Monash plays the long game with pioneering branch campus

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s announcement on 10 February that Monash University has the approval to establish the first foreign campus in Indonesia came as a surprise to many. Until then, there were only rumours of a few universities that were dicing with the possibility of setting up a campus – the University of Melbourne, Central Queensland University, the University of Western Australia and the University of Queensland.  

RMIT University did explore a presence more than five years ago. But that never eventuated. Indonesia’s complex rules and a change in strategy under a new vice-chancellor ended any campus ambitions.

The immediate consequence is that, for the first time, there will be a fully foreign-owned Australian university in Indonesia. While Indonesia’s Law on Higher Education permits a wide range of direct engagement by foreign higher education providers in Indonesia, there is currently no stand-alone foreign campus operating in the country. 

The International University Liaison Indonesia (IULI) is the only example of a joint-venture private university. IULI, established in 2015, operates a not-for-profit entity in partnership with Indonesian institutions. The campus serves as a regional hub for the European University Consortium, led by the German Technische Universität Ilmenau. 

A long-term strategy

Monash University already has a long-standing strategic partnership in Jakarta. Its wholly-owned company, Monash College, formed a licensing arrangement with Jakarta International College in 1994 to deliver pathway programmes – diplomas and English language and foundation courses. It is a successful model replicated in other locations in China, Singapore, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Malaysia and, more recently, India.

Monash’s ambitious Indonesian venture is not surprising. “Monash has a long history of engagement in Indonesia and a desire to build deeper links with a thriving and innovative community with great ambitions for education and research,” said Professor Margaret Gardner AC, president and vice-chancellor of Monash University. 

The underlying work that contributed to the announcement was a carefully curated engagement strategy that is at least seven years old.  

It began in 2013, with a small coterie of influential ‘Indonesianist’ academics advocating for greater emphasis on Indonesia. Their advocacy led to a ‘Refresh Indonesia Strategy’. That strategy in turn spawned an array of initiatives. The national Australia-Indonesia Centre – a consortium of seven Indonesian and four Australian universities – is one outcome. 

The centre has raised AU$40 million (US$27 million) over six years from external sources to run research and outreach programmes in areas such as energy, water, food, infrastructure and health.

But a stand-out element of Monash’s strategy is its long-term view. According to a senior Monash executive: “Indonesia is a territory for those who are doing the hard yards to get on their feet. It is not a flippant environment. It is a long-term play.” 

This view characterises the various modern business models used to create multiple pathways. For example, Monash has taken an approach in which its current model builds on its ‘value chain of suppliers’ that pipeline students from foundation to postgraduate. Its College presence in Jakarta is one example; establishing an in-country office in 2016 to engage scholarship bodies, industry and alumni is another. 

The new campus

What do we know so far about Monash’s campus? First, the new campus will be located in Jakarta. As a market, Jakarta stands out. Its location-specific factors, such as market size and demographic profile, are important strategic considerations. 

If the island of Java, with more than half of Indonesia’s population, has four million students enrolled at public and private higher education institutions, Jakarta is the largest city with over a million students. Jakarta has the highest purchasing power parity (PPP) among all cities in Indonesia, making affordability less of an issue. 

Second, Monash Indonesia will be a postgraduate campus, offering masters and PhD degrees, as well as executive programmes. Focusing on postgraduate programmes makes sense for Monash. It fits within Monash’s existing Indo-Pacific network of campuses in Malaysia, China and India. It also won’t compete with its undergraduate programmes offered at Monash University’s Malaysia campus, where it already attracts a growing number of Indonesian students.  

Moreover, undergraduate programmes are a challenging area to engage in. They have much stricter compliance rules when it comes to structure, curriculum and permits. Undergraduate programmes involve at least four-year (eight-semester) degrees compared to Australia’s often three-year option and require mandatory general education subjects, such as religion, national history and state philosophy (Pancasila).

Finally, Monash has chosen four areas to focus on: data science and digital technology, infrastructure and urban planning, creative industry and entrepreneurship, and health systems and public health. All four speak to Indonesia’s major human capital development priorities. Indonesia’s president, for instance, has called for universities to innovate and create new areas of study in response to global trends.  

Monash’s digital focus aligns with at least five of 26 programmes in the Indonesian government’s E-Commerce Roadmap for human capital development. Infrastructure and urban planning fit with the president’s recent Canberra speech in which he outlined his commitment to a smart city, a smart metropolis and green technology for the new capital city. 

Education and training providers already active in Indonesia have different views on what the next steps of engagement may look like, but all agree that Indonesia is too important to ignore. There are many cautionary tales, but also some inspiring ones. But the more experienced providers see Indonesia as a long game and are prepared to invest time, effort and resources to build connections and increase their profile. 

Eugene Sebastian is executive director and Caroline Chan is Skills Futures Fellow at the Australia-Indonesia Centre – a consortium of 11 Australian and Indonesian universities –

Article first appeared in the University World News:

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s