U.S. and Indonesia to Expand Educational Ties

June 27, 2010
By Karin Fischer

The United States will spend $165-million over the next five years on programs to help strengthen higher education in Indonesia through educational exchanges and university partnerships, President Obama and Indonesia's president, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, announced Sunday at a meeting at the G-20 summit in Toronto.

The two leaders also agreed to hold a joint higher-education summit next summer.

Cooperative work on higher education is a key pillar of the bilateral relationship between the two countries, with the United States working to expand higher-education opportunities in the fast-growing Muslim-majority democracy. Although the Indonesian government now spends 20 percent of its budget on education, with most of those funds going to primary and secondary education, the country lacks the capacity to meet its educational needs.

"A country without a better higher-education system won't be successful and satisfied in the 21st century," says Cameron R. Hume, U.S. ambassador to Indonesia, who has made strengthening educational partnerships between the two countries the main focus of the consulate there. "The best thing they can do to face the future is to have an informed, educated citizenry."

Battered in the Asian economic downturn of the late 1990s and beset by internal threats of terrorism, Indonesia for many years did not focus on education, Mr. Hume says. The number of Indonesians studying in the United States plummeted; just 7,500 students from that country attended American colleges during the 2008-9 academic year, according to the Institute of International Education.

The U.S. Department of State already has made educational exchanges with Indonesia through the Fulbright Program a priority. As part of the effort announced Sunday, the two countries will expand such educational exchanges through Fulbright, the Community College Initiative Program, and English-language training, among other activities.

Mr. Hume says he hopes the number of Indonesians studying in the United States will double within five years.

The two countries will also work together to improve the quality and capacity of Indonesian colleges and universities through a partnership program supporting collaboration between American and Indonesian universities, says a White House news release.

And the U.S. government invited the Indonesian minister of national education to the United States next summer for a U.S.-Indonesia Higher Education Summit to "advance cooperation."

Mr. Obama, who spent part of his childhood in Indonesia, had been scheduled to visit Indonesia earlier this month, but the trip was postponed so the president could deal with the Gulf Coast oil spill.

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