Foreign campuses penetrate Indonesia: the importance of strengthening local perspectives


Last July 3-5 2023, the President of the Republic of Indonesia, Joko “Jokowi” Widodo, made an annual visit of Indonesian-Australian leaders with Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese.

The two country leaders agreed on several matters formulated in the Joint Communique: Indonesia-Australia Annual Leaders’ Meeting , one of which was a commitment to strengthen relations between the people of the two countries ( connecting people ).

As an activist in education, language and culture, I am interested in discussing the agreement between the leaders of the two countries regarding plans to build several branch campuses of Australian universities in Indonesia, such as Western Sydney University in Surabaya, East Java; the Deakin and Lancaster Joint University campuses in Bandung, West Java; and Central Queensland University in Balikpapan, East Kalimantan.

The plans to build Australian university branch campuses mark the rise of cross-border education partnerships in Indonesia. Cross-country educational partnerships are one manifestation of the internationalization agenda of higher education which has been developing for more than half a century.

In Indonesia itself, there are already several foreign educational institutions. Swiss German University , for example, has been established since 2000 and offers higher education programs in Indonesia with connections from 26 universities in Europe (mainly Germany, Switzerland and Austria). Meanwhile, the University of Monash (Australia) Indonesia officially opened last year as the first overseas campus in Indonesia .

Cross-border education partnerships can indeed bring many opportunities both for host institutions in Indonesia and for institutions of origin. However, there are also some risks if local perspectives are not put forward.

The risk of using English as a communication tool in class

Cross-border education partnerships are generally followed automatically by regulations on the use of English as the language of instruction in the classroom for all courses. This often creates many obstacles for students at the host institution, where English is not their first language.

One example is presented by Stuart Perrin, a researcher from the language center of Xi’an Jiaotong University-Liverpool in China, who researched language policy and planning in a partnership between Xi’an Jiaotong in China and Liverpool University (UK) . The main problem he found was how the learning performance of students in these Chinese institutions was assessed based on the norms of native English speakers.

In fact, just like in Indonesia, the function of English in the local context is as a foreign language or an additional language (not as a first or second language). What’s more, many teachers at these institutions also don’t use English as their first language. So using English as the main indicator is not appropriate.

The risk of using an uncontextual curriculum

The temporary findings of my dissertation (not yet published) show how the imported curriculum emphasizes abilities that are not too appropriate for the local context, the content does not take into account the world of student life in the local context, and the level of difficulty does not match the actual abilities of local students.

Local students seem to be expected to think in an ‘American’ way because the content in the curriculum emphasizes the context of the country of origin of the curriculum.

This finding is similar to what Stuart Perrin explained , that the bodies and brains of local students are expected to function in a way similar to how native English speakers or people from curriculum exporting countries think and act.

Reinforce local perspectives

To ensure cross-border education partnership programs can bring benefits to Indonesian students, it is necessary to have clear and comprehensive language policies and planning.

Planning a language policy that regulates the position of English and recognizes the existence, function and contribution of other languages ​​(such as Indonesian and local languages) in the teaching and learning process will prepare Indonesian students to become competent multilingual and multicultural individuals .

This means that students are not only fluent in foreign languages, but are also able to use the vocabulary of all languages ​​and cultures they have as a source of critical thinking and problem solving.

At the end of his review , Perrin recommends several questions worth paying attention to, such as to what extent is the use of languages ​​other than English permissible and in what contexts; the extent to which English is used as an assessment tool; the extent to which English is used as the working language and what supplies will be provided to all relevant parties.

Perrin also stated the importance of recognizing the existence and function of languages ​​other than English used by stakeholders in local institutions.

The book, a collection of case studies of cross-border educational partnerships in various countries , also emphasizes the importance of ensuring that the programs are relevant for local values ​​and the importance of considering the voice of local students to help maximize the potential and benefits of the program for the host country.

Considering local perspectives in planning cross-border education partnership policies in Indonesia is not a form of suspicion towards foreigners , but as a form of protection for Indonesian students in their learning process and for the language and culture that we have.

Author Bio: Billy Nathan Setiawan is a PhD Candidate in Applied Linguistics at the University of South Australia