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Indonesia-Aus FTA opens door for offshore campuses

Tertiary education collaboration between Indonesia and Australia has been given the green light under the finalised trade agreement between the two countries, but experts’ calls for clarification around key initiatives remain unanswered.

Education collaboration between Indonesia and Australia has received a green light. Photo: Dennis Rochel/UnsplashEducation collaboration between Indonesia and Australia has received a green light. Photo: Dennis Rochel/Unsplash

Indonesian opposition parties have said they expect the ratification process to be protracted

“Broadly speaking, the agreement does stop short of many of the issues we had hoped to see included”

Finalised in March, the Indonesia-Australia Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement marks a significant step forward in the economic relationship between the neighbouring countries across areas of trade and services, including education.

The finalised document, which comes after an initial August 2018 signing, sees several areas within the agreement pointing to increased collaboration.

Offshore branch campuses will receive the go-ahead, with stipulations for Australian accredited institutions being recognised by Indonesia’s Ministry of Research, Technology and Higher Education.

But vocational and higher education sector experts have noted that many of their early points for clarification from August have been met only “in part”, adding that further work was needed around areas such as an accreditation framework and visa arrangements for Australian researchers.

“Broadly speaking, the agreement does stop short of many of the issues we had hoped to see included,” Group of Eight chief executive Vicki Thomson said.

“However, it is nonetheless a significant step from which to build – particularly the capacity for our universities to have campuses in Indonesia.”

Under the agreement, the previous opportunities for Australian offshore campuses have remained with a limit of no more than two-thirds foreign ownership and restrictions to the proportion of non-Indonesian staff members to be arranged between partnering institutions.

Speaking with The PIE News, Thomson added that once in place, the agreement would improve Indonesians’ access to Australian education and bolster Australia’s international education industry.

Chief executive of TAFE Directors Australia Craig Robertson agreed further work was needed but added the signing showed a clear commitment from both sides to work closely in the technical and vocational education and training space.

“One of the important things to bear in mind with IA-CEPA…is this has got a stronger economic cooperation element to it as opposed to a straight FTA,” he said.

“There’s about five or six planks of that economic cooperation, [and] one of those is TVET.”

The parameters of that collaboration, included in an accompanying letter published shortly after the IA-CEPA, would see vocational providers afforded similar opportunities as universities, which Robertson said was a significant opportunity to partner with industry.

“I think what’s really required is a big organisation like a TAFE that can come in and work in a region, or work with an industry or even a big country, and say ‘how can we help you plan to skill up your workforce?’,” he said.

Some nine years in the making, the agreement will face further hurdles as it moves towards being ratified by both countries, as Indonesia faces an election in April. Opposition parties have said they expect the ratification process to be protracted, according to reports.

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