New Generation of Indonesian Scholars Present Their Work

05 July, 2013 | Source: The Jakarta Globe

Some of Indonesia’s brightest academic minds have unveiled their latest research, but a senior intellectual has said the nation’s thinkers are constricted by a lack of a supportive “habitat” and a shortage of resources at universities.

Three Arryman Fellows — Danang Kurniadi, Gde Metera and Hipolitus Ringgi — have received scholarships to study in the United States. They presented updates on their research in Jakarta on Friday.

The trio were part of the Indonesian Scholarship and Research Support Foundation, which hopes — with time and a $12 million budget — to create a pool of high caliber, internationally engaged and respected scholars that can work together and spread the benefits across Indonesia’s higher education sector.

“We want to bring world-class scholars [back to Indonesia], and we do expect that they want to keep being scholars,” said Benny Subianto, executive director of the ISRSF. “The problem is, if you are a scholar, there is no [supportive intellectual] habitat for you in Indonesia.”

He added that a dire lack of resources in the country is hampering its institutions and scholars: “My [academic] friends, they have to struggle to get an article. … Without reading journals, how can you be a scholar?”

Friday’s Arryman Symposium in South Jakarta showcased one year’s research, conducted alongside PhD course requirements, by the first of five classes studying at Chicago’s renowned Northwestern University, a private research university. The first group of fellows will begin studies between 2012 and 2016, graduating between 2019 and 2023.

Fellows earn doctoral degrees focused mainly on the social sciences, particularly political science, history, sociology, philosophy and anthropology.

Candidates are also supported for doctorates in law, management, journalism, communications and economic development studies.

“Indonesia is a country of 250 million people and it has an ambition to emerge on a global stage in a way that is commensurate with their scale and their power,” Jeffrey A. Winters, a Northwestern professor and expert on Indonesia serving as chairman of the ISRSF, said at the symposium.

He said that while Indonesia was having a global impact in commerce and diplomacy, it was falling short academically.

“It needs to be remedied if Indonesia is going to have a full presence [worldwide], not just business and government, but also the society itself.”

The papers presented were for ongoing research, and therefore subject to change and not able to be quoted publicly. But the seriousness and quality of the work was apparent, and thoroughly Indonesian.

One paper was on the relationship between the government and religion at both national and subnational levels, another was a comparative study of military ambition in Southeast Asian countries, and the third was a study of political corruption in new democracies.

Institution building

The quality of education and academic discourse in Indonesia is frequently bemoaned by public figures and citizens alike.

There are rarely any positives, whether it is a debate over the quality of national school exams, the commitment of professors to their jobs — according to one USAID report, 21 percent of Indonesian teachers are absent from their classrooms every day — or just the worry that Indonesia and its people are being left behind.

Northwestern University president Morton Schapiro, who visited Jakarta in early April, said that “by producing brilliant PhDs, who are going to be great professors in key fields, we’re going to make a difference.”

A leading US authority on the economics of higher education, Schapiro visited Indonesia several times from 1989 to 1997. He assumed his post at Northwestern in 2009. “If you don’t have a very highly educated — by global standards — academe, you’re not going to be a player on the world stage.”

Indonesian pedigree

ISRSF says it “actively searches for the most brilliant and promising Indonesians from all regions and provinces.”

These Indonesians will eventually return from Northwestern, “doctorates in hand,” to “form the core faculty at a new Indonesian School of Public Policy and Social Sciences.”

The school will be realized in phases from 2014 to 2018, and developed alongside Northwestern University’s Equality Development and Globalization Studies program (of which Winters is director), Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, the Australian National University and Cambridge University.

The new school is being spearheaded by the Rajawali Foundation and is being financially supported by Indonesian benefactors. Ford Foundation, Adaro, Bank Central Asia and Djarum are among the contributors.

No state funds will go toward the initiative, and its donors in return receive only the prospect of long-term benefits to the nation.

“Enhancing the quality of public policy formulation and communication at all levels is critical to delivering on Indonesia’s aspirations,” Rajawali Foundation said in a statement.

It added that planning for the school would be completed this year.

For Danang, Metera and Hipolitus, the immediate future consists of returning to school in Chicago, the applause in Jakarta presumably ringing in their ears.

They will be joined by the 2013 Arryman Fellows Luthfi Adam, Muhammad Fajar, Najmu Laila Sopian and Rahardhika Arista Utama.

Najmu is the first female Arryman Fellow, and the announcement of the class of 2013 came with an explicit encouragement for more women to apply.

The application deadline for the 2014 Arryman Fellowship is Dec. 31. It is open to Indonesian college or university graduates with a strong record of performance in their S1 or S2 degree programs, preferably aged 35 or younger, and with a minimum iBT Test of English as a Foreign Language score of 70, taken no earlier than June 1, 2012.

The fellowship is named after the cosmopolitan intellectual Arif Arryman, who died in 2010.

Blaise Hope is an alumnus of Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism and an editor at the Jakarta Globe.

 

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