The Jakarta Post
It is indeed a historic coincidence that the Asian-African Conference Commemoration (AACC) is held during the integration of ASEAN into a single community of nations with a cohesive political, security, economic and sociocultural landscape. University integration within the region could be a catalyst to make ASEAN emulate a community like the European Union.
Sixty years ago, the conference reiterated the importance of promoting higher education cooperation across the two continents.
As mandated in its final communiquÃ©, which was adopted in Bandung on April 24, 1955, three paragraphs stressed the importance of promoting higher education as an inherent part of the cooperation.
First, there were many countries in Asia and Africa that had not yet been able to develop their educational, scientific and technical institutions.
The conference recommended that countries in Asia and Africa that were more fortunate in this respect should facilitate the admission of students and trainees from such countries to their institutions.
It also mentioned that such facilities should be made available to Asian and African people in Africa to whom opportunities for acquiring higher education were at the time denied.
After the conference's long journey, in the ASEAN region, Singapore and Malaysia have proved great achievements in developing higher education. The education firm Pearson ranked Singapore in the top five countries providing the best education in the world, along with Finland, South Korea, Hong Kong and Japan in 2012. Singapore and Malaysia have made great reforms in their higher education sectors.
Singapore allows the establishment of foreign branch campuses (FBCs), such as the University of Newcastle, Curtin University, etc. Singapore now has 16 FBCs, hosting some 100,000 international students in undergraduate and graduate programs (UNESCO, 2012).
Similarly, Malaysia has nine FBCs with 136,000 international students there. Recently RMIT University from Australia was given permission to establish Vietnam's first FBC in 2011. Today, RMIT in Vietnam serves over 6,000 students through its campuses in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City.
Second, the conference felt that the promotion of cultural cooperation among the universities should be directed toward acquisition of knowledge of each other's countries, mutual cultural exchange and exchange of information.
In ASEAN, Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia, quantitatively, have shown great achievements in promoting their higher education. Regarding a gross enrollment ratio indicator, approximately three in 10 Indonesians are at the age of entering tertiary education, just behind Thailand and Malaysia.
Indonesia has 4,251 higher education institutions serving over 5.1 million students. This is a positive trend with a compounded annual growth rate of 6.1 percent as compared to total students of 3.8 million in 2009. With its existing gross domestic product (GDP) of US$2.55 trillion (2014), the World Bank records Indonesia as the ninth largest economy in the world.
With Indonesia's population of 252 million and purchasing power parity income of $10,157, its existing gross enrollment ratio will likely increase significantly to be equal with Malaysia or Thailand within the next few years.
However, only 25 higher education institutions obtained 'A' accreditation at the institutional level, representing only some 0.5 percent of the total institutions in Indonesia (Dikti, 2014).
In the Times Higher Education Asia University Rankings 2014, there were no Indonesian universities in the top 100.
In a report published by The Boston Consulting Group in May 2013, it was estimated that the talent gap for middle managers in Indonesia would reach as high as 56 percent.
This would result in the need to hire foreign talent in Indonesia to fill the gap.
In search of better quality education, there are 34,999 students leaving Indonesia to study abroad. With average fees of $12,000 per annum and assumed living expenses of $10,000 a year per student, this represents an estimated foreign exchange outflow of close to $1 billion for Indonesia.
Third, the conference communiquÃ© stated that the best results in cultural cooperation would be achieved by pursuing bilateral arrangements to implement its recommendations and by each country taking action on its own.
After six decades of the conference, such bilateral cooperation on higher education has not been properly implemented.
Indonesia could reform its higher education to speed up internationalization orientation as proposed by the conference in three major forms.
First, to send more Indonesian students and faculty members for advanced studies abroad on selected areas of great priority.
Second, in a pilot model, in each province, some public or private universities could integrate international dimensions into their teaching and learning, including the development of both English programs and bilingual ones (Indonesian and English).
Third, in a pilot approach, the provision of transnational programs in cooperation with foreign institutional partners in Indonesian universities, including the establishment of FBCs.
Indonesia could collaborate with international university networks like Laureate, which consistently implements the Bologna Process (1999), to ensure comparability in the standards and quality of higher education qualifications.
At the moment, under former president Bill Clinton as the honorary chancellor, this global university network includes more than 80 accredited campus-based and online universities across some 220 campuses and it has about one million students across 30 countries throughout North America, Latin America, Europe, North Africa, Asia and the Middle East.
Its education institutions in hospitality, management and tourism, for instance, could collaborate with a local university in Bali to develop such a center of excellence.
Such networks may become a very prospective partner for Indonesia and Asian and African countries to speed up their internationalization as voiced by the Asian-African Conference 60 years ago.
The writer is a professor at the State University of Jakarta (UNJ).
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