(a version of this blog first appeared through my day-job in Jan 2013)
Indonesia is the second country I visited while promoting the Asia Pacific edition of Blue Skies, with stops in Bali and Jakarta. It is an incredibly big, ambitious and diverse place, comprising an archipelago of over 17,500 islands. It is the fourth most populous country in the world with nearly 250m people, 87% of whom are Muslim (the largest Muslim population in the world). Despite being badly hit by the Asian Financial Crisis of the late 1990’s Indonesia recovered well and today has a strong and vibrant economy, maintaining a growth rate of about 6% throughout the recent global recession. Together these factors help make it a rising regional power, a part of the G20 and a founding member of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).
There are a staggering number and variety of universities in Indonesia, with estimates of about 3,000 different providers, including both public and private institutions. The sector varies massively, with some globally competitive centres of excellence and at the other end some quite dubious bearers of the university name. There are also many vocational and technical institutions focused on a particular industry such as agriculture, fisheries or shipping. Public universities are state-funded and increasingly self-governing, with recent moves by the government to grant them more autonomy and improve their governance. These public institutions are also more prestigious than their private counterparts, getting first pick of applicants based on their performance in competitive final high school national examinations. Private universities are a diverse group but include many religious institutions. Most university courses are fee-paying and relatively expensive, with students usually needing to leave home.
It seems that HE provision is often still quite traditional across Indonesia, with lecturer-centred approaches that focus on knowledge and exams. There is a sense that university does not prepare many learners sufficiently for future careers, with graduate unemployment at about 10%, among the highest in the region. Many employers need to train their recent hires to make them work-ready and graduates often end up working in areas outside their subject of study. There are moves to teach English and employability skills but so far these are rarely integrated across courses or focus upon ‘21st Century skills’. There are some moves to support entrepreneurship (by staff and learners) and community outreach but again these seem sporadic. If Indonesia is to fulfil its massive potential then it seems more important than ever that all of its universities emulate the best practice found nationally, regionally and internationally.