Economic status of one individual in a society is not only a product of the effort or talent of that particular individual alone. Philosopher Professor John Roemer of Yale University in his theory of distributive justice emphasizes that inequality in circumstances can explain to a large extent the poverty and inequality situation in many societies. Such circumstances include access to health and education services.
University education is the key to achieving higher economic status. However, given wrong circumstances, millions children from poor families are denied access to higher education. Competition among high school students to enter good universities in Indonesia is fierce. Indonesian government has already a program to improve poor children’s access to university, for example through the bidik misi program. With this program, government requires universities to allocate 20% enrollment to poor children. However, poor children’s participation to that program is still sub-optimal. Poor children have to compete in the university entrance test with children from wealthier families who can afford enrolled in prep-courses. Thousands of poor high school children need to work to help their parents. As a result, in West Java, for example, in 2010 there were as many as 552 available seats designated for poor children should be re-allocated to non-poor children.
Global Development Network (GDN), for the last 4 years, have been supporting CEDS to conduct various research in education, health, and water sectors with an aim to contribute with concrete policy recommendations. One of the research involved a policy simulation study to find complementary policies to improve poor children access to universities. CEDS researchers believe that offering the assistance without changing the circumstances faced by the poor will not be effective. One way of changing the circumstances is by giving private tutoring vouchers to poor high school children that can raise them to have equal footing in the university-entrance competition as well as during their university education. The study estimated that with a budget of Rp 7 million per students per year targeted to 950 eligible poor students, the tutoring vouchers can effectively reclaim their seats in universities.
This research finding along with many other concrete recommendations from other GDN-funded research in health and water services sectors were communicated in a high level policy dialogue conducted by CEDS in Bandung, on March 2, 2013. The policy dialogue titled “Strengthening the analytical underpinnings of policy debates in public expenditure priorities: What can we learn from a global research partnership?” was attended by around 20 participants including high level officials from the Ministry of National Development Planning, including Prof. Armida Alisjahbana, the Minister of National Development Planning/Head of Bappenas, as well as Directors of its relevant directorates.
Other than recommendation on education sectors, CEDS researchers also recommend other concrete policies and programs to improve the poor access to other social services. For example, from health sector research, CEDS recommend the continuation of voluntary counseling and testing as a leading HIV detection services given the increasing HIV incidence in Indonesia. From water sector research, empowering village-level investment in clean water facilities can be more cost-effective in improving access of clean water to poor families.
Minister Armida Alisjahbana, in her remarks, stressed the importance of scientific and evidence-based policies and programs in the making of strategic government policies. She said that the activities CEDS and GDN have been doing for the last 4 years, when complemented with constant and active communication with relevant government agencies can be an ideal model of institutional partnership between universities and policy makers.