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Indonesia opens up to foreign universities

Indonesia has passed a law opening up the country to foreign university branch campuses for the first time, despite criticism it will only benefit the country’s wealthy. The government has defended the decision, saying new universities will be socially inclusive and will modernise the education system.

"Quality education with international standards will be available at home"

“There will no doubt be accusations that it’s too liberal, doesn’t benefit the poor and is discriminatory,” Syamsul Bachri, the head of the House working committee that deliberated the bill, said.

However,  he called the law a “constructive effort toward managing and regulating the higher education sector to be more modern and globally competitive”.

The law has been delayed for a year due to fears it would compromise pancasilathe religious, political and cultural ideals that underpin the Indonesian state. Among concerns, universities will be allowed to access non-state funding for the first time, which could commercialise the tertiary sector and raise fees, shutting out the poor.

According to the World Bank approximately half of Indonesian households lived around the national poverty line in 2009, with some 32.5 million below it.

Others say foreign institutions will steal state students. “[Foreign institutions] will have more value than national universities. Students will choose foreign universities, and the national universities will be crushed,” Andreas Tambah, secretary-general of the The National Commission for Education, told University World News.

Responding to criticisms the government said it would control where foreign universities operated and what subjects they offered, and require them to hire Indonesian lecturers.

Education and Culture Minister Mohammad Nuh said: “These institutions will not operate as freely as some people suspected. We will only allow foreign universities to operate if they are non-profit-making and uphold the constitution, pancasila and our religious values.”

“Students will choose foreign universities, and the national universities will be crushed”

Others have been vocal about the benefits for Indonesian education. “It will also encourage our most brilliant students who prefer to study overseas to stay here,” argued Agus Hermanto Such,  Chairman of House Commission X overseeing education.

“Students will no longer go abroad to pursue a university education because quality education with international standards will be available at home.”

The government has also claimed the bill is “pro-poor people”, although it only requires universities to allocate a minimum of 20% of seats to poor students. The government says it will work to establish standards for tuition fees and to ensure that students are not charged beyond their means.

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