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On 13 July, Indonesia’s House of Representatives endorsed a controversial higher education bill which opens the country to foreign private providers, gives local public universities more financial autonomy, and obliges state-owned higher education institutions to allocate 20% of places in all faculties to outstanding, but economically disadvantaged, students. The bill was greeted with protests by Indonesian students who suspect that the presence of foreign private providers and the so-called ‘financial autonomy’ given to public institutions imply the commercialisation of higher education and therefore potential tuition fee hikes. The Indonesian government, however, is convinced of the positive impact of such changes on the quality of higher education in Indonesia. It maintains that the endorsed bill as a ‘pro-poor bill’ that widens access to higher education in Indonesia, as well as a measure to arrest brain drain through keeping bright Indonesian students at home.
Commercialisation is not the only fear among the Indonesians, however. They are also afraid of the indoctrination of foreign values and the loss of Indonesian cultural values, despite the many restrictions laid down for foreign providers in the bill. According to the new act, foreign universities must be non-profit-making, operate under government control, partner with Indonesian universities, and uphold Indonesia’s religious and national political ideology – Pancasila. The government control goes as far as determining the locations at which foreign universities can operate, the programmes they can offer, and the required recruitment of Indonesian lecturers and staffers. It only stops short of regulating the curriculum.
Currently, only slightly more than a quarter of Indonesian high school graduates have access to higher education within Indonesia. Borrowing the expertise and experience of foreign providers is undoubtedly a short-cut to boost the capacity of the Indonesian higher education system. The question is: how much is left to be borrowed from a domesticated foreign operation?