No stampede of foreign universities despite new laws

No foreign university has applied to operate in Indonesia despite laws passed last year that were designed to make it easier for foreign institutions to set up on a non-profit basis in collaboration with local universities.

Higher Education Director General Djoko Santoso confirmed that to date no foreign university was operating in Indonesia.

Although several unnamed foreign universities had met with the department, “not even a single proposal” had been received by the ministry, he said, despite reports that at least two Australian institutions had shown interest.

The issue of foreign branch campuses was the subject of hot debate during the passage of the controversial Higher Education Bill in July 2012.

Article 90 states that foreign universities can open a branch if the university is accredited and-or recognised in its home country, and has permission from the Indonesian government. Foreign institutions must be non-profit and collaborate with an Indonesian university, and are required to hire Indonesian lecturers and staff.

According to Djoko, foreign universities’ reluctance may be due to the non-profit provision. “Usually a foreign university who wants to come to Indonesia is seeking [to do it] for money, but since it is compulsory to be non-profit, they are discouraged,” Djoko told University World News.

If a foreign university accepts the non-profit provision and their operations in Indonesia generate profits, the money should be used to develop the branch, he said.

Collaborative approach

Australia’s Monash University was tipped to be one of the first to set up a branch campus in Indonesia.

But Eugene Sebastian, director of global engagement in the vice-chancellor’s office at Monash, who was in Jakarta last week, told University World News: “No physical presence is planned for Indonesia.

“In a restrictive regulatory environment, more flexible, fluid, innovative and ‘win-win' partnership models are required,” he said. These included research partnerships and higher degree research training.

This model has been pursued by Monash University in India in the absence of laws on foreign branch campuses there. The Australian university has a collaboration with the Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay, in the form of a joint doctoral training academy.

Sebastian said that rather than a branch campus, Monash’s focus in Indonesia would be on “strengthening existing institutional relationships” around specific themes of manufacturing innovation, education, primary health and sustainable development.

“These activities will now take place under the new Australian Centre for Indonesia Studies, which Monash will lead,” he said.

The new centre, based at Monash in Melbourne, will include the University of Melbourne, the Australian National University and Australia’s national scientific research organisation CSIRO, and has attracted substantial Australian government funding.

“A mirror centre is also planned for Indonesia. The centre will also draw the best Indonesian universities and connect both centres,” he said.

Uncertain environment

Such approaches are the result of an uncertain regulatory environment.

Despite the Indonesian bill’s passage last year, the government has still to determine the areas to allow foreign university participation, and the types of courses and disciplines they may offer.

Education Minister Mohammad Nuh was recently quoted in local media as saying that Indonesia would not follow the example set by Malaysia, which he claimed had allowed foreign universities to enter without preconditions.

“If we let foreign universities stand independently [in Indonesia], we will get stuck in an educational liberalisation. We will provide detailed rules through government regulation for any foreign institution that wants to enter our country,” he said.

In 2007 the ministry issued rules on foreign university operations in Indonesia under Ministerial Regulation No. 26, regarding cooperation between Indonesian and foreign universities. But it is more vague than the 2012 bill and has not been updated.

The 2007 regulation states that cooperation between an Indonesian and foreign university could be in the form of a management contract, or a new joint university could be established. However the regulation does not elaborate the terms of establishing a joint university. This condition was presented in the Higher Education Bill.

“If the Ministerial Regulation contradicts the Higher Education Bill, it cannot be used” as a basis for setting up a campus, said Djoko, adding that all regulations must refer to the bill.

But with no proposals received so far from foreign universities, Djoko sees no immediate need to align the ministerial regulation with the bill. “I don’t think it is urgent,” said Djoko, who is a former rector of Bandung Institute of Technology.