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Monash in Indonesia: stimulus for international research or doom for local universities?

Prior to plans of establishing a satellite campus in Jakarta, Monash University has previously set up branches in Malaysia (above) and China. Shutterstock

Indonesia’s academics are divided over how Monash University’s plan to open a branch here will impact the country’s higher education sector.

Monash will be the first foreign university to open a branch campus in Indonesia. The Australian university announced the plan shortly after Indonesia ratified a comprehensive economic agreement with Australia, dubbed the IA-CEPA, earlier this month.

This agreement makes it easier for Australian entities, including universities, to invest in Indonesia.

Meanwhile, the potential presence of foreign universities in Indonesia has always been a hotly debated topic among academics.

Read more: Welcoming foreign universities: is it a good deal for Indonesians?

Some say that foreign branch campuses will revitalise Indonesia’s university research climate by opening up more avenues for international research collaboration.

Other scholars, however, are worried that if not regulated carefully, foreign campuses can upset Indonesia’s higher education market and close down smaller local universities that are unprepared for competition.

A gateway for research collaboration…

Dicky Pelupessy, a lecturer at the University of Indonesia, is among those that welcome the planned Monash campus.

Although he admits that Monash’s intention is primarily to capitalise on Indonesia’s higher education market, he is excited about the prospect of scientific collaboration.

“The truth is that with or without a branch campus here, many Indonesians will continue to go abroad for their advanced studies. A Monash closer to home can instead be leveraged for more intense collaboration with our local scientific community,” he said.

Drawing from his experience studying in Victoria University, Melbourne - which also operates a joint business school with Liaoning University in China - Dicky says the planned branch campus will make Indonesia’s research climate more lively.

“They [international branch campuses] make knowledge production and the movement of academics much more fluid. The exposure makes it easier for our researchers to engage with Monash’s network of academics, be it in Jakarta or Monash in other countries,” he said.

A recent study from Sweden supports Dicky’s assessment.

It found that branch campuses can act as bridges between their home institutions’ network of partners and local universities where the branch campus resides, spurring more international research collaborations.

The research authors found that publications produced by branch campuses in Qatar, China, Malaysia and the UAE performed better than the national average. In Malaysia, for example, the average citation impact for branch campuses in 2016 was around the 1.4 mark while the national average lagged at around 0.9.

Read more: Indonesia races against its ASEAN neighbours, but science needs more collaboration

…or worsening the higher education gap?

Others, however, are not as enthusiastic about the planned Monash campus. Private Universities Association (APTISI) chairman Budi Djatmiko, for instance, worries foreign campuses might disrupt the market for smaller private universities.

“I hope that the government will first improve private universities’ quality before telling them to compete [with foreign universities]. Private universities aren’t given much attention as most of the higher education budget goes to state universities,” he said as quoted by The Jakarta Post.

“They [foreign universities] should only offer study programs that aren’t commonly available in Indonesia so that there won’t be head-to-head competition. Otherwise, there will be [market] shifts, and consequently, smaller universities won’t have students anymore.”

Indonesia has nine universities in the top 1000 QS World University Rankings. Only one of them - Binus University - is a private institution, ranking between 800th-1000th place. Indonesia’s other private universities – some 3,000 of them – did not make the cut. Monash, on the other hand, ranks 58th on the same list.

Read more: Branching out: why universities open international campuses despite little reward

Dicky believes that Monash’s branch campus in Indonesia will not disrupt small private universities because Monash will only offer graduate and postgraduate programs.

“They are merely moving closer to a market that already favours them in the first place.”

Astadi Pangarso, a lecturer of business administration at Telkom University said the presence of Monash in Indonesia could have spillover effects to Indonesian universities, both state and private.

“We must give Monash a chance to prove that they can increase the quality of research output from Indonesian universities and participate in academic exchanges to help local lecturers improve,” he said

“I believe that there is a lot to learn from them, [from] their teaching style, organisation culture, to the way they link their research output to industry players.”

Preparing for future branch campuses

Although Dicky’s views on the planned Monash campus is mostly positive as he believes Monash has a proven academic track record, he warns that the government must scrutinise future proposals for branch campuses.

“If the government chooses to liberalise its higher education sector, they then have an important role, not for protectionism but to ensure these open market decisions actually help develop our higher education,” he said.

“There must be strict regulations to filter the best-suited universities. Just because it’s foreign does not mean it is good.”

A 2012 American study suggests that only universities with the capacity and experience of establishing branch campuses with a quality closely matching its home campus can actually increase the social welfare and academic quality of its host country.

Otherwise, branch campuses will just act as foreign hubs that drain students and scientific resources back to its main campus, leaving little impact to host universities.

Read more: How South Korea and Taiwan grew their economies, while Malaysia and Indonesia trailed behind

“Monash is just the first amongst many that will come. There must be a strict set of criteria. I propose the following: research capacity, academic track record, and prospects of international collaboration,” Dicky added.

Inaya Rakhmani, an assistant professor at Universitas Indonesia is another academic among those cautious of foreign universities entering Indonesia’s higher education sector.

She told us her concerns a few months ago when the Monash branch campus was still in its planning stages.

“Without them [strict criteria and enforcement of Indonesia’s higher education] those who will benefit from this scheme are players who are already doing well, primarily those foreign Anglo Saxon universities,” she said.

“I’m not xenophobic, but all of those collaborations need to be mutually beneficial in which our academic community are being elevated through the co-operations, not just as a market that’s exploited by those players.”

The new Monash campus will be located in a special economic zone in South Tangerang, Greater Jakarta. It is slated to open graduate and doctoral programs by late 2021, as well as micro-credentials [certification programs] and classes for executives as soon as later this year.

Monash officials say that their target is to accommodate at least 2,000 master’s students, 1,000 executive education students and 100 doctoral students by 2030.

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