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Purwanto Subroto, Ministry of Higher Education, Indonesia

Indonesia’s higher education sector is stepping up its internationalisation efforts, but with more than 4,000 universities in the country, the Ministry of Research, Technology and Higher Education has to balance its resources carefully. But international branch campuses, joint degrees and study abroad are all in its sights, says deputy director for higher education cooperation Purwanto Subroto.

The PIE: What is your role at the Ministry of Education?

"We want to have more opportunities for people to study abroad on joint degree programs"

PS: The main target I have is to work on cooperation between Indonesia and foreign universities. I also work with other foreign institutions – I have good cooperation with the British Council and other agencies to promote more cooperation on higher education. We also encourage our universities to work with certain programs like faculty or student exchange.

“If universities want to run international cooperation, they must achieve a certain level of quality”

Right now there’s a good trend at many Indonesian universities. Of course, we have some standards for the universities who want to do international engagement, because we have to keep the quality on this kind of collaboration. So universities that have this kind of standard can run international cooperation – for example, joint degree programs, double degree programs, summer schools.

The number of universities in Indonesia is quite large – we have around 4,000 universities. But of course, only a few of them are ready for international cooperation. I think that now we have about 150 universities that are ready to do more.

The PIE: How do you measure the quality of education when there are so many universities?

PS: We have an independent body, the National Accreditation Agency for Higher Education, that assures the quality of study programs: we have A-accreditation, B-accreditation, C-accreditation and so on. So the top one we call A-accreditation and universities try to achieve this level.

The PIE: And how do you judge when a university is ready to undertake international cooperation?

PS: If they want to run some kind of international cooperation, they must achieve a certain level of quality. For example, if they have a study program that’s at least B-accredited, they can run international cooperation.

One of the indications that I see for the universities to undergo cooperation is they establish an international office. I think this is quite common for a lot of universities to prepare themselves for international cooperation, and we suggest they have this. Through this office we can share a lot of information and also do workshops to enhance their capacity to run international cooperation.

“The universities that have a good performance and profile, we encourage them to go for international cooperation”

We are also now doing Indonesian university rankings. The universities that have a good performance and profile, we encourage them to go for international cooperation. So we promote them at international events and we give them more opportunities. We cannot do it for all universities, but at least we can have some Indonesian universities known internationally.

The PIE: What are some of the challenges for Indonesian universities trying to internationalise?

PS: Maybe the biggest issue is the budget, the funding; at the government we cannot provide a huge amount of funding because we have so many universities. So we encourage some Indonesian universities to promote, by their own, these kinds of programs.

For example, when they develop joint degree programs, there is no problem when you have inbound students, but there’s a bit of a problem when you have outbound students. Because not many Indonesian students can go by their own funding, so we ask the universities to work with their partners to reduce the cost through tuition fee waivers and things like that. But I think now some Indonesian universities are doing quite well, they have more outbound students.

The PIE: Is encouraging Indonesian students to study abroad a priority for the ministry? And are there particular skills you want them to develop when they do?

PS: We are open to any skills – it just depends what they want to study. But we prioritise more science subjects because we want to have good people to develop our economy. And our government provides a lot of funding for studying abroad. One way we do that is through the LPDP division under the Ministry of Finance. This institution manages the education loan fund for our people to study for master’s and postgraduate courses abroad in priority areas like engineering, medicine and agriculture.

“There’s a bit of a problem when you have outbound students. Not many Indonesian students can go by their own funding”

But now we also want to have more and more opportunities for our people to study abroad on joint degree programs, and we provide funding for students to study on these programs. So this is becoming a trend. For example, in our ministry I myself manage joint meeting groups with Japan, Taiwan, the UK, Australia, to discuss the opportunities for joint cooperation with Indonesian universities.

The PIE: How many international students come to Indonesia each year?

PS: Currently, we have not so many. Maybe right now we have about 7,000-8,000 students annually coming for short term and full degree programs, mostly from Asian countries like Thailand, Cambodia. We also provide funding for some students from developing countries to study in Indonesia. Some come from Asian countries, Africa… So we hope that many foreign students from different countries will know more about Indonesia through these kinds of programs.

The PIE: And is the ministry working to increase this number?

PS: Yes, and also we work with the Immigration Department to ease the process of coming to Indonesia. For example, we’ve developed an online application for student visas to make the process of inbound students easier. We started that in the beginning of 2016. Before we did it manually, mailing in documents, but now everything is going quite well. Sometimes the issue is not getting the visa; the issue is the process, it takes a bit longer. That is why we’re now working with the immigration office to do everything online, to keep foreign students more comfortable studying in Indonesia.

And we have also signed some MOUs with countries like Malaysia that mean students can extend their visa rather than reapplying. After getting the visa, [it] gives them two years, and then they can extend it two times. So in total it is six years before they need to get a new one.

The PIE: A law was passed in 2012 to allow foreign universities to set up branch campuses in Indonesia – when will that come into force?

PS: There will be opportunities to do it, but not now. We already have a law that makes it possible for foreign universities to establish themselves in Indonesia, but now we are developing the regulations.

“We have a big number of institutions and, of course, there are some challenges about the policies”

Many universities, mostly from Australia, are coming to us, talking about this, and asking when. We do have a timeline, but we have to be careful on this one. We see the case in Malaysia; they stopped for a while to evaluate their existing branch campuses [there is currently a moratorium on new branch campuses setting up in Malaysia].

The PIE: Are people worried that foreign universities will come in and take resources away from the domestic universities?

PS: Not people, but institutions. We have a big number of institutions and, of course, there are some challenges about the policies. We are also concerned about Indonesian universities – we don’t want to create competition for them.

But as the government, we have to improve quality. We need quality education for our people so we may do a kind of invitation: as a pilot, we select some universities, send letters to them, and see if they have an interest in establishing a branch campus in Indonesia. And also we see the quality of the universities. We’ll see these are good universities and there are so many opportunities for our people to get education from these universities. It may not be open to anybody, but maybe if we select some we’ll see over the next one or two years how that goes.

And, of course, we’ll look at not only the university but what kind of study program they can offer. We may even select the location – it’s better if you want to establish a campus, it’s better if you do it here. As a government, we can do that. We do not want to make Indonesian universities collapse. As a government, we have to save our institutions as well.

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