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.