By: Ade Tanesia
This article was originally published in Latitudes magazine, a renowned bi-monthly magazine focusing on Indonesian culture. The magazine hailing from the island of Bali previously existed in paper form and was especially known for its in-depth critical articles and beautiful photography. As a tribute to all contributors of this magazine Latitudes.nu presents a selection of articles published in the years 2001-2004.
Graduating in Yogya
Each year, the ritual of graduation is joyfully celebrated in Jogjakarta, Central Java—Indonesia’s “City of Students.” Photographs of young scholars dressed in their caps and gowns are spread out for sale on the sidewalks around the campuses and parents come from all over the country to show their pride in their sons and daughters. But while this official ceremony is going on, vendors in the city’s book market are also celebrating their own good fortune. For this is the season when they enjoy the money they’ve made from selling thousands of theses to students searching for a shortcut to a degree.
I’m standing in front of a heap of papers at a kiosk in the Jogjakarta book market known as “Shoping.” Less than three minutes pass before a young man approaches the woman behind the counter and asks, “Ma’am, do you have any religion theses?” “Sure, just take a look at the titles first,” she answers, handing him a bundle of catalogues.
“Do you want to buy a thesis?” I ask the young man cautiously. “Oh, no, I just want to check, to make sure the thesis I’m proposing hasn’t already been done by someone else. Lots of my friends, you know, they buy them and copy them. They just change the names of the places and then submit them as theses. That way they can graduate quickly and not be late. It used to be that with just Rp30,000 (US$3) you could graduate,” he says with a laugh.
Moving to another kiosk, I run into two young men shopping for books with their mother. I overhear a snatch of their conversation: “Oh, just buy a thesis, you know it’s easier, you don’t need to search for references. Mom, just buy me one, okay?” Without missing a beat, the mother pulls out her purse, then asks her sons if there are any other papers or final projects they want her to purchase for them. Perhaps for this woman, buying her son a thesis is just like buying him the other school books he might need for his classes.
Civil law or criminal law?
The buying and selling not only of undergraduate theses—a requirement for all bachelor’s degree students at Indonesian universities—takes place quite openly at the twenty-eight kiosks selling used books at the Shoping Market. Not only can one find undergraduate theses for sale, but Master’s theses and Ph.D. dissertations as well. Even though these three commodities are not displayed openly, there’s not much need to whisper when inquiring about them. At one kiosk, I tried asking in a normal voice, “Do you have any law theses, Sir?” The kiosk owner answered back, without the slightest trace of embarrassment or caution, “Civil law or criminal law?” I chose criminal law, and he immediately handed me a catalog that I could take home and peruse.
The opportunity to shortcut straight to graduation, skipping months of onerous research, reading, writing, rewriting and trying to meet with elusive professors is too tempting for many students to pass up. With demand spreading like a contagious disease, the vendors have no problems with profit. Pak Dirman, who has sold books at the “Shoping” Market for the past fifteen years, says he can make Rp5,000,000 (US$500) a month just from selling undergraduate theses. He stocks thousands of titles, listed neatly in bound catalogues. “There are catalogues for economics, law, psychology, social politics—I mean, we’ve got them all. We also have the theses that just came out for 2001,” he says, a marketer’s pride in his voice.
Looking for a quick promotion
Of course, the selling of theses violates copyright law, and in 1993, the kiosks, including Pak Dirman’s, were hit by a police raid. 400 of Pak Dirman’s theses were confiscated and he had to pay off the police. But he says this sort of risk hasn’t put a dent in his business. “What else do you expect? The demand is so huge, you can’t expect that people will just let the opportunity pass,” he exclaims. “Just imagine that each day there are two or three people buying theses. Most of them are looking for economics or law theses. Lots of the buyers are working students who are looking for a quick promotion,” he explains. At Pak Dirman’s stall, prices are well within the range of all but the most impoverished students. Undergraduate theses go for Rp60,000 (US$6), Master’s theses for Rp150,000 (US$15) and Ph.D. dissertations for Rp400,000 (US$40).