More universities expected to follow Monash’s lead in Indonesia

Money is not the point, Australian institution insists, as it opens the door to a new higher education frontier

February 21, 2020
Source: Alamy

Monash University’s Jakarta campuses could be the first of many foreign university offshoots on Indonesian soil, as another big economy opens its doors to bricks-and-mortar transnational education.

Pundits said Monash’s arrival could launch Indonesia as an international education hub, just as it did in Malaysia more than 20 years ago. At least one other Australian university plans to follow Monash’s lead in establishing a comprehensive campus in the archipelagic nation of more than 260 million people.

A former US ambassador is said to be negotiating on behalf of a prominent American university that wants to do likewise, while institutions in China, Japan and the UK are also thought to be in discussions with the Indonesian government.

Melbourne higher education adviser Vin Massaro said Monash’s move was “significant”, signalling the Indonesian government’s confidence that it had the right measures in place to harness branch campuses as beneficial additions to the country’s higher education landscape − arrangements that were lacking a decade ago, when Professor Massaro consulted on behalf of a foreign entity looking to establish a private university there.

He said that as a top-100 ranked university, Monash would have instilled confidence. “It will be interesting to see what happens next,” he said. “Does the government allow in a lot more [branch campuses] in a hurry, which is what Malaysia did? Or do they take it a step at a time and make sure they have their formula right?”

Either way, Indonesia could eventually rival neighbours Malaysia, Singapore and China as the countries hosting most foreign university branch campuses, along with the Middle Eastern hubs of Qatar and the United Arab Emirates.

More than 70 countries have foreign branch campuses of one sort or another, according to the US-based Cross-Border Education Research Team, including other huge and rapidly growing nations like Bangladesh, Mexico and Nigeria.

But these outposts often focus on teaching niche areas such as business, hospitality or nursing, and many are the offspring of business schools rather than comprehensive universities. Monash Indonesia is the spawn of a comprehensive research university planning to teach a wide range of disciplines exclusively at the postgraduate level.

Andrew MacIntyre, Monash’s senior pro vice-chancellor for south-east Asia partnerships, brushed off the main criticism of foreign branch campuses: that they do not turn a buck. He said no institution focused on maximising revenue would contemplate a branch campus.

Delivering offshore programmes in tandem with a local partner made more sense, because “you don’t bear any of the big overheads and you can make a lot of money. But you can’t build your profile, and you certainly can’t build research engagement in that country.

“This will give us the opportunity to make a conspicuous contribution to Indonesia’s development. If we succeed, that will help us advance our overall mission, which is − at the risk of sounding glib − contributing to the betterment of society.”

Monash’s least successful foreign venture was in South Africa, where it launched in 2001 as the first international university registered to operate as a private higher education institution. But the campus proved costly and was sold off last decade. Professor MacIntyre said the university had learnt from that episode and “won’t be having a repeat of the South African experience”.

The university appears to have sidestepped other possible deal-breakers, including Indonesian restrictions on campuses’ capacity to recruit and requirements to partner with a local institution and teach mandatory units in areas like citizenship and state ideology. Professor MacIntyre said the campus would be wholly owned and able to hire international academics as required, and the subject requirements only applied to undergraduate programmes.

Among the other Australian institutions supposedly considering Indonesian campuses, the universities of Melbourne and Queensland have ruled the idea out. Charles Darwin University has not, although it says its new Darwin campus is its “current priority”.

RMIT University is understood to have decided against expanding into Indonesia, although it would not confirm this. But Central Queensland University plans to establish a “full comprehensive campus” offering qualifications from vocational to postgraduate level.  

Vice-chancellor Nick Klomp said Central Queensland already worked with universities in Java and Sulawesi on joint research projects and capacity-building programmes for Indonesian doctoral graduates, focusing on Indonesian government priority areas like agriculture and technology.

He said Central Queensland also delivered dual master’s programmes with Bakrie University in Jakarta and had obtained its own premises in Jakarta for delivering corporate training programmes.

While an Indonesian campus would be its first outside Australia, Central Queensland already boasts the “largest footprint” of any university in the country, with 16 campuses across five states.


Print headline: More may follow Monash example in Indonesia

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