New scholarships for study at world's top universities

In an effort to increase the number of people with postgraduate qualifications in Indonesia, the government this month launched the Indonesia Presidential Scholarships, which are tenable at the world's top universities.

The international scholarships require Indonesian applicants to be accepted at a university abroad before they can apply.

They are intended to cover the expense of studying at 50 top-ranked universities in the United States, United Kingdom, China, Canada, Australia, Japan, Switzerland, Germany, France, Singapore, South Korea, Denmark, Egypt and Saudi Arabia.

World-class universities such as Harvard, Columbia, Cambridge and Oxford are included in the list.

Indonesia's President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono said the scholarship would help "prepare future leaders who can lead the country in the next 10 or 20 years so that our country will not only become an emerging economy, but, in time, an advanced country."

Minister of Education and Culture Mohammad Nuh has said the government is aiming for 100 grantees every year. Just over 50 have so far passed the selection process - 28 female students and 23 males - with registration still open until 20 April.

Two will be attending Harvard, one Stanford, three Oxford, two the University of Tokyo, six Imperial College London, seven University College London, eight Australian National University and three the University of Edinburgh.

The substantial scholarships, announced just a week before legislative elections on 9 April, have been criticised by Max Sopacua, deputy chair of the Democratic Party, who said the timing of the launch was a political strategy to boost the ruling party during the election.

The popularity of the president's party has sunk to below 10% due to a graft scandal involving its high-ranking officials.

A presidential election will also take place in July although Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, who has already served two terms, cannot be re-elected under current rules.

The youth vote is considered crucial in the legislative elections, the results of which will be declared in May. Some 50 million out of the total of 189 million registered voters are under 29 years. All parties were trying to overcome general youth voter apathy ahead of the election.

However, the timing allegation was refuted by the education minister. "We've been working on it since last year. That it was announced close to election day is pure coincidence," Ibnu Hamad, the ministry's spokesperson, told University World News.

A forerunner to the scholarship was launched in 2010 when then Finance Minister Sri Mulyani Indrawati, who is now managing director of the World Bank Group, began to set aside some money to be managed as an endowment fund.

In November 2011, her successor as finance minister Agus Martowardojo, now governor of Bank Indonesia, established a working group to prepare an institution to manage the fund in collaboration with the education ministry.

After almost three years of establishing the endowment with 20% of the funds provided by allocations from the state budget between 2010 and 2013, the scholarships were finally launched on 2 April.

Indonesians aged up to 35 years can apply for postgraduate degree study overseas, while the maximum age for a doctoral applicant is 40.

The scholarships will cover the fields of agriculture, medicine, food, energy, IT, telecommunication, technology, science, economy, finance, business, economics, law, religion, politics, and social and cultural sciences.

Grantees will be obliged to return to Indonesia after completing studies abroad, with sanctions imposed on those who do not return.