Is opening the door to foreign universities a good idea for Indonesia?


According to academics the presence of foreign universities in Indonesia can help provide quality education while opening wider doors for international research cooperation. However, several things must be done to ensure that all Indonesian citizens can access it.

The discourse on “internationalization” of Indonesian tertiary education is re-emerging this year, including the prospect of foreign universities opening branches in Indonesia .

In 2018, the Ministry of Research, Technology and Higher Education issued a Ministerial Regulation on Foreign Universities , which allowed foreign institutions to establish campuses in Indonesia. Several universities are reported to have an interest , including the University of Queensland and the University of Melbourne .

Andrew MacIntyre, vice chancellor for Monash University Southeast Asia cooperation , said that establishing branch campuses posed a risk to foreign universities, but if managed properly the branch campuses could offer innovative technology, education and pedagogy that were not provided by universities in Indonesia.

“In my opinion, the main benefit is that local people have wider access to various options for education. It also expands the capacity of education available in the country, “he said.

Inaya Rakhmani, lecturer at the Department of Communication at the University of Indonesia is skeptical. He said that the campuses could only be accessed by rich people.

“It will not reduce educational inequality, inequality of access, and social inequality, because the main purpose of foreign universities opening branches here is to tap into the student market ,” he said.

The quality of the students has fled abroad

One of the driving forces behind the establishment of foreign campuses in Indonesia is the lack of world-class quality education that is accessible to Indonesians.

The main indicator, according to academics, is the high number of students who choose to study abroad .

UNESCO noted that more than 47,000 Indonesians studied abroad in 2017. This figure is projected to increase given that the Education Fund Management Institution (LPDP) scholarship funds reached Rp 46 trillion in 2019. These funds have more than doubled in the last three years.

Non-fulfillment of world-class education standards in Indonesia is reflected in the latest QS World University Rankings from the educational rating agency Quacquarelli Symonds. There is no single university in the country that ranks 200th and above. University of Indonesia only reached the 296th position.

Chairil Abdini, lecturer in public policy in Indonesia, is one of those who are worried about the flight of students abroad.

“Higher education is service, so that means we import services. From the economic side this contributed in part to the American economy of approximately 42 billion dollars and 450 thousand jobs that they created from foreign students, “he said.

A closer example we can take from Malaysia. A study from the United States said that in 1995, about 20% of Malaysian students who went abroad caused around US $ 800 million to go abroad. The study also said, in terms of Malaysian human resources experienced “losses that could not be measured”.

In the same year, Malaysia issued a Law on Private Higher Education Institutions that allowed foreign universities to open branches there. In just 6 years , Monash, Swinburne and Nottingham University have been operating in Malaysia.

Providing ‘international’ education at home

MacIntyre believes that opening a foreign campus branch can reduce the number of high-quality students who have fled abroad because branch campuses carry the names and assets of their prestigious main campuses, while adapting to local conditions.

“If we observe in this region, Singapore, Malaysia, Vietnam, China, all those countries have invited foreign institutions to enter. They do it in a way that suits their needs and priorities. I think this is a smart move, “he said.

A study from Abu Dhabi University supports MacIntyre’s opinion. This study cites several reasons why Asian students choose to study at foreign campus branches in their countries, including being close to culture and religion, and free from discrimination.

Even so, the main reason students have to do with price and convenience, as described in a meta-analysis study from Spanish researchers .

Besides being able to keep their jobs and stay with their families, students can also enjoy the prestigious quality of a top-tier university at a more affordable price ).

Stimulus for the development of science

MacIntyre argues that foreign campus branches can bring their research networks and also funding opportunities to support research in the country where they are located.

“The branch campuses can easily collaborate with their colleagues on the central Monash Australia campus for example, and also pursue funding or projects elsewhere. This really helps internationalization, “he said.

A new study from Sweden explains that branch campuses can act as a bridge between the research networks owned by their main campus, and local universities.

The study found that consistently in Qatar, China, Malaysia, and also the United Arab Emirates, branch campuses increased international research collaboration. In the end this has a significant positive impact on the research citation produced by each of these countries.

Ensuring access not only to the elite

Contrary to MacIntyre’s optimism, Inaya reminded that the branch campus would not be too influential on access to education for most Indonesians. He took the example of the branch campus in Malaysia.

“Universities such as Nottingham or Monash will absorb the cosmopolitan middle class in the country [Malaysia] to move to their university franchise ,” he said.

Although branch campuses in Malaysia have lower tuition fees than their main campus – according to research, around half – the fees are still more expensive than those offered by local universities.

To get a bachelor’s degree in engineering, for example, it costs at Monash Malaysia around US $ 11,000 per year, while at renowned universities Universiti Malaya is only around US $ 5000 per year.

Responding to Inaya’s concerns, MacIntyre again expressed her optimism that the branch campus could provide options for students. He said that scholarships can help those who need financial support.

“At present, only those who are very rich can study abroad. Studying at a foreign university in Indonesia is a far more economical choice, “he said.

“Most likely a foreign branch campus operating in Indonesia will be interested in offering scholarships. This will make international degrees more accessible to Indonesian students more broadly. ”

Chairil agrees with MacIntyre’s opinion, but chooses to be neutral towards which institutions can meet the needs of Indonesians.

“It could be that LPDP scholarships that were previously sent to overseas universities were partly transferred to the domestic branch campus. The question is whether the branch of foreign universities will be considered better than UI, ITB, UGM and IPB, “he said.