Indonesia debates bringing in foreign university rectors

Prominent intellectual argues against new government proposal, saying many ‘imported experts’ have ‘no adequate understanding of Indonesia’

June 17, 2016
Indonesia map
Source: iStock

There is fierce debate in Indonesia over a government plan to bring in foreign university rectors to improve the country’s higher education system.

In addition to wanting more foreign academics to come into the country, the government now wants overseas rectors to head up Indonesian universities to help improve quality, according to an exploration of the debate by Global Indonesian Voices.

“In addition to importing beef, rice, soya bean, garments and so on, does Indonesia, South East Asia’s largest economy, also need to import university rectors?” the outlet asks.

It has translated a critique of the plan by Azyumardi Azra, a prominent intellectual in Indonesia and former rector of Syarif Hidayatullah State Islamic University Jakarta.

He approves of more foreign professors and students, but was opposed to overseas rectors.

“Seemingly, the idea of bringing in rectors to lead state universities in Indonesia – and possibly private universities – is clearly an instant and short-cut method to improve Indonesian higher learning institutes so as to reach the international levels,” he writes. “As a matter of fact, there is no instant way of developing any institutions, also for higher learning institutes.”

Professor Azra, described by the University of Melbourne as “one of Southeast Asia’s most prominent liberal Muslim intellectuals”, said that it would be “inappropriate” for overseas rectors in their public roles to “‘teach’ our people about matters which they may not fully understand”.

“It is no secret that at this time many ‘imported experts’ like consultants have no adequate understanding of Indonesia,” he continued. “Many of them use our people on their behalf. In this case, our experts only function as their ‘coolies’.”

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