The Jakarta Post
Fathahillah Zuhri, 25, a recipient of the Endowment Fund for Education (LPDP) scholarship, completed his graduate degree in energy change at the Australian National University in Canberra at the end of last year. He said he liked the program because, unlike regular engineering courses, it also taught him about the environmental, economic, political and social impact of energy.
A native Acehnese, Fathah believes that his new expertise will enable him to make a greater contribution to sustainable development in Indonesia, especially in his home province.
“Many experts today cannot work efficiently because engineers don’t understand society while the social experts don’t understand technology,” Fathah, who holds a Bachelor’s degree in engineering physics from the Bandung Institute of Technology, told The Jakarta Post from Canberra recently.
He is currently interning at an Australian energy startup to get hands-on experience on the subject and plans to return to Aceh upon completion of his internship.
Fathah is one of 5,700 Indonesians who have completed their overseas studies funded by the LPDP, currently the country’s largest and arguably most popular scholarship program. The scholarship, managed by the Finance Ministry, is immensely popular because it is open to people working in the private sector. Other state scholarship programs are only open to civil servants and lecturers at public universities.
The LPDP has given scholarships to more than 18,000 people since 2013, or about 3,600 recipients per year, and financed their studies at world-class universities as well as top local universities.
As of this year, 63 percent of the 5,700 alumni studied abroad with the most popular destinations being the United Kingdom, the Netherlands and the United States. As if that number is not enough, the government will inject a record Rp 30 trillion (US$2.3 billion) in endowment funds into the program this year.
The massive investment poured onto the program was driven by the idea that Indonesia urgently needs to develop its human capital if it wants to thrive in innovation and technology to boost economic growth and escape from the middle-income trap. “Resource boom is over,” former finance minister Chatib Basri said in an interview with the Post to discuss the scholarship when he was still in office.
In the interview, Chatib also highlighted what the state expected from the awardees particularly those who study abroad: “Return to Indonesia.”
The awardees are contractually bound to return to the country upon completion of their studies, with few exceptions. An LPDP official told the Post that 94 percent have returned home, with 5 percent of the remaining alumni securing approval from the LPDP to extend their stay as their work after graduation was deemed beneficial to Indonesia. The data also shows that 1 percent was reminded to come home.
The government and LPDP have encouraged awardees to return to Indonesia by repeatedly inculcating national sentiment, including by making them sign an oath of loyalty to the country, and obligating them to pay for the scholarships if they do not return.
Of those who have returned home, according to the LPDP, 40 percent worked in the public sector as academics, civil servants and security forces; 40 percent worked in the private sector, at state-owned enterprises and some were entrepreneurs; 18 percent continued their education and 2 percent worked in the social sector.
It is probably hard to measure the benefits that the nation gains from the scholarship program at this point. For that, LPDP alumni have come under constant fire for allegedly not making a real contribution to society. The latest criticism appeared in a thread on Twitter hashtag #ShitLPDPAwardeesSay, mocking the alumni for experiencing culture shock and looking down on their home country and fellow citizens after being exposed to the West rather than trying to right the wrongs with their new skills.
This problem of quantifying the results of a scholarship program is not new but the Twitter responses show that the Indonesian public, or netizens at least, demand more tangible outcomes.
Alumnus Affan Feizal, who is working at an advertising agency in Jakarta, argued that it was difficult to measure the program’s impact.
Affan is a second generation awardee who completed his Master’s degree in design and advertising in the UK last year.
Nevertheless, the alumni have tried to raise awareness of their activities by forming the Mata Garuda organization in 2015, which has a website, an Instagram account and a Facebook account, which regularly posts on their achievements and events they hold such as web seminars, discussions, talent shows and even aerobic classes.
“We focus on more concrete actions by directly going down to the field,” said Danang Rizki Ginanjar, the outgoing chairman of Mata Garuda.
Budi Waluyo, a scholarship-impact researcher, argued that while the LPDP might contribute to overall economic growth, it was limited in its ability to bring about social progress.
He pointed out the problem with the LPDP program was that it measured success using the “outdated” model of economic growth whereas global scholarship trends measured success with social justice.
“The success of scholarship programs should be seen from how they affect the well-being and freedom of people as it can indirectly influence social change and economic output,” he said. (nor)