Open the University Doors

AmCham Indonesia Managing Director talks to Sampoerna University graduates

By A Lin Neumann, Managing Director
Thursday, December 6, 2018

A Lin Neumann, Managing Director, AmCham Indonesia, from remarks delivered to Sampoerna University graduates, October 18, 2018

The bold initiatives undertaken by Sampoerna University in recent years to partner with American colleges and universities should serve as an inspiration to not only the students involved but the entire educational establishment in the country. The idea of bringing these two great countries together through higher education represents a natural way for Indonesia to further develop its human capital and for the United States to broaden its involvement with one of the world’s most dynamic countries.

Indonesia has accomplished much in the last twenty years, but it dare not risk stalling its momentum toward the future. Education is the key to that future.

The modern and forward-thinking university environment in the United States truly is a marvel. It is one of the leading global incubators of the digital economy; its enormous research capacity leads to advancements in medicine, science and technology; it also fosters a tradition of free inquiry and creativity. I am quite proud to say that the United States is a world leader in higher education, with our institutions helping to educate not only Americans, but a truly international student body.

Indonesia, with its massive population, well-established democracy and impressive economic growth has certainly benefitted from American education. Numerous ministers in the current and past governments have advanced degrees from US universities, as do the founders of many widely praised Indonesian start-up unicorns, Go-Jek among them.

Indeed, I often think about these unicorns when considering the impact of US education and the ability of Indonesian companies to compete with the world head-to-head – and win. Go Jek itself is going global, or at least regional, as are other Indonesian start-ups. And within the start-up community in Jakarta we often hear of a desire for greater openness and the eagerness to compete globally. The founder of Tokopedia, William Tanuwijaya, has spoken often about competing on the world stage. He once told me that far from fearing Amazon or eBay, he wanted them to come to Indonesia so that Tokopedia could learn from them – and beat them.

This is a spirit that begins with education, and indeed our allies in easing restrictions on investment by foreign universities in the education sector often come from leading edge Indonesian entrepreneurs who know first-hand what it takes to succeed both here and abroad.

Similarly, the mostly American companies that AmCham represents are consumed by a desire to raise the standards of their own work forces in Indonesia. They undertake training programs and in-house activities that have resulted over many years in companies themselves developing local employees who excel in banking, energy and manufacturing.

But it is not enough to send a tiny percentage of Indonesia’s young people to study abroad, where costs can be prohibitive and access difficult, or to wait for large companies to train their own workforces. As we talk about the looming opportunities and challenges of Industry 4.0, it is clear that the key component of success will be the ability to think beyond the known and to adapt and adjust. These are skills that US universities can help bring to Indonesia.

I have had the chance to discuss some of these issues with Pak Putra Sampoerna and others involved in Indonesia’s education sector, and it is inspiring to see the progress represented by the students in this room and by Sampoerna University itself. As a native son of Arizona, I am especially pleased to see that Sampoerna is working with the University of Arizona. I would hope one day to see a full-fledged U of A campus in Jakarta. Similarly the partnerships you have undertaken with Broward College at the associate level, Oregon State University and Louisiana State University are important steps toward broadening the horizons of Indonesian higher education.

Chairman Tom Lembong of BKPM likes to tell the story of Australia’s Monash University, which spent considerable time and energy in a failed attempt to open a campus in Indonesia and instead opened a campus in Malaysia. That campus now draws a large percentage of its students from Indonesia, which simply means that money that should stay here in Indonesia is going to Malaysia to be spent on education.

It is my understanding that countries that open up their education sectors to foreign competition inevitably find their home-grown universities rising to the challenge and developing higher standards and capacity. It is not for me to say how this should be done in Indonesia, but it is clear to me – and probably to most of you in this room – that the expertise available in US universities can be harnessed for the greater good of the Indonesian people.

Indonesia has the resources, the demographics and the desire to move up the ladder and become one of the world’s biggest economies in just over a decade or so. But to reach that goal, it will need to seize the opportunity to drive excellence in education through partnerships, greater investment and wider access. My belief is that what we are witnessing in Sampoerna University is just the beginning of something much bigger.

Graduates, congratulations to you all. Excellence awaits outside these doors. Just go find it.


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