Interview

Prof. Dr. Djisman S. Simandjuntak

Rector of Universitas Prasetiya Mulya

Universitas Prasetiya Mulya’s aim is to raise this percentage – by having 20% of our graduates take on entrepreneurship, whether it is immediately upon graduation or at some point down the road.

ASEAN BUSINESS LEADERS: Universitas Prasetiya Mulya (UPM) is one of the leading private universities in Indonesia supported by the business community to instill entrepreneurship. Can you please give us an overview of the university, and tell us more about how UPM has contributed to nation building throughout the years in terms of human capital, which is at the top of the government’s agenda?

PROF. DJISMAN: When UPM was established in the early 1980s, Indonesia was preoccupied with the issues of equality and entrepreneurship. Hence, our founders came together to establish this institution. It started as an executive learning institution, offering courses of practical nature, such as leadership, management, operation and finance courses. Things evolved. The Law on National Education 1989 was enacted in 1989. We adapted in 1993 and became a business school with the right and obligations of a degree-granting higher education institution. Prasetiya Mulya’s learning portfolio basically remains: master degree in business, business executive learning, business research and business-related public education through seminars and conferences.

We also launched in the 1990s the Partnership 2000 program dedicated to the advancement of small and medium enterprises (SMEs). Through this partnership entrepreneurs with SMEs are linked to the value chain of the large enterprises under the ownership of Prasetiya Mulya’s sponsors. The Business School provides partnership with training and coaching services. Following the financial crisis of 1997-1998 the Partnership 2000 was scaled down but the mission to contribute to the growth of SMEs remains existential to Prasetiya Mulya.

Growth is inherent in any undertaking. Recognizing the growth opportunity that arouse with the successful master program in business Prasetiya Mulya Business School launched the undergraduate program in business in 2005. I can proudly say that the expansion has turned out to be a great success. Enrollment in the undergraduate program exceeds my expectation. More importantly, our graduates, bachelor and master, are received very well in the market as professional and as entrepreneurs. According to a tracer study by a reputable multinational conducted in 2019 a very high percentage of 27 percent of Prasetiya Mulya graduates make it to become entrepreneur, far above national average.

The mission of accelerating development speed requires the support of a much larger and diversified mass of innovative entrepreneurs. It is these entrepreneurs who have to free Indonesia out of the “middle-income” trap by generating knowledge-based sources of growth to first complement and eventually replace the depletion of natural resources and the sweat toils of low-skill labor.

ASEAN BUSINESS LEADERS: What is your take on the entrepreneurial spirit of the younger generations in Indonesia, and where do they fit in a world that is getting smaller every day due to globalization?

PROF. DJISMAN: When it comes to factor-based businesses Indonesia has been doing quite well. Indonesia is home to a number of leading companies in natural-resource based industries with their value chain that spans to the entire world. They have served Indonesia well in delivering a moderate pace of development. However, attaining an “escape-velocity” speed is only possible with the support of innovative technology entrepreneurs with the capacity to acquire new technologies rather than having them diffused from external sources and paying the bill with the proceeds from factor nature and low-skill labor.

The appearance of hybrid companies like Ojek, Grab, Tokopedia and Blibli signals a shifting technology frontier. Yet, much more is needed. Experiences in other parts of East Asia tell that only domestically originated technologies, under ownership of nationals or aliens, can deliver a sustainable progressive growth because of the scale and scope economies involved. This is why our university opened a STEM program in 2016. The focus is to groom technology-driven businesses. We attach a greater importance to the use of knowledge to generate technology-based businesses rather than theorizing about fundamental questions in STEM. Indonesia needs to transition in the nearest future to STEM-related businesses. Higher education has to align with this goal.

I don’t mean to belittle other streams of learning such art and humanity. It is just that progress in these other streams will also have to rely on advances in STEM. “Gamification” for example is in the first place about the technology of imagination.

ASEAN BUSINESS LEADERS: No doubt collaborations are very important, enabling STEM professionals and academics to interact. An ecosystem that facilitates cooperation is important to make this work. We are seeing international ecosystems within globalized businesses, and we see that universities are the ones taking the lead to drive these innovative spheres. Yet most still do not associate Indonesia with technology-driven ecosystem where investments can flourish. In your opinion, what roles can universities play to inspire more confidence in this aspect and stimulate the growth of innovation?

PROF. DJISMAN: Obviously, internationalization is a must. We have launched a few programs with English as the language of instruction as the platform for internationalization. Under them we engage visiting faculties from different centers of higher learning. We run joint learning programs with different institutions overseas. We send our students to countless competitions in five continents. The process has been pretty challenging. It is one paradox of globalization. On the one hand, effective catching up requires the sharing of capacity from leading institutions. On the other, leading institutions have preoccupations of their own that differ from those of the catching-up institutions. Be that as it may, we just have to persevere, expecting that the incremental capacity building will accumulate to a critical level.

ASEAN BUSINESS LEADERS: What would be your message to foreign students who are interested in pursuing their studies in the ASEAN region? Why should they pick Indonesia and UPM to further their education?

PROF. DJISMAN: At UPM, we strive to produce graduates who are ready to become entrepreneurs (some sooner while others later), not merely employees. This positioning fits well with the learning landscape of the 21st Century. Indonesia offers a very rich landscape for enlightened entrepreneurs. Be reminded, it was in Indonesia where Afred Russel Wallace collected his learning materials of biodiversity before co-authoring “The Theory of Natural Selection”. The first limited liability company on earth, Vereinigde Ostindische Compagnie (VOC), was founded more than 400 years ago with the purpose of connecting consumers of spices around the globe with the Spice Islands of Eastern Indonesia. Indonesia is home to an immense wealth of land and marine geographical, elemental, biological and cultural diversities, all waiting to be discovered as sources of enlightened businesses. In recognition of this rich heritage Universitas Prasetiya Mulya offers a wide-ranging learning portfolio, all aiming at innovating and growing inclusive and sustainable businesses. Faculties and students from overseas are welcome to be part of this “Learning by Enterprising”. No barrier is insurmountable when it comes to learning cross-culturally.

ASEAN BUSINESS LEADERS: How can Indonesian universities develop as a whole to put Indonesian higher education on the world map?

PROF. DJISMAN: We seek to put Indonesia in the global learning radar through all kinds of academic activities, particularly teaching and conferences. However, to progress in this endeavor a highly conducive learning ecosystem is needed. The current government has sent promising signals. Tertiary education is being open to foreign institutions. Private universities such as Universitas Prasetiya Mulya, which by law are run under philanthropic foundations, are being encouraged to leverage their existing resources while seeking to connect with education stakeholders around the world.

ASEAN BUSINESS LEADERS: How important is brand awareness locally and internationally for UPM to get to the next level?

PROF. DJISMAN: We invest quite a bit in branding. Locally, we are seen as a strong brand, particularly in respect of business studies. We hope that our STEM programs can piggyback on the established reputation. In response to the emerging internationalization of higher education we have embarked on an internationalization of our own, also convinced of the ability to leverage the success in domestic market to carve a successful venture into the wider world, attracting with our immediate neighbors of ASEAN.

ASEAN BUSINESS LEADERS: Expectations for change are very high, as the new Minister of Education for Indonesia seems to have a different mindset. There is definitely a high level of interest among international institution brands to enter the Indonesian market, as there are more than 4,000 universities in the country and the population is tremendous. Of course, there is also a lot of room for improvement. Would you like to comment on this?

PROF. DJISMAN: Yes, I see the winds of change blowing. While the mineral sector, fishery, and low-skill and medium-skill manufacturing have long been discovered by foreign traders and investors, the opportunities in the human capital sectors are less known. The latter are also more tightly regulated as reflected in higher Service Trade Restrictiveness Index (STRI). I anticipate that the restrictions will be relaxed. Investors are advised to explore opportunities of growing together with the 4,000 or so higher education institutions in Indonesia.

ASEAN BUSINESS LEADERS: The coronavirus pandemic and the efforts being taken to tackle it could spark a wider reassessment of higher education vital role in society. What is your impression on this regard and also what would be the learning curve for Universitas Prasetiya Mulya during this pandemic?

PROF. DJISMAN: Most countries, governments, business establishments and households were caught unprepared for the Covid-19 pandemic despite the extensive discussions in 2018 about the 1918-1920 influenza. The learning process was also slow, putting aside a few countries. However, Universitas Prasetiya Mulya immediately suspended face-to-face learning interactions when early cases were reported, given the very high risk of virus transmission inherent in physical meetings. Nothing compares to human life when it comes to value. The shift to online learning was disruptive. As we continue to believe that some core processes of learning require human-to-human interactions, our intent is to deploy technology at an increasing intensity as companion to human beings while advancing collaborative learning by enterprising.