Friday, June 1, 2018

Local Islamist radicals take toll in Indonesia


A bomb blast at Surabaya Pantekosta Center Church in Surabaya, Indonesia.
By Ross B. Taylor

The bombings of three churches and a police headquarters in the Indonesian city of Surabaya and an attack on police in Sumatra has marked a dramatic escalation of the terror threats in our region.
Few Australians know much about Surabaya, a city of 6.5 million people, even though it is close to Bali where more than one million Australians holiday each year. To travel from Surabaya to the main tourist spots on Bali is similar to travelling from Perth to Merredin — chillingly close.
Surabaya has been relatively free from major terrorist attacks until now, though many small terrorist cells have been found in the province of East Java, of which Surabaya is the capital.
So why has terrorism suddenly taken such a dramatic and despicable turn, choosing suicide as the means of inflicting death and injury, and using children who were “sacrificed” for “the greater cause” by their own parents?
Authorities don’t yet have these answers, but we do know that in the years after the Bali bombings, the Indonesian police, supported by Australia’s Federal Police, made major inroads into the activities of well-known terrorist groups such as the Abu Bakar Bashir-led Jemaah Islamiyah. As a result of this process, many members of JI fled and formed small “terror cells” with the objective of seeking an Islamic State in Indonesia.
With the collapse of Islamic State in the Middle East last year, radical Indonesians were encouraged to stay home to support the creation of a caliphate or Islamic State within their own region, targeting not only Christians but Shi’ite Muslims and also Indonesia’s national police.
Fortunately, most of these would-be terrorists lacked the skills to build bombs, but also to execute a major terrorist attack. This incompetence — that often resulted in would-be terrorists blowing themselves up — combined with the intelligence services provided by countries such as Australia — allowed Indonesian police to thwart numerous plots to cause death and fear throughout the region.
For many months now, Australia’s Foreign Minister Julie Bishop and her counterpart in Indonesia, Retno Masudi, have warned that as IS disintegrated, Indonesian fighters would return home and bring with them not only entire families who had been radicalised, but also the skills to construct sophisticated bombs, and the knowledge of how to plan and implement an attack.
What this week’s attacks in Surabaya showed was just how devastating the actions of a radicalised family could be. What we don’t know is who was behind these families, planning and developing such assaults on three churches. One thing is clear: a simple family, despite being radicalised, would be highly unlikely to have the skills to plan an attack such as that in Surabaya.
Neither would they have the bomb-making skills. So who was behind this shocking event?
One hopes it was simply a local terror cell, but more likely this is the first time we have seen the impact that returning fighters can have when using a radicalised family combined with high-level bomb-making and execution skills.
So what does this mean for Australians heading off to Bali?
With 5.2 million foreign visitors holidaying in Bali each year, and 1.1 million of them being Australians, there is an enormous incentive for our respective nations to keep Bali safe.
The sad reality is that no city is now safe from a terrorist attack.
Australians in Bali can, however, do their bit by behaving themselves — particularly during the fasting month of Ramadan that started on Tuesday — and avoiding high-profile clubs and bars.
In Surabaya, just 300km away, their citizens are trying to come to terms with the brutal and senseless acts that have shattered their city. If any “good” can come of such monstrous acts, it is that all major Islamic associations in Indonesia, and their government, are now saying, “this is enough, Islam is not about indiscriminate killing and the destruction of children’s lives, and we will stop these evil murderers”.
Let’s hope they do.
Ross B. Taylor AM is the president of the Perth-based Indonesia Institute Inc.

(This article first appeared in The West Australian Newspaper in May 2018)

Foreign Universities to open in Indonesia at last

By Ria Nurdiani

Indonesia will have at least one foreign university’s branch campus operating this year as the government finalises detailed regulations to allow them in as part of the country’s attempts to improve higher education performance. Other measures include pushing for some local universities to become ‘world-class’ by providing additional funding. 

However, it will not be a free-for-all for foreign providers. Opening up to foreign universities will be limited and will be a partnership with private universities in Indonesia. “It is not like the government has a vacancy for foreign universities to open a branch,” Patdono Suwignjo, director general for institutional development at the Ministry of Research, Technology and Higher Education, told University World News. “It is the government who is approaching the universities.”

According to Patdono, foreign universities will first be screened according to their position in international rankings, such as the QS World University Rankings. Only universities ranked above 200 can make it onto the government’s list, he said. 

The government will determine where the universities can operate and which subjects can be offered under the collaboration. The priority is for subjects not available or yet to be developed in Indonesia, he said. 

Science, technology, engineering, mathematics, business and management have been mentioned as priority subject areas.

“The government is hoping for at least one Australian university to open a branch this year,” Patdono said, but declined to name the institution. Previously the ministry had indicated that the University of Melbourne and the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT) had fulfilled the government's requirements.

Earlier this year Muhammad Nasir, Indonesia's research, technology and higher education minister, told a press conference in Jakarta up to 10 universities were looking to take up the government’s offer “by the middle of the year”, and said two top Australian universities, the University of Melbourne and the University of Queensland, and the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom had “expressed an interest” in operating in Indonesia.

He has suggested that the “capital involvement” of foreign universities would be up to 67%. 

Employment of foreign academics

To accelerate the process, the government issued Presidential Regulation No 20, 2018, in March on the employment of foreign workers to simplify procedures and make it easier for foreign lecturers, among others, to obtain work permits in Indonesia, although this has sparked concerns by local lecturers that they may compete with them for jobs. 

The government also announced last month that it was opening up opportunities for foreign academics to become permanent lecturers in Indonesian universities as part of its drive to push up standards, suggesting that some 200 foreign lecturers could be recruited. 

The ministry is currently preparing the supporting regulations, including the possibility of a new type of visa for academics. Currently, foreign lecturers are not permitted to reside permanently in the country.

The government enacted a controversial law in 2012 allowing foreign universities to open a branch in Indonesia with government approval as long as they are not-for-profit, collaborate with Indonesian universities and emphasise the hiring of local lecturers. 

But the government appeared to be vacillating, with President Joko Widodo saying in February that he did not want to “hastily execute the plan” just in order to improve the quality of higher education but give local institutions a chance to improve first. 

On the other hand, the government spends huge amounts on scholarships for Indonesians to study abroad. 

But the entry of Australian universities will also depend on an Australia-Indonesia free trade agreement known as the Indonesia-Australia Comprehensive Economic Partnership, which is expected to be signed by August and includes foreign education providers and is likely to include foreign investment in education. 

Top five universities set to be world class

President Widodo set a target when he took office in 2014 of making some Indonesian universities ‘world class’. Last month Nasir repeated the target of five ‘world-class’ Indonesian universities within the next two years.

Indonesia’s top five universities, namely Universitas Indonesia, Bandung Institute of Technology, Gadjah Mada University, Airlangga University and Bogor Agricultural University, are targeted to become a world-class university by 2019. “Government wants their rank to be upgraded, at least above 200,” said Patdono.

Based on the QS World University Rankings, Universitas Indonesia is ranked 277, while Bandung Institute of Technology is at 331, Gadjah Mada University is around the 401-410 mark, and Airlangga University and Bogor Agricultural University are ranked 701-750 and 751-800, respectively.

Patdono said since 2016, these universities had been receiving additional funds of IDR10 billion (approximately US$708,500) a year per university to fulfil the QS world-class criteria. “The budget is for hiring more lecturers, research funding,” said Patdono, referring to the faculty to student ratio and research paper citations per faculty in the rankings criteria.

Nonetheless Patdono admitted that in Indonesia “the disparity is so huge”, with universities outside Java island lagging. The government is trying to narrow the gap by providing additional funds to private universities on a competitive basis, he said. 

“The budget [of IDR1 billion per university] is not much; it is limited actually. But we hope it can improve the criteria related to world-class university assessments,” he said. 

Australia can help Indonesia kick-the-habit

By Madeleine Randall

Australia is an undisputed world leader in tobacco control. From massive wins with plain packaging to widely enforced bans on smoking in public places, it is easy to see why. Australia is successfully creating a generational shift in tobacco use, with its youngest generation growing up in a society mostly free of smoking and its harmful effects.
Yet Stephen Grenville’s recent observations for The Interpreter (“Quitting cigarettes in Indonesia”) highlight that there are some very serious failings in tobacco control in the immediate neighbourhood which must be addressed. The rampant and persuasive cigarette advertising in Indonesia that Grenville notes is only the tip of the iceberg in a country with a massive tobacco problem, a problem that won’t go away without help. 
Indonesia is poised to become a leading regional economy in coming decades, yet it also continues to have one of the highest rates of smoking in the world. The economic burden of tobacco use is a serious threat not only to Indonesia’s ability to reach its economic potential, but also, as a result, to Australia’s interests in the country as a strategic partner in our region.
Considering that the recent Foreign Policy White Paper called for government action to promote a prosperous region and encourage sustainable development, it would be a gross oversight not to take tobacco and its health impacts into account in Australia’s regional engagement. 
But just how bad is the problem? In hard numbers, 2013 data shows that more than 60% of Indonesian adults are smokers, and as of 2014, one in three children aged 13–15 smoked. With the prevalence of smoking among Indonesia’s poor increasing from 30% in 2001 to 43.8% in 2013, tobacco is also disproportionately affecting those who can least afford it. Restrictions are few – cigarettes are easily purchased by children, and advertising is ubiquitous.
The pervasiveness of tobacco places an economic burden on society which will undoubtedly effect Indonesia’s anticipated rise to power. Diseases attributable to tobacco use, such as stroke and coronary heart disease, are a drain on Indonesia’s healthcare system, costing the country 1.85 trillion rupiahs (approximately US$192 million) in 2010.
Another critical concern is the rate at which children are taking up the habit, putting the next-generation workforce at risk of facing debilitating diseases in what should be the prime of their lives. A workforce that is unable to work poses a further risk to Indonesia’s future economic hopes. 
Yet a major roadblock to tobacco control efforts is Indonesia’s failure to ratify the World Health Organization’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control. This has meant that tobacco control advocates face a constant battle for government support to enforce proven, highly effective measures for reducing consumption, such as taxation and restrictions on advertising and smoking in public places.
This lax approach makes tobacco control a high-risk area for Australia to support with investment in Indonesia. However, that should not be an excuse to sit by idly. Instead, there is an opportunity to expand investments in Indonesia and design programs aimed at targeting the wide range of factors that negatively impact health in the country.
Health is unfortunately the lowest priority in Australia’s aid program to Indonesia, accounting for a paltry 2% of the total spent, which does not make for a good start. Australia does, however, allocate 33% of its aid spending in Indonesia to education, and it is perhaps here the contribution might be best placed.
Driving a change in behaviour among Indonesia’s youth might be where Australia could most help Indonesia gain ground in the fight against tobacco. The Australia–Indonesia Centre Health Cluster has already twigged to the importance of engaging youth, recently funding a number of youth-focused projects designed to raise awareness about non-communicable disease risk factors early in life. Two initiatives in particular aim to change the attitudes and behaviours of adolescents towards tobacco use through school-based programs.
In addition, a collaboration between Flinders University and Syiah Kuala University in Banda Aceh has found that a school-based smoking prevention program increased students’ knowledge of the negative effects of smoking. This model is widely used in many countries but remains under-researched in Indonesia.
Increased earmarking of funds towards projects within the education portion of the Australian budget to Indonesia would allow local civil society organisations and universities in the country to research, evaluate, and scale up school-based programs, which in turn could stem the demand for cigarettes among youth. 
There is a long way to go with tobacco control in Indonesia, and an Australian contribution would only be one piece of that complex puzzle. By targeting youth, however, it would present an opportunity to drive long-term change in smoking behaviours, while remaining in line with the strategic goals of Australia’s aid program in Indonesia.
Encouraging Indonesia’s youth to say no to tobacco, to help them create a healthier society and a stronger economy, will ultimately benefit Australia and contribute to regional growth and stability.