers, educators and policymakers in recent years. This innovative educational initiative, introduced in Indonesia, has sparked numerous discussions and research endeavors aimed at investigating its potential impact, challenges and consequences. Our exploration of researchers’ perspectives on MBKM, has provided some insight into the diverse viewpoints surrounding this transformative program, in areas such as facilitating collaboration between academic Institutions and Industries. One prevalent theme in research on MBKM revolves around its role in fostering collaboration between academic institutions and industries, and scholars such as Wati et al. (2022) contend that this collaboration is paramount for preparing individuals to meet the demands of the digital era. They underscore the importance of aligning academic curricula with the evolving needs of industries, and point out that MBKM offers a framework to facilitate such an alignment. Indeed, the program encourages universities to closely collaborate with industries to develop courses and learning experiences that equip students with practical skills and knowledge. It also encourages universities to recognize the significant opportunities presented by the MBKM concept for shaping the competencies of university graduates to meet the requirements of the contemporary job market. In this regard, Sila et al. (2022) argue that MBKM can help bridge the gap between academic learning and real-world employment, suggesting that by offering experiential learning opportunities beyond the traditional classroom setting, such as internships and community service, MBKM aims to produce graduates who not only possess academic proficiency but are also well-prepared for the workforce. 

There are, however, recognized challenges in the implementation of this program, and despite the promising aspects of MBKM, researchers have identified several significant challenges (Krishnapatria 2021; Yuhastina et al. 2020). It is recognized that interdisciplinary education often gives rise to the criticism that the program’s objectives appear to be focused on individual income and individual well-being, potentially overshadowing broader societal functions. In this respect, Kodrat (2021) argues that MBKM may be primarily geared toward producing a workforce serving corporate interests, and it is understood that these concerns reflect a broader debate regarding the balance between education for individual employability and education for broader social and democratic goals (Kodrat 2021). It has also been claimed by Yuhastina et al. (2020), that MBKM may inadvertently promote neo-liberalization and individualization, contending that such a focus is embedded in the MBKM philosophy of education. They assert that the program’s emphasis on individual learners and alignment with the industry’s needs might overshadow broader educational objectives, potentially diminishing the societal role of education. However, on a more optimistic note, researchers like Sofyan et al. (2023) emphasize how the MBKM program transforms further education into an environment that offers extensive and secure learning opportunities for all. This perspective views MBKM as an inclusive initiative that empowers students by granting them greater autonomy and flexibility in choosing their educational paths. It also aligns with the establishment of the Directorate General of Vocational Education, highlighting the significance of educational and vocational training spaces in policy discussions around collaboration between further educational institutes and industry stakeholders. Richardo and Cahdriyana (2021) opined that when students engage in industry internships, it allows them to adapt to industry practices and potentially secure employment upon graduation. This perspective underscores the potential benefits of the program for students, which seeks to bridge the gap between academic knowledge and practical workplace skills.

5        Concluding Remarks

It is evident in conclusion that transforming the learning culture in the Indonesian Further Education sector in support of Kampus Merdeka requires a comprehensive approach tailored to the Indonesian context. Embracing experiential learning, fostering growth mindsets, promoting industry collaboration, encouraging interdisciplinary approaches, establishing robust support systems, enhancing assessment practices, and emphasizing ethical knowledge management, are all essential steps in this process. These challenges resonate with the broader goals of Indonesian education reform, preparing students for the demands of the modern workforce and nurturing responsible, adaptable and innovative citizens. This article has identified many challenges faced by the Further Education Institutions in Indonesia even as they embrace the spirit of MBKM which at its core aims to contribute to the nation’s development.


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  • The Cairns-Institute – James Cook University, Australia

  • State Polytechnic of Malang

  • Centre for International Trade and Business in Asia - James Cook University, Australia

  • Research Center for Population, National Research and Innovation Agency

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