Life

Anies R. Baswedan: Young
nationalist with a global
view

Anies Baswedan could well be unaware of just how many people he has wowed, including, on two occasions, his aides.

The first occasion came when he was selected rector of Paramadina University last year, replacing legendary Muslim scholar and founder, the late Nurcholis Madjid.

The appointment made Anies, born in Kuningan, West Java, on May 7, 1969, the youngest university rector in the country.

A second wave of admiration poured over him when the prestigious U.S-based Foreign Policy magazine included Anies in its list of 100 world public intellectuals in its May-June edition.

Anies, who received his PhD from Northern Illinois University, the U.S., was placed among global pundits, including Samuel Huntington, Francis Fukuyama and Nobel laureates Al Gore and Muhammad Yunus.

In its website, the magazine, published in Washington by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said Anies was the youngest university president and had been involved in activism against former president Soeharto.

"I'm humbled by my inclusion in the magazine's list. Actually many Indonesian intellectuals are also deserving of a place. I dedicate it to Indonesia," Anies told The Jakarta Post at his office on Paramadina University's campus last week.

Revealing he did not subscribe to the magazine, Anies said the inclusion was based on his recent appointment as well as his past intellectual activities.

Anies has frequently joined international seminars and written papers in scientific journals, especially in the United States, and has been involved in activities uncommon to local intellectuals.

For some, especially elderly people or those well versed in Indonesia's history, his family name recalls respected nationalist and independence activist Abdurrahman Baswedan, more commonly known as AR Baswedan, who is Anies' grandfather.

"I grew up in a house in Yogykarta that was inundated with a nuance of activism. That probably contributed. When I was in the third grade, I was asked to type up my grandfather's letters. It was kind of his way of educating me," he said.

Talking with Anies, it becomes easier to believe in a bright future for Indonesia. While admitting the country faces huge hurdles, he reasonably explains the problems and offers solutions.

"Yes, Indonesia is unique, but the country is not so particular that we could not apply any theory in political sciences to understand the problems," he said.

He is currently concerned with what he calls the "industrialization of education", which makes education, especially university, unattainable for the poor, and which he said could trigger mass outrage.

He said only the rich, who have the privilege to study at top private high-schools and private courses, would have the opportunity to enroll in respected universities.

"This didn't happen in the past, as schools were of similar quality, so entrance depended on student intellect and not economic background.

"Yes, I agree quality education is expensive. The State should play their role to give access to all. It would be dangerous if we allowed huge numbers of smart people to miss out on higher education due to being underprivileged," Anies said.

He said Paramadina cooperated with companies and individuals to give full scholarships to selected students -- Rp 65 million to Jakarta students and Rp 100 million to students outside the city -- to study at private universities. The Post is one of program's supporters.

"We select students who are not only clever, but who are also talented in certain areas, including writing. We would create graduates who do not offer CVs but create business proposals, meaning we hope they would not ask for jobs but create jobs," he said.

Besides his interest in education, Anies also campaigned against corruption on his campus by establishing mandatory lectures on ethics and anti-corruption.

"It's the first mandatory lecture ever at an Indonesian university. We don't want to claim for property rights; other universities want to download the module, it's free," he said.

His involvement in anti-graft campaigns started when he returned from the U.S. to work as a national advisor to the Partnership for Governance Reform, a respected NGO campaigning for good governance.

He also teamed up with some intellectuals of the Indonesia Survey Institute, known for conducting independent political research and polls, especially during local and general elections.

In this role, he was commonly seen on TV as an insightful political analyst offering deep theoretical reasoning and data.

Some probably admired the way he talked, while others envied his "success" gained at a relatively young age, and criticized him for being too Western-minded.

"We could think globally without being Western. Although, the actual meaning of the 'Western' label is still open to debate," he said.

His achievements have garnered the rector hefty praise among friends.

"I hope he also thinks of the welfare of university lecturers and employees," writer and lecturer of Paramadina's Faculty of Psychology, Nova Riyantu Yusuf, told the Post.

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