Monash University signs deal with Indonesian government as solution to overreliance on China

Monash University in Melbourne has signed a formal agreement with the Indonesian government to strengthen ties between the two countries as Australian universities try to diversify from their reliance on China.

On Thursday, the university signed a memorandum of understanding with Indonesia’s ministry of research and technology to “forge solid and institutionalised partnerships”.

In November, Monash also became the first international university to be granted a licence to establish a physical campus in Indonesia with an aim to enrol thousands of students a year. The Jakarta campus will be purely postgraduate and offer master’s and PhD degrees, with the first students scheduled to begin in October this year.

Within the next 10 years, the Indonesian campus aims to grow to 2,000 masters students, 1,000 “executive education students” and 100 PhD students every year, according to the university’s own recruitment site.

The University of Western Australia has also laid out a plan for 2030 that says “increasing our engagement with Indonesia” is “vital”.

A December analysis conducted by Austrade found that Indonesian students contributed $1bn to the Australian economy in 2019, with 18,091 students in Australia.

And while overall international student enrolments fell 4.9% during the pandemic, Indonesian enrolments only dropped 0.9%.

The report found that “strong economic growth” in the country was driving demand for quality education and that “industry demand for quality training cannot be fully met locally”. “This presents opportunities for Australian providers,” it said.

International student fees accounted for $10bn in revenue for Australian universities before the pandemic, with many now facing significant shortfalls as international borders remain closed.

In February, international students and education agents warned that scores of students who intended to study in Australia were instead opting for Canada, the UK or the US as Australia’s borders remained closed.

Universities across Australia are also offering discounts of up to 20% to international students who are still overseas, and studying completely online, to keep them enrolled at their institutions during the pandemic.

Monash’s memorandum of understanding will deepen research ties and create research centres in order to “forge solid and institutionalised partnerships between universities in both countries”, according to a university spokesperson.

It also specifies commercialisation as an area of focus, after education minister Alan Tudge called on universities to “maximise” commercialisation opportunities for research.

The agreement was signed by the Australian Indonesian Centre, which is headquartered at Monash and is a consortium of 11 universities – seven in Indonesia and four in Australia. The four Australian universities are the University of Melbourne, Monash University, University of Queensland and University of Western Australia.

Dr Eugene Sebastian, the executive director of the Australian Indonesian Centre, said he was “looking forward to the potential of this agreement”.

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