Challenges to the Internationalization of Higher Education


By: Hafid Abbas

During the last few weeks, there has been a controversial debate over the draft of the Higher Education Act. This draft was planned to be adopted by the parliamentary session by the end of 2011.

However, due to some remaining unresolved issues, the draft adoption had to be postponed to next year’s session agenda. According to Djoko Santoso, director general of higher education, one of the controversial issues over the draft was internationalization.

Indeed, this should not be a problem according to Djoko because its modality is so clear. Foreign universities are welcome to establish themselves in Indonesia, but they have to follow our system and collaborate with our national universities, including in terms of curriculum development and management (Kompas, Dec. 6, 2011).

To promote internationalization, as a member and founder of ASEAN, Indonesia has to consistently implement ASEAN mechanisms. As an example, at the Joint Declaration on Comprehensive Partnership between ASEAN and the United Nations, which was adopted at the 19th ASEAN Summit in Bali on Nov. 19, 2011, notes in paragraph 5.4.: “… encourage further cooperation of the ASEAN University Network (AUN), in increasing students’ mobility and exchanges, creating a network among universities in ASEAN Countries as well as in enhancing people-to-people contact.”

Similarly, as a member of the United Nations, Indonesia has to consistently implement adopted international mechanisms. As an example, the 27th UNESCO session in Paris on Nov. 13, 1993, adopted recommendations on the Recognition of Studies and Qualifications in Higher Education.

In paragraph 19, it states that member states should encourage the setting up of mechanisms such as evaluation and accrediting bodies for the purpose of assuring the quality of higher education studies and should also encourage international cooperation among such mechanisms and bodies.

After almost two decades of the recommendation, Indonesia is likely still far behind in implementing this mechanism.

Apparently, European countries have successfully implemented it through the Bologna Process.

The Bologna Process aimed to create a European Higher Education Area by 2010, in which students would be able choose from a wide and transparent range of high quality courses and benefit from smooth recognition procedures.

This process was adopted in June 1999, six years after the 27th UNESCO Session. The process has triggered a series of reforms needed to make European higher education more accountable, compatible, more competitive and more attractive for Europeans and for students and scholars from other continents.

To address both regional and global challenges, as a comparative perspective, Malaysia could be a sound example on how its higher education has been developed in such a way that it could bring its universities, step by step, to an international level. In the past two or three decades, Malaysia invited a few international world-class universities to establish their campuses in Malaysia.

In 1999, for example, Malaysia invited Curtin University, Australia, and the University of Nottingham, the UK, to establish campuses in Malaysia.

Interestingly, the Malaysian government already has a master plan for the development of campus locations for each invitee.

Curtin University, for example, is located in Miri, Sarawak, which in the past was a relatively underdeveloped area.

Through this policy, the area is now greatly developed and is a destination for tertiary education, not only for Malaysian students but also for students from some other 40 countries throughout the world.

The presence of some 70,000 foreign students will act as a great revenue contribution to the Malaysian economy.

Another example is China. As reported by the Chinese Ministry of Education (2010):

During 1978 to 1992, the internationalization of higher education in China was essentially motivated by a desire for realizing “the four modernizations”, which were modernizations of industry, agriculture, defense and science and technology, through implementation of economic reform.

Under this policy reform, currently the internationalization of higher education in China takes three major forms: (1) studying abroad, including dispatching Chinese students abroad and members of faculty for advanced studies or research and attracting foreign students; (2) the integration of an international dimension into university teaching and learning, including introducing foreign textbooks, references and the development of both English programs and bilingual programs (Chinese and English); and (3) the provision of transnational programs in cooperation with foreign institutional partners in Chinese universities.

As an example, since several years ago, a few Chinese universities such as Hunan International Economics University and Sichuan Tianyi University, have been collaborating with Laureate International University as one of the international leaders in higher education in medical sciences, hospitality management, art, architecture and design.

Through this reform, China is now one of the top 10 largest countries in hosting international students.

For Indonesia, in my view, one of the inherent prerequisites to internationalization of higher education is to accelerate an improvement to its basic parameters, such as 6,000 unaccredited or illegal study programs (Kompas, Feb. 17, 2010), 42 percent of all lecturers unqualified (undergraduate degrees), only 6-7 percent of some 17,000-18,000 study programs accredited excellent and lastly, dual management, such as the ministries of Education and Culture and Religious Affairs.

Also, accessibility to public higher education institutions needs to be urgently increased, and through step-by-step compensation, the phasing out of some 1,000-2,000 under qualified private education insititutions needs to take place.

Just a comparison, China with its 1.34 billion population has only some 2,263 higher education institutions (Fact about China Education, 2011), while Indonesia, four to five times smaller than China, has more than 3,000 private institutions.

This is a great challenge to move forward to a better Indonesia through comprehensive reform in higher education, which will meet international standards.


Notice: This opinion article was quoted in an online newspaper The Jakarta Post, on Saturday, 31 January 2011. It is able to be retrived at: [accessed in Bandung, West Java, Indonesia: January 7, 2012].

Hafid Abbas is former Director General of Human Rights at the Law and Human Rights Ministry; former UNESCO Consultant in the Asia and Pacific Region; and currently also as a Professor at UNJ (Universitas Negeri Jakarta or Jakarta State University).



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