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Indonesia’s educational system strengthen by Germany

Interview - April 27, 2015

The German Academic Exchange Service, known as DAAD, has facilitated the transfer of 30,000 Indonesian students to German universities over the past 60 years, while also helping the country build its own education system


As an expatriate, living here in Indonesia, and an expert in education, what are your current insights on the new administration’s strategy towards education and higher education? And what are the main challenges Indonesia is facing towards reaching a successful and healthy education sector here?

Thank you for your questions. I think the first thing that strikes you when you come to Indonesia as an expat is that you yourself fall victim to the infrastructure challenges that the country faces. Working here requires a lot of time for the commute; it involves people not being on time for the scientific presentations that we give. On the other hand, you immediately notice Indonesia’s hunger for knowledge, the hunger for education. The EHEF (European Higher Education Fair) sees rising participation every year, even though it is held yearly. Students and their parents are really interested in educational opportunities here or outside the country. Even though Indonesia is trying hard to increase study opportunities within the country by opening new universities and upgrading teaching and research staff, academic capacity is not sufficient. Indonesia will have to develop from a market-based economy towards a knowledge–based economy. The young generation and their middle-class parents seem to be acutely aware of this. Good education is a must. An important administrative step has been the fusion of the Ministry of Higher Education with the Ministry of Research. Not only is it easier for a partner like DAAD when there is just one ministerial partner to work with rather than two, for Indonesian universities - most of them still education-based - it is important to engage in research and cooperate with outside university research institutions and facilities. Synergies between the educational and corporate sectors, rather than division, is what is needed.

German EHEF-participants always say they are surprised about how open-minded Indonesian parents and students are. Parents are quite prepared to send their kids to foreign countries; the quality of education available really matters to them. Indonesian parents also seem to understand this particular German tax-based education financing system. They understand that even though it does not cost the student anything, the system as such is expensive and is paid through a tax system. That is very clear to Indonesians, they like that. I think it is part of what makes us popular, the idea of having not only a free primary and secondary education sector but also free tertiary education. So, this open-mindedness towards Germany and, in particular, concerning her universities, is something that strikes you as being quite amazing. Over the years, 30,000 Indonesians have studied in Germany, 3,000 of them with a DAAD scholarship, which is quite a big group.  Mouth to mouth information has worked very well for us.

Relations between Indonesia and Germany have been good for a long time. How important is Indonesia for Germany and how important is Germany for Indonesia within the education umbrella?

Interestingly enough, Indonesia is now among the top 20 source countries for foreign students in Germany. So, in terms of numbers, Indonesia is very important for German universities. The young population being hungry for knowledge, knowing Germany, liking it – that is very important for us. Our DAAD alumnus, former President Y. B. Habibie, was minster of research for 18 years before he became president. There have always been close contacts between both countries, not just science- and technology-related ones, but also trade and industry contacts. Indonesia is definitely an important country for Germany.

I am sure Germany is important for Indonesia. As a partner for so many years, the DAAD has done a lot for capacity building in higher education. From day one here, since we opened our offices, we have had a focus on staff upgrading and institution building, based on an MOU with DIKTI, the Ministry of Higher Education. Our Federal Ministry of Education and Research has always had close ties with RISTEK, the Indonesian Ministry of Research to facilitate joint research in the field of fisheries and marine science. Furthermore, a lot of measures that have been taken to enhance professional education have been based on German initiatives, too. So, in terms of development, I do think that Germany has played an important role.

2015, 25 years since the establishment here in Indonesia, happy birthday! What have been the main accomplishments in these 25 years?

We have seen increasing participation rates in our various programs. We have seen a rise of 14% with regard to Indonesian student numbers in Germany, just between 2012 and 2013. In 2012 alone, the number of first year students from Indonesia in Germany rose more than 40%.  Between 2002 and 2012 the number of Indonesians who successfully graduated from a German university rose by 131%. Basically all participation rates in higher education, whether we are looking at scientists, at the postgraduate level, or the student level, have been increasing consistently. We have also had a rise in German students coming here, a rise of 9% in 2013 compared to 2012. Consequently, DAAD’s budget for Indonesian scholarships programs and projects has constantly been increased for the last three years. In addition to increasing scholarship and study figures, we have been seeing progress with regard to the quality of bilateral co-operation between universities. More and more Indonesian universities are engaging in structured cooperation programs with German universities, doing joint research, designing teaching modules jointly, forming subject-related institutional networks, seeking more strategic co-operation.

2015 is seeing the implementation of the ASEAN Economic Community. Many talks, many people are saying that Indonesia is not ready as a competitive country in order to establish itself as what it should be: the leading country, the founder of the AEC. In regards to higher education, what is going to be the position of Indonesia within the AEC?

As described above, what has changed is that we are seeing a shift from individual scholarship application and individuals making decisions to study abroad, towards a more structured way of collaboration and increasing administrative as well as academic capacity. That trend is growing; it indicates that Indonesian institutions, universities in our case, are actively engaged in internationalization efforts. I think that is what needs to happen now within ASEAN. We will need that structured collaboration among institutions of higher education in ASEAN. A good example of what DAAD does there and has been doing for around 10 years is a regional program that we call DIES (Dialogue on Innovative Higher Education Strategies), where we invite decision-makers on dean’s level or rector’s level to participate in ASEAN-wide training courses for management. It could be financial management, curricular development, quality assurance, quality assessment, qualifications frameworks, that kind of thing. We set up training courses over two years with a week in Germany, a week somewhere in Asia, another week in the home country. Indonesia has played a particularly pro-active role in this program. We always have excellent applications from Indonesian university managers. They are very aware of how important good management and governance is, considering the sheer size of the university landscape with around 3000 institutions and millions of students. This size is a big challenge and people with institutional responsibility see that challenge. The DIES program is also the foundation for DAAD’s role in the new project SHARE. The EU put €10 million on the table in collaboration with the ASEAN Secretariat. The goal is the harmonization of higher education in ASEAN. Big European agencies like the DAAD will be working in this together, supporting institutions of higher education in ASEAN to harmonize, basically covering the four important sectors that need to be addressed in a process like this. One of the sectors is mobility. Students will be enabled to study abroad in ASEAN and increase their international experience. The second area that we will be addressing is related to credit transfer systems. The third area will address qualification frameworks and quality assurance measures. The fourth area is engaging in a political dialogue, creating an ASEAN-wide awareness for a need for harmonization and see how to facilitate measures efficiently. We will be working on this project for the next four years. I have to add that all those issues have already been addressed by ASEAN partners and partners from Asia and the Pacific, like China, New Zealand, Australia, Japan.

So, the base is already there, the structure.

Yes, there are mobility schemes, quality assessment and accreditation agencies, and most countries already have a qualification framework. Indonesia has a very good one, by the way. Being able to compare qualification frameworks in the different countries and working on them will be crucial for a mobile workforce. You need to make visible and comparable what you have to offer, as a university and as an individual with a degree. This comparability has immediate implications for the development of the economy. Unless Indonesian-trained academics and professionals have something to show for, they will be left behind.

One of the main pillars, I believe, of development for any country in the world is education.

Yes, and we are not quite there yet, as you know. PISA results are nowhere near acceptable. Talent attracts money. Education is of crucial importance for development.

You mentioned before a €10 million grant by the EU and ASEAN. How important will Europe be for Indonesia’s education development in the coming years?

Indonesia will certainly profit from that project, like the other ASEAN countries, since it enhances mobility and international co-operation. For our ASEAN partners it will be very useful to be put in contact with Bologna Process experts and share their experiences. Eventually, harmonized degree structures, credit systems and qualifications will also allow for smoother inter-regional exchanges and co-operation between Europe and ASEAN. Europe is a highly attractive destination for academics and professionals from all over the world, after all. Creating ASEAN will be as exciting a process as creating Europe. It is only these two big regions really that have managed to establish a regional, political and economic network. Needless to say that ASEAN, if it develops successfully, will not only be a huge market, but ASEAN with its big, young population will also host the majority of the next generation of knowledgeable young decision-makers. European universities and funding bodies like the DAAD offer highly attractive scholarships, study and research opportunities for these young people.

What would be the main priorities in the DAAD agenda for the next 25 years?

To keep up that trend from individual support to structural cooperation in research and education is important for international co-operation. A big challenge that we are facing and have not quite solved yet is how to deal with professional education. The German model of dual education is sometimes eyed with great interest. I do not know whether or to what degree it is sellable as such in South East Asian countries, but clearly the skills gap needs to be closed. DAAD needs to deal with the fact that in many parts of the world professional education is becoming the responsibility of universities to a larger extend than before. In Indonesia, and many other places of the world, formal professional education or high quality professional education hardly exist. Basically, all professional education has been shifted towards the university sector. The university sector is overburdened with challenges that come from the corporate world, but collaboration between the corporate world and academia is largely underdeveloped. Institutions like DAAD need to deal with that; universities should not be left alone with that challenge.

What would be your final message about the education sector here in Indonesia to the international community, to the readers of The Independent, to the readers of our magazines in events such as the G-20, the World Islamic Economic Forum? And what is the role DAAD is going to carry out in the next few years?

Indonesia is a very interesting market for host countries in Asia-Pacific, in Asia and in Europe because it has a very young population, most people are between 15 and 25 years old; it is expected, given the growing middle class, that participation rates in education and higher education will be growing in Indonesia to a high degree. There is plenty of room for development and co-operation there.

The DAAD has the mission to internationalize German universities, so we need partners outside. Indonesia, for demographic reasons, is a very interesting market. And what is really interesting about Indonesia is that it is a very open-minded country. It is setting a fine example of a pluralistic society. It is a huge country facing current challenges that we all face, challenges of multiculturalism, of migration, the challenge to provide equal opportunities to all. Indonesia is facing these challenges on a big scale and seems to be dealing with them quite well. So, Indonesia is an interesting model to watch and an interesting partner to associate with.  Prevalent sets of values are comparable. Indonesians have always been very open-minded when it comes to studying in foreign countries or associating with foreign partners. There seems to be hardly any fear of brain drain. There is a very international outlook here as well as a solid foundation of close international collaboration among all the partners and stakeholders I deal with. That is what makes Indonesia attractive.