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Out of the Box: Monash Indonesia

It’s been an exciting week for Monash University and anyone interested in higher education in Indonesia. During President Joko Widodo’s state visit to Australia, both the Prime Minister and the President announced that Monash University has been approved to establish Indonesia’s first foreign university branch campus: Monash Indonesia.

Monash Vice-Chancellor and President, Professor Margaret Gardner whose initiative this is, was in Canberra for the state banquet and able to brief President Jokowi directly (below).

It’s also been a big deal for me personally: for the past twelve months my main priority has been developing a viable plan for a branch campus that would be acceptable to both the Indonesian government and Monash University.

I’ll post more in coming weeks and months about bringing Monash Indonesia to life, but today I’d like to highlight just how quickly this initiative has come together and, in particular, just how supportive the Indonesian government has been.

Many senior figures across government took the time to meet with me and then used their office to clear a way ahead.

Tech entrepreneuer turned Education Minister, Nadiem Makarim (above), played a pivotal role. So too did the President’s Chief of Staff, Moeldoko (below) — ensuring that different agencies came together and ironed-out regulatory wrinkles in a timely way.

Research & Technology Minister Bambang Brodjonegoro has been an early and active supporter. Also helpful was State Secretariat Minister, Pratikno. And Airlangga Hartarto — the Coordinating Minister for Economic Affairs, Golkar party boss and Monash alumnus — has been a constant ally and booster.

Getting a plausible plan together and getting it approved is one thing. Converting that plan into a successful and fully functioning graduate university will be quite another.

In pursuing that mission over the next several years I hope never to lose sight of the founding purpose of Monash Indonesia: to make a strong and distinctive contribution to the further social, economic and technogical development of Indonesia.

Indonesia post-reformasi

Correspondence in Australian Foreign Affairs

“Retreat from Democracy?”

by Tim Lindsey

Andrew MacIntyre

Tim Lindsey’s excellent essay, “Retreat from Democracy?” (Australian Foreign Affairs 3, July 2018), lays out clearly just how much the political climate in Indonesia has changed over the past decade. The optimism about extending democratic reform is gone, as is the hope that systemic corruption might be wound back, and there is an increasingly conservative mood as religious chauvinism is fanned by Islamist hardliners.

Such changes are a cause for genuine concern. But the picture is not all bleak. Perspective and expectations make a difference. Compared to Indonesia’s recent past, the picture is depressing. But compared to the experiences of other young democracies, it is less so.

Democratic consolidation is rarely smooth. Young democracies typically undergo duress due to intense action and counter-action as reform is negotiated, to say nothing of the everyday political battles among competing economic, social and other sectional interests. Indonesia is no exception.

Earlier this year the Economist Intelligence Unit’s Democracy Index registered a sharp fall in the quality of Indonesia’s democracy. Professor Edward Aspinall has documented the various areas in which reform in Indonesia has stalled or been eroded. While it is quite possible that Indonesian democracy could continue to deteriorate, at this stage the fundamental commitment to free elections and peaceful transitions between governments is holding. Political preferences have shifted in a conservative direction and intolerance has increased, but electoral democracy itself has endured.

The shift to the right has become starkly apparent in the last few years. President Joko Widodo’s shock announcement in August that conservative Muslim cleric Ma’ruf Amin would be his running mate in the April 2019 election is the most recent political tidemark. The crackdown on LGBTI communities and oft-heard anecdotes about Christians having to keep an ever lower profile, or of progressive Muslims being ostracised from their social media networks, are all manifestations of the new moral and social conservatism.

For anyone inside or outside Indonesia hoping for a strengthening of its democracy, this shift is troubling. What effect might it have on relations between Australia and Indonesia?

Any conceivable government in Indonesia will be a coalition of parties, and as such an amalgam of interests. So it is not clear that, for example, the rise of conservative Muslim groups will have a significant effect on economic policy beyond adding some extra weight to existing nationalistic arguments. But without doubt, the swing to the right means Australia should expect a more conservative stance from Indonesia on social issues. This will present challenging questions around values for a range of Australian organisations engaging in Indonesia – including, notably, universities. The treatment of religious minorities and LGBTI communities are conspicuous examples of Indonesia’s differing values. Issues around cultural identity and rights for minority groups are others.

In terms of strategy and defence, the new conservatism in Indonesia may, paradoxically, foster increased alignment between Canberra and Jakarta. The conservative Muslim political forces that drive intolerance of minorities advocate an equally strong distrust of China. This arises variously from longstanding antipathy towards Indonesians of Chinese descent, opposition to the way Beijing treats Chinese Muslims in Xinjiang, and a nationalistic reaction to the surge of Chinese foreign investment in Indonesia. Indonesia’s leaders and especially its military establishment have long been wary of China. The rising influence of conservative Muslim forces is likely to add a significantly stronger political base to this pre-existing policy orientation.

Ten years ago, when Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono was at the height of his presidency, and the acute instability of the early post-Suharto years had been overcome, Douglas Ramage and I wrote a report, ‘Seeing Indonesia as Normal Country (as Lindsey notes in his essay). We highlighted how much things had improved, but argued that the bilateral relationship under Yudhoyono was as good as it was going to get for the foreseeable future. We did not forecast the extent of Indonesia’s swing to the right, but the core instinct was sound.

For Australian foreign policy interests, the single most important variable is Indonesia’s continued economic progress. This is the underpinning of its social and political fortunes. And here the prospects are hopeful. Although Indonesia seems unable to achieve growth rates of the best-performing Asian economies, sustained growth around 5 per cent annually is still good. If, as most analysts project, this can be maintained, the prospects for democracy enduring remain alive.

And in the longer term, while Indonesia has recently become less inclusive and less tolerant of diversity, there are still grounds for believing in what Ramage and I refer to as its “fundamental pluralism”. This is a reference to the long arc of the social history of the archipelago we know today as Indonesia and the effect of its geographic and cultural diversity. Yes, we must be concerned with Indonesia’s current realities, but its underlying diversity will not suddenly disappear, and can be counted on to assert itself over time.

Andrew MacIntyre is deputy vice-chancellor of global development and director of The Australian APEC Study Centre at RMIT University.

India’s Middle Class?

The Economist caused a stir recently with a cover story highlighting the extent to which the Indian middle class has been over-hyped as a ‘successor’ to the Chinese middle class. It had point. But there’s more to be said.

India has indeed made spectacular economic progress. But income distribution is more skewed than generally recognised and this has consequences.

Notwithstanding a huge total population that will shortly pass China, the size of India’s middle class is very much smaller and its purchasing power is less than half that of China’s. The Economist was at pains to point out that leading foreign firms expecting to find big consumer markets in India are being disappointed. Estimates of a middle class 300-400 million strong are frequently tossed about, but the mean GDP per capita is US$1,700 and eight in ten Indians earn less than this. This is not just a function of time, and China having taken off earlier.

The following chart helps to explain what’s going on in India: the top 10% has prospered disproportionately at the expense of the middle 40% and bottom 50%. In other emerging economies – including other high performing Asian economies – the picture is less skewed.

I’m interested in universities and global higher education markets. If big multinationals selling consumer goods are experiencing tougher than expected conditions in India, what might this mean for universities looking to engage?

Optimistic estimates put the number of Indians in post secondary education by 2020 as high as 42 million, but the competition among local institutions is already strong – there are some 35,000 colleges and 700 universities – and some Indian institutions are looking overseas to reach the global Indian diaspora. Prominent exemples include Amity University, BITS Pilani and Manipal Academy of Higher Education.

Foreign universities bring a distinctive value proposition to the Indian market. Australia is working hard on deepening engagement with India, and higher education is a prominent part of this effort. My home state of Victoria has recently launched an admirable India strategy. And my university is making good progress with its own strategy of building deep research and education partnerships with Indian institutions. Should we be lowering our hopes and expectations?

Certainly realism is essential. The number of families that can afford a premium international education will not be on the same scale as China any time soon. Furthermore, foreign universities seeking not just to receive students coming from India but to engage directly in India itself, face a very much more restrictive regulatory environment than in, say, China.

As against this, several points are worth keeping in mind. First, the structure of the global higher education market is fundamentally different to that of, say, mobile telephones or cars. Ours is an industry with a very large number of suppliers (universities) world-wide, each seeking only a tiny increment of available demand (students). Even though, in macro terms, we do indeed need to factor in the much smaller size of the addressable market in India than China, for individual universities the prospects are still promising.

Second, as in many other successful emerging economies, education is a high priority for Indian families: way ahead of regular middle class consumables.

Third, price is a key factor in determining the size of the addressable market: less expensive Chinese mobile phones are spreading much faster than premium competitors like the iPhone. Those foreign universities that are able to develop strong partnerships with local institutions and sustain price-points aligned with what the Indian market will bear, have reasonable prospects.

National higher education markets have distinctive characteristics and challenges, and India is no exception. The trajectory of India’s higher education market is different from that of China. As is the trajectory of its own higher education institutions and the regulatory environment that shapes them.

India may indeed be challenging, but some foreign universities will succeed in forging sustainable partnerships that enable them to make significant and distinctive contributions to India’s continued socio-economic development.

From Singapore to China

Last week I was visiting two of RMIT’s priority countries, Singapore and China.

In Singapore, my focus was on building personal and institutional links.  The personal links were with Australia’s new High Commissioner, Bruce Gosper, as well as significant alumni and philanthropic contacts.   On the institutional front, it was about opening an important new institutional partnership with Singapore’s 5th autonomous university, the Singapore Institute of Technology and working with our longstanding partner, the Singapore Institute of Management on a proposal for RMIT & SIM to deliver ‘micro-credentials’ in support of Singapore’s efforts to reskill its workforce.

The changes taking shape in Singapore are really quite fascinating, and I will return to them later with a more substantial communication. I’ll focus here on the China leg of the trip, particularly the visit to Tianjin.

On this visit, the core objectives were to formalise the deepening research partnership RMIT has with Tianjin University (in Advanced Automotive Technologies and Design Innovation & 3D Printing) and to explore possibilities for productive links with the surge of entrepreurial and technological innovation taking place in Tianjin’s Binhai New Area. Thanks to our long-standing leaders’ training program with the Tianjin Municipal government, we have a high reputation with senior officials there. (This has proved particularly valuable following the fall of the former mayor.)

RMIT has built up wonderful links in China over many years. The emphasis now is to focus our efforts through what we’re calling our ‘Three Rivers’ strategy: the Pearl river in the south, the Yangtze in the middle and the Haihe river in the north. Tianjin is on the Haihe river and a sister-city for Melbourne.

Tianjin is doing very well indeed; last year economic growth there was among the very highest of any region in China. The Binhai New Area has multiple precincts – ranging from a Free Trade Area to Science & Technology parks.

The part that particularly caught our attention was the Sino Singapore Tianjin Eco-City precinct: a diverse, green and ultra-connected new development. Among other things, it’s home to one of Binhai’s suddenly flourishing clusters of incubators that are nurturing a wide array of start-ups. We came away with a plan to establish a sister-incubators framework, to parallel the sister-cities relationship.

It’s hard not to be impressed by the scale of what is taking place in the greater Tianjin area. We saw real opportunities for RMIT to make a valuable contribution to its social and economic development, in ways that could have very exciting implications for our students in Melbourne and elsewhere. This sentiment was very much reinforced in conversations we had in Beijing with the Ministry of Education and Australia’s Ambassador, Jan Adams and Minister-Counsellor for Education,  Katherine Vickers.

The following short video interview with RMIT Vice-Chancellor, Martin Bean, gives a sense of the excitement he and I both felt .