Global Business Guide Indonesia

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Education | Studying Abroad in Indonesia for International Students

As Indonesia becomes an increasingly important pillar in the global economy given its promising economic outlook, setting it on course to be the world’s 7th largest economy by 2030 and its position as by far the largest economy in ASEAN, it is naturally attracting the interest of international students. To date, Indonesia has less than 6,000 international students studying in local universities which is a paltry figure compared to Malaysia with 63,000 and Singapore with 52,000 (UNESCO, 2014). There are a number of factors at play accounting for the low number of international students studying in Indonesian universities including the quality of Indonesian educational institutions, the lack of student exchange programmes, student visa issues as well as the lack of promotion of the country to international students (See Higher Education: Indonesian Academia Must Open Up).

Studying Abroad in Indonesia for International Students
Indonesia offers an exciting and dynamic market for international students seeking to broaden their horizons and prepare for a globalised world where Asia will play an increasingly important role

Education quality & culture

The quality of Indonesian local universities is an ongoing area of concern (See Second Class: Indonesia’s Higher Education Sector In Need of Reform) and is the main reason behind Indonesians themselves going abroad to study to countries such as the United States, Australia and Japan (See Indonesia’s Brain Drain Pains). President Joko Widodo has set the goal of improving Indonesia’s standing in the world of academia and charged selected state universities with the responsibility of rising through the ranks to become among the top 500 universities globally. To date, Indonesian universities fall short in the crucial areas of graduate employability, research output (See Making Research & Development Part of Indonesia’s Vision for Growth) and faculty qualifications and investment.

Indonesia faces tough challenges within its higher education sector. On the positive side, we have finally discovered the importance of putting more resources into developing the country’s human capital through education and health.

The style of teaching and local culture is a further area that international students need to consider when choosing to study in Indonesia. As a Muslim majority country, spirituality and religion feature throughout daily life and public discourse; including life on campus. Furthermore, Indonesian university life offers more of a continuation of school life as opposed to the significant shift in paradigm towards adulthood that is the case in Western universities. The style of teaching offered in Indonesian universities is also an area that prospective international students need to be aware of as rote learning and memorising theories as opposed to a heavier focus on practice is the norm for local university courses. International courses do, however, take a different approach in this regard.

Despite these challenges, it is worth noting Indonesian students’ considerable success on the international stage particularly concerning international business competitions. From California to Bangkok, Indonesian business students have won first place in a variety of business plan competitions by presenting innovative business ideas that answer unique challenges in an environmentally sustainable and economically inclusive way (See Indonesia's Transforming Economy: Business Education in High Demand). This success can be attributed to the quality of business teaching which is one of the few academic areas that utilises faculty members from the professional world, but also the numerous and varied untapped opportunities that Indonesia has to offer as a market. 

Visa trouble

Obtaining a student visa for international students looking to study abroad in Indonesia has been a challenge in the past with students having to come to the country on tourist visas and then extend accordingly, often paying illegal fees to do so. Since the start of 2016, this issue has been somewhat addressed with international students now being able to apply online for a student visa and limited stay visa (VITAS).

The process for obtaining a student visa requires international students to obtain a VITAS prior to arrival through submission of a sponsor letter from their university of choice. On commencing their study course, international students can convert their VITAS to a limited stay permit called a KITAS as well as obtain a Multiple Re-Entry Permit in order to exit and re-enter Indonesia as well as a Study Permit Recommendation Letter. The student visa is valid for 1 or 2 years depending on the course type and the university. While the process for international students to obtain a visa has been simplified, using an agent is still recommended to ensure that the process runs smoothly. For international students considering studying in Indonesia, the costs involved in the visa process must be taken into account and this can be unappealing for some international students. It is, therefore, an area where the Indonesian government still needs to do its homework if it wants to attract more foreign students to study in Indonesia.

International courses

International courses that offer English as the language of instruction are increasingly available for international students seeking to study in Indonesia. University of Indonesia, the Bandung Institute of Technology (ITB), BINUS UNIVERSITY and Universitas Prasetiya Mulya all offer international courses in English, mainly for undergraduate programmes. Master’s in Business Administration (MBA) courses are also offered in English such as at IPMI in Jakarta and ITB’s Business School.

Joint and double degree programmes between Indonesian universities and international universities are also available such as that being offered by Pelita Harapan University for students seeking to spend a semester or only part of their degree programme in Indonesia.

For those looking to study the Indonesian language or local culture, a variety of courses are available in Jakarta, Bandung and Yogyakarta as well as outside of Java such as Andalas University which offers the opportunity to study the Minangkabau culture of Padang. Indonesia’s rich cultural heritage (See Indonesia's Creative Economy & Heritage Products – A Wealth of Opportunities) makes it an ideal place to study socio-economic issues and the Indonesian government makes available scholarships for the non-degree study of Indonesian language and culture for international students through the Darmasiswa Scholarship.

Valuable exposure

Indonesia offers an exciting and dynamic market for international students seeking to broaden their horizons and prepare for a globalised world where Asia will play an increasingly important role. Indonesia, as the largest market in ASEAN and future top 10 global economy offers international students a unique insight into Southeast Asian culture and business customs (See Indonesia’s Economic Outlook in 2017: Remain Cautiously Optimistic). While the quality of Indonesian education may not yet rival that of Singapore, Japan or China, it can offer students valuable exposure to a fast-emerging Asian powerhouse that offers localised challenges for which solutions can have global applications.

Within business education in particular, Indonesian business schools and business students have shown their ability to punch above their weight in international competitions. Furthermore, understanding and being able to successfully interact with Indonesia's business culture can equip international students seeking an international career with invaluable knowledge and insights that they can bring to establishing their own businesses or to multinationals seeking to penetrate the Indonesian market.

Global Business Guide Indonesia - 2016
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Indonesia Education Snapshot

Number of Tertiary Education Institutions: 4,445 (2016)
Type: 91.5% Private, 8.5% Public
Students in Higher Education: 4,941,574 (2016)
Net Enrolment Rate in Tertiary Education: 22% (2014)
Relevant Law: Higher Education Law No. 12 of 2012 provides universities with the autonomy to set their own tuition fees and authorising the set up of foreign universities in partnership with Indonesian institutions.