Indonesia and Australia: Power of Education and Soft Diplomacy

Speech
  • Minister for Education
  • Leader of the House

Flinders University - Monday 14 April

Good morning.
 
It’s a pleasure to join you to open this symposium, here in my home city of Adelaide.
 
Thank you, Pro Vice-Chancellor Professor Nancy Cromar, for welcoming me and your invitation to speak today.
 
I commend Flinders University and the Australian Indonesian Association of South Australia for organising this symposium as part of INDO-Fest, South Australia’s annual celebration of Indonesian culture, which I understand is the largest of its kind in Australia.
 
I am particularly pleased that this year’s symposium focusses on the power of education to transform societies and to build strong links between Indonesia and Australia.
 
I know this symposium will make a valuable contribution to public discourse on the relationship between Australia and Indonesia.
 
And I applaud Flinders University for your commitment to expanding and deepening engagement with Indonesia.
 
Flinders has had links with Indonesia as Nancy said since the University was founded in 1966. Students at Flinders have the opportunity to study Indonesian language, and to take majors in Indonesian society, politics and culture. Flinders has strong links with various Indonesian universities, and I am pleased my department has been able to support exchange programs between Flinders University and three Indonesian universities.
 
There’s also been cooperation, for example, through a significant public health programmes where Flinders University Bachelor of Nursing students worked with Indonesian counterparts at the University of Airlangga in eastern Java on a community engagement initiative for HIV education.
 
I know that Flinders has ambitious plans for deepening its links with Indonesia, including through the proposed Flinders Indonesia Cultural House which this symposium will discuss. I do wish you well with this.
 
Flinders has educated some 900 or more Indonesian graduates, many of whom work in the professions, business, government, and education in Indonesia.
 
I am delighted that Professor Dr Pratikno, Rector of Gadjah Mada University, is here today. Professor Pratikno is an alumnus of Flinders University, having earned his PhD in Political Science here. Gadjah Mada University, of which he is now Rector, is one of Indonesia’s oldest and most respected universities. It has strong links with Australia – links which I am pleased to see are growing further. It is a great pleasure to welcome Professor Pratikno back to Australia.
 
It is also a pleasure to see Professor Noor here today, Indonesian Education and Cultural Attaché to Australia. Professor Noor was awarded his PhD from the University of New England.
 
Professor Pratikno and Professor Noor are among many Indonesian alumni of Australian universities making outstanding contributions to their country, and to links between Indonesia and Australia. These include the Foreign Minister, Minister for Finance, Minister for Tourism and Creative Economy and the Vice Minister of Health.
 
Earlier this year, I was delighted to take part in welcoming Vice President Boediono, an alumnus of two Australian universities, back to Australia as well, including for the launch of the Australia-Indonesia Centre based at Monash University. Dr Boediono, like many other leaders in Indonesian society, studied in Australia through the Colombo Plan, which from the early years of the Menzies Government brought tens of thousands of students from around Asia to study in Australia.
 
One of the signature initiatives of the Abbott Government so far is the creation of the New Colombo Plan, which will encourage and support Australian students to study abroad in Indonesia and other countries in the Asia-Pacific region. I will have more to say about that later.
 
It is my hope that in the near future, with greater numbers of Australians studying in Indonesia through the New Colombo Plan and other programs, there will be many more Australians who are proud alumni of Indonesian universities – and who will maintain deep links with Indonesia throughout their lives, including staying connected with the Indonesian universities at which they have studied.
 
Today’s symposium is evidence of the role of universities in strengthening the relationship between Australia and Indonesia.
 
I believe Australia can be proud of having the highest concentration of scholars — outside of Indonesia — specialising in the study of Indonesia across many disciplines – education, law, engineering, agriculture, music, language, photography and the arts.
 
As our nearest neighbour, Indonesia has always been important to Australia.
 
And today it is a strong and valued partner.
 
Prime Minister Abbott referred to Indonesia last October as “an emerging democratic superpower of Asia.”
 
While about 900,000 Australians visited Indonesia last year, the relationship has expanded significantly beyond tourism.
 
Australia and Indonesia cooperate extensively across a wide range of common interests and challenges.
 
While the relationship is far greater than any single issue, today I will focus on education and research collaboration which have the potential to expand understanding between our two countries, including inter-cultural and inter-faith understanding.
 
Both countries have much to gain from greater cooperation and collaboration.
 
With Indonesia and Australia as the two largest economies in our region, there is considerable potential to take advantage of the size, proximity and complementarities of our economies to increase bilateral trade and investment.
 
With a young, growing population approaching 250 million, and a vibrant economy, Indonesia is among the world’s fastest growing consumer markets.
 
Rising Indonesian demand for goods and services, particularly in agriculture, finance, healthcare, ICT and tourism, aligns well with Australia’s capabilities.
 
It has been education, however, that has been fundamental to the development of both Indonesia and Australia and is the foundation of the enduring relationship between our two nations, our broad trade and investment ties, and close cooperation across many areas.
 
Australia and Indonesia share a commitment to reforming our education, training and research systems to ensure quality and competitiveness.
 
Both Indonesia and Australia need to compete in a globally-competitive economy, in which the knowledge and skills of our peoples will significantly determine how prosperous we are. This makes the quality of our education systems, crucial including higher education, of vital importance to our national prosperity.
 
To ensure that our economies and our universities are not left behind, our universities need the autonomy and the capacity to be the best that they can be. We aim to foster an environment of autonomy in which entrepreneurship and innovation can thrive.
 
I am working hard to ensure a flexible higher education system in this country, able to adapt to changing needs and striving for international excellence, expanding opportunities for students and ensuring they are well equipped for jobs in the new economy.
 
Both Indonesia and Australia are conscious of the rise of high-quality universities and other higher education institutions around the Asian region. It is essential that we are not left behind.
 
On that point, I commend Universities Australia’s ‘Keep it Clever’ campaign with its message that Australia must not be left behind in the face of intensifying global competition, including the rise of Asian universities.
 
To quote Universities Australia:

“Our universities give us so many reasons to be proud.

Not only do they deliver the highly skilled graduates our economy needs to prosper, their research and innovation has helped put Australia on the world stage.
 
“However, global competition is intensifying and we risk being left behind …

“Highly skilled graduates are what our economy needs to prosper as global competition intensifies.”
 
We need to prepare our graduates to succeed in their careers and contribute to the changing world economy.

I also recognise the value language learning has in providing greater opportunities for our students, especially through increasing their cultural understanding.

The Government has ambitious goals for promoting language study, especially the study of Asian languages including Indonesian. I will have more to say about this in the months ahead.
 
Last year, for example, the Government committed additional funding for more Commonwealth supported places for students to study a Diploma of Languages.
 
The review of the demand driven funding system by the Hon Dr David Kemp and Andrew Norton was released yesterday. It recommended that the Government extend demand driven funding to diploma courses, including diplomas of languages. If it were possible to implement this recommendation, it could provide a considerable boost to language study in our universities and through other higher education providers.
 
The Government is considering the report’s findings.  Whatever the outcome of that may be, I would hope in the future to see many more Australians studying Indonesian and other Asian languages.
 
This would make a great contribution to improving our cross cultural understanding and open the way for stronger business and social partnerships.
 
It will be no surprise to anyone here that the Australian and Indonesian governments have been sharing information and ideas on education policy for over many years.
 
In particular, the relationship between Australia’s and Indonesia’s departments of education is mature and extensive, enabling us to identify and resolve impediments to closer cooperation, and to share ideas in developing policies and programs to deliver education to meet our needs in a rapidly changing world.
 
As part of our cooperation, I look forward to joining my Indonesian counterpart at the East Asia Summit Education Minister’s Meeting in September.
 
The reality is that increasing regional and global competition, as well as a growing deficit in skills and human resources, has driven much of the educational reform in both countries.

Education has also underpinned Australia's development cooperation in Indonesia.
 
This assistance is aligned to the Indonesian Government's goal to achieve universal access to good quality education, with our support also extending to providing scholarships for development.
 
Additionally, the Australian and Indonesian governments share a commitment to increasing sister school partnerships between our two nations.
 
The Building Relationships through Intercultural Dialogue and Growing Engagement Program, commonly referred to as the BRIDGE Program, was established in 2008.
 
This program has built links between more than 100,000 Australian and Indonesian students and over 4,000 teachers.
 
Through technology, and the dedication of teachers, these students and teachers have learnt about each other’s culture, improved their language skills, and gained new teaching and learning skills.
 
The intercultural benefits that flow from BRIDGE and the opportunities for Australian and Indonesian children to learn about each other’s cultures and religions offer unique and tangible benefits for both countries.
 
People-to-people links and cultural understanding through student mobility
 
Students who have studied in each of our countries have fostered friendship and understanding between Australia and Indonesia.
 
Since 2002, about 63,000 Indonesians have studied in Australia.
 
Each year, over 17,000 Indonesian students enrol in Australian educational institutions.
 
Indonesia is also currently the second most popular destination for international study experiences by Australian university students.
 
I am delighted that Indonesia is one of the countries participating in the pilot phase of the New Colombo Plan.
 
The New Colombo Plan will provide opportunities for young Australians to study and undertake internships and mentorships in countries across the region.
 
The Plan offers a transformational education experience for Australian students and will contribute to a permanent deepening of Australia’s engagement with Indonesia and other countries in our region.
 
The pilot phase of the New Colombo Plan commences this year, in Indonesia, Hong Kong, Japan and Singapore, with full implementation from 2015.
 
It is expected that, in the first round of this pilot phase, over 100 Australian students from six universities will soon undertake short-term studies in Indonesia, with many more to follow both through New Colombo Plan mobility grants and through New Colombo Plan scholarships.
 
Through the New Colombo Plan and in other ways, we are increasing the number of Australian students undertaking practicums and study experiences in Indonesia, from journalism internships to law school intensive programs.
 
The Australia Awards program for Indonesia is the largest and longest running scholarship program of its kind offered by the Australian Government to any of its development partner countries.
 
Last year 787 Indonesians received Australia Awards.
 
And over the past 10 years, Flinders University has received almost 450 Australia Awards scholars from Indonesia.
 
Other government agencies such as the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research and the Department of Defence provide scholarships to Indonesia to support important linkages into the future.
 
Indonesia has shown that it shares our commitment to supporting students to study overseas as a way of building future leaders, increasing understanding and expanding people-to people links.
 
Earlier this month President Yudhoyono launched the Indonesia Presidential Scholarship program.
 
I am very pleased that one quarter of these Presidential scholars will study at Australian universities.
 
In the context of encouraging the movement of students between countries, let me stress that we in Australia are keen to encourage students from Indonesia and around the world to study in Australia. We will do all we reasonably can to help Australian education institutions attract students from around the world.

As part of this, I am currently considering the Chaney Report, from the International Education Advisory Council, and will be responding to it in coming weeks.
 
I anticipate this refreshed approach to international education will have significant benefits for our education relationships with Indonesia.
 
Education and research links between Indonesia and Australia will be bolstered further by the newly established Australia-Indonesia Centre, announced by Prime Minister Abbott during his visit to Indonesia last year.
 
The centre, led by Monash University, will see Australian and Indonesian institutions work together to address common challenges such as food security, health, energy and infrastructure.
 
We hope that the business community particularly will lend support for this important bilateral initiative.
 
I believe it’s essential that we focus on the potential for long term benefits from our education engagements.
 
Australians who study in Indonesia and Indonesians who study here in Australia will continue to facilitate links between our two nations, well into their careers.
 
These relationships allow individuals to forge close ties, enabling governments, business and institutions to benefit from the close understanding of each other’s culture and traditions.
 
Education services both in Australia and overseas play amajor role in developing lasting people-to-people links between Australia and Indonesia, sharing ideas and developing deeper understanding.
 
In conclusion, I am delighted to formally declare the symposium open and I wish you all well for your discussions.
 
Your enthusiasm and ideas can only add to the already significant role of education in linking our two countries.
 
Thank you very much.
 
ENDS                                                     

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