The Australia-Indonesia Partnership: Education as a Foundation

30 May 2018
By Georgia Eagleton
The Australia-Indonesia Partnership: Education as a Foundation

Education exchanges between Australia and Indonesia are greatly beneficial. They strengthen not only the respective nations, but also their shared region. Therefore, both of these countries are strongly pursuing initiatives aimed towards improving the education-based aspects of their partnership. Despite some successful initiatives and progress in this area, a substantial amount of effort is still required if these two countries are to develop a matured education-based relationship.

A shared focus on education

Both nations have clearly expressed the desire to continue to grow in their bilaterally-focused education sectors.

Australia sees the education partnership as crucial in their overall relationship with Indonesia. Improvement in Indonesia’s own education sector is a significant contributing factor in efforts to improve and maintain regional stability, in addition to domestically-based efforts.

Indonesia currently has great concerns over the quality of their education, especially at the tertiary level. The Indonesian government desires rapid improvement in this area, so as to increase the nation’s global competitiveness. Indonesia's Minister for Technology, Research, and Higher Education, Mohamad Nasir, aims to have the The University of Indonesia (Indonesia's highest ranked university at 277 in 2018) within the ranks of the world top 200 by 2019.

Such shared aims are a promising starting point for an increasingly robust relationship.

Australian efforts and issues

Australia has already put considerable effort and resources into developing its partnership with Indonesia through home-based education initiatives.

Exchanges and study abroad programs for university students between Australia and Indonesia have been highly successful and have enjoyed increased capacity in recent years. This is mainly due to the Federal Government initiated New Colombo Plan (NCP) mobility grants and scholarship program that enables students to study in the Indo-Pacific region. The 2018 grants will support 13,000 undergraduate students to study in 35 Indo-Pacific countries, an increase from the 7,400 students in 2017. The NCP also greatly supports the Australian Consortium for ‘In-Country’ Indonesian Studies (ACICIS) programs which secured 734 mobility grants in 2018 to enable students to study specifically in Indonesia, an increase from 371 grants in 2017.

Additionally, the Government has launched the Endeavour scholarships and fellowships where post-graduate students may undertake study in countries across the globe, including Indonesia. To a lesser extent, Australia has gone beyond these exchange and study abroad programs with initiatives such as the ‘BRIDGE School partnerships’, various university research partnerships and education-based policy research initiatives.

However, there are significant and concerning signs of decreased educational engagement of Australian students with Indonesia. There are “fewer Australian students studying Indonesian at Year 12 level than 40 years ago”.

From the Indonesian side, there are various remaining and renewed obstacles in the way of  Australian education reaching the nation. This will be discussed later on.

What can be done to ensure the continuation of desired growth in bilateral education exchange considering these difficulties?

Australia's Homework

Generally, Australian needs to further support and promote the idea that Indonesia is a distinctly valuable education opportunity. Efforts must delve deeper into the Australian school system if true and lasting progress is to be achieved. 

Before solutions can be offered up, the reasons for the decline and disinterest within Australia in relation to Indonesia must be understood. A major factor in the decline lies seemingly in school students’ apathy towards language in general, and the Indonesian language specifically. Contributing factors to this disinterest include the lack of focus and value imbued in the study of a second language. Both the state governments and the Federal government have given insufficient attention to studying languages. Additionally, there is no systematic and streamlined plan for language that travels with students through  their school years. Further, many Australians have a general lack of knowledge about Indonesia, while simultaneously holding an image of the nation as dangerous. These factors have led to the decline of the study of Indonesian.

Where language programs in schools can be improved, and interest in language fostered, there would be subsequent improvement in foreign education-based study beyond the school halls.

Improvement of the school programmes may be made through focusing on aspects such as the quality of school teachers and the level of intensity of language education. The Australian government has recognised the need for better school-based language education. However, such programs must continue to receive increased emphasis and expansion to be truly successful.

Interest in language may be increased through all governments promoting the value of studying a second language. This may be done particularly easily in relation to Indonesian, due to the nation’s constructive strategic ties with Australia that are set to continue into the foreseeable future.

Such efforts will ensure the growth of current Indonesian education-based programmes in Australia, rather than their decline as is the current concern.

These initiatives clearly have long-term goals. In more immediate terms, increased attention may be given to the development of joint research initiatives, exchanges of both foreign university lecturers and school teachers, and general exchange of expertise on education. Currently, there is a limited degree of focus given to these areas by the Australian Government. The majority of allocated funding goes towards improving the education sector already present within Indonesia . This is an incredibly worthwhile and valuable endeavour. Yet it is quite narrowly focused on the visible and tangible effects of such funding. Additional focus on non-material education initiatives and exchanges would elevate this relationship to a higher level.

However, as this is a bilateral partnership, even if the Australian context were to be perfected, the obstacles present in Indonesia must still be overcome.

Difficulties in Indonesia 

There are already outspoken voices in Indonesia completely against, or at least resistant to, increased foreign involvement in the Indonesian education sector. This is due to an apprehension of increased foreign influence that is felt may work to weaken the Indonesia sector and undermine its current framework.

Professionals fear being unfairly pushed out and overwhelmed. However, there is opposition to this unenthusiastic response. The counter-view is prominently voiced by the Indonesian government who expresses that the guaranteed benefits, such as economic growth and “deeper cultural awareness and mutual understanding”, outweigh the potential risks. This lends a level of optimism that joint education initiatives will be successful. 

Additionally, there are also concerns over the quality and accessibility of education for school students. This problem is not dissimilar to the Australian issue where the quality of school education must be of a high level to ensure that later education initiatives are successful. There must be continued and sustained growth at the base level, for continued and sustained growth at the top level.

Heavy restrictions by the Indonesian government may also prove an issue. For example, it has been announced that longer-term foreign workers in Indonesia are required to speak the language. Such limitations may deter individuals from taking up the opportunities presented to them. 

The road ahead

There is no simple solution to these issues. To overcome such difficulties will require ongoing communication and constructive cooperation to take place between Australia and Indonesia.

Australian strength in their domestic Indonesian-focused education initiatives would provide a firm base that may encourage Indonesia to continue to push forward in its bilateral education goals.

Ultimately, there is great room for growth and development in the education sector of both Australia and Indonesia. Such growth may be viewed optimistically. However, both countries have obstacles to overcome and improvements to make. Essentially, success depends on the efforts put in by both partners.

Featured image courtesy of Flickr.


Georgia Eagleton
Georgia Eagleton
Georgia Eagleton is an intern with the Perth USAsia Centre.
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