Earlier this month the International Unit, in collaboration with the British Council, led a
delegation of thirteen UK universities to Indonesia. The purpose of the delegation was: 1) to understand the implications of recent elections and changes in the structure of government departmental responsibilities - in particular, with regard to the DIKTI scholarship scheme; 2) to promote the strength of the UK higher education sector and underline the fact that excellence can be found in a wide range of institutions; and 3), to create opportunities for UK universities to meet Indonesian counterparts and explore the potential for institutional agreements.
The delegation, led by Professor Andrew Wathey, Vice-Chancellor of Northumbria University included Vice-Chancellors and Pro-Vice Chancellors from the Universities of Aberdeen, Birmingham, Bournemouth, Coventry, Harper Adams, Huddersfield, Leicester, Middlesex, Queen Mary University of London. The Universities of Reading, Warwick, West of Scotland, Liverpool and Manchester also joined the delegation for the policy meetings in Jakarta. The programme consisted of meetings with DIKTI (the Government department responsible for higher education) and RISTEK (the department responsible for research) who are in the process of merging; as well as the LPDP, an endowment fund which manages Indonesian scholarships. The delegation also met Minister for Research, Technology and Higher Education, Muhammad Nasir, Deputy Minister for Science and Technology Networks, Agus R Hoetman and the Deputy Minister for Education and Religious Affairs, Professor Agus Sartono.
Alongside this the delegation took part in two speed-dating sessions with 32 Indonesian universities, and participated in a conference on the topic of knowledge exchange and university business links.
The demand for UK institutions to host Indonesian PhD scholars was a consistent theme in our discussions. The Indonesian government has a target to increase the number of PhD qualified lecturers from about 11% of teaching staff to 25% but they don't have the capacity to do this without foreign university support. Deputy Minister Agus Sartono made it clear the Indonesian Government wants more students to come to the UK.
In fact, just after we left Indonesia, Minister Nasir announced the government's intention to substantially increase government investment in increasing the qualification levels of Indonesian academic staff. In an announcement that has received little coverage so far - but spotted by our colleagues in the British Council - he said that as many as 7000 scholarship quota has been made available for lecturers who wish to continue their education to MA or PhD level. For those whose fluency in Bahasa is limited, Theresa Birks, Director of Education and Society in the British Council provides the following translation:
"Increasing the quality of lecturers is one of the priorities of the Ministry of Research, Technology and HE," said [Minister Nasir] in Bengkulu, Saturday 21/3
Increasing the capacity of these lecturers is also connected to increasing the quality of higher education institutes, he said. "Including the process of accreditation, one of the indicators is the condition of teaching staff," he said. He stated that these scholarships would be accessible to teachers in higher education via a selection process. Some of the study destinations will be overseas."
In view of this one of the most important topics of conversation was UK eligibility for participation in Indonesian government-funded-scholarships.
LPDP - an endowment fund at arms-length from the Indonesian government which offers a range of scholarships for study abroad - restricts participation in their schemes to the top 200 universities worldwide, according to QS rankings, with a few exceptions.
This means that it misses many institutions with established strengths in areas of interest to the Indonesian government.
These restrictive conditions will become even more of a concern if the scholarship scheme for Indonesian lecturers who want to undertake PhDs - known to us as the DIKTI scholarship - is transferred to LPDP management. Although we have been told that this will happen, the timing of this transfer is still rather unclear. During discussions we received assurances that lecturers can currently apply for DIKTI scholarships (with the existing eligibility requirements) via the DIKTI website.
However it was suggested that the scheme is likely to be transferred to LPDP in 2016. Unless we can persuade LPDP to expand their list of eligible institutions, many UK universities currently hosting successful Indonesian postgraduate scholars may be unable to participate in future.
During our meetings with Ministers and with the LPDP itself, Professor Andrew Wathey presented the results of the REF2014 and explained how Indonesian officials and universities can use this resource to identify research strengths across the sector. In response we were assured by both DIKTI and LPDP that institutions can apply to LPDP to be included in their list and- even if they are not top 200 institutions. Our team in the International Unit is now in discussions with LPDP to establish the best mechanism for universities make the case for inclusion in the LPDP list, and we will report back to the UK sector shortly. Meanwhile we will also pursue a sector-level agreement based on robust and publicly available data, such as we have with many other countries.
During the visit we also discussed the Newton Fund - which has been slow to get off the ground in Indonesia partly because of the misalignment of financial years in the UK and Indonesia, and partly because of the change in the machinery of departmental structures. However we were encouraged by the indications that the both DIKTI and RISTEK are enthusiastic about the opportunities presented by the fund. The British Council has already launched calls for the Researcher Links and Institutional Links schemes in Indonesia. The first Newton funded event - a science diplomacy workshop - was held during out visit, with participation from Manchester and Liverpool. We need to work hard to make sure we don't miss the boat for year two of Newton - it is really frustrating that so little has happened there in year one.
So, other than policy discussion, what else will come out of this? I think it is all about the follow-up. With input from the institutions who came on the trip we have worked up a programme of follow up activity which should help sustain momentum in our engagement with Indonesia. This will include an inward visit by Indonesian university leaders in June to coincide with the British Council's Going Global conference in London and work with the British Embassy and British Council to promote the UK HE sector in Indonesia. We will also publish a detailed report of our recent visit so that the insights we gained can be shared more widely with the HE sector.
I think strengthening links with Indonesia is likely to remain near the top of our list of priorities for the coming year and beyond. For me, this visit confirmed the role that the International Unit can play in assisting individual universities and the sector as a whole in their own efforts to forge partnerships with Indonesian counterparts, and strengthen ties through the education of postgraduate students.