Will Indonesian Enrollment Recover?

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Indonesia’s economy has weathered the global financial crisis and its GDP has grown approximately 6 percent annually since 2010.  A global giant in terms of population (4th largest in the world), its economy is predicted to become the world’s seventh largest by 2030.

For many developing countries, a growing economy often corresponds with growth in educational attainment. Between 2005 and 2011, Indonesia’s gross secondary education enrollment rate grew from 61 percent to 79 percent, eclipsing the global average of 78 percent (2011).  In line with this growth is an increase in demand for tertiary education, which in combination with increasing national wealth has led to an uptick in the outbound mobility of tertiary–level students. According to UNESCO figures, there were 29,580 Indonesian students overseas in 2007; this number grew to over 34,000 in 2010.

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In the U.S. higher education system, enrollments from Indonesia peaked at 13,282 in 1997/1998. However, the Asian financial crisis of 1997 resulted in a significant decline in enrollments from Indonesia, with student numbers at U.S. institutions of higher education hovering between 7,000 and 8,000 through much of the last decade.

Indonesian students are particularly price-sensitive, as is common with students from the developing world. Today, as the economy of Indonesia rebounds and grows, students have myriad high quality and affordable regional higher education institutions to ch0ose from among neighboring countries. Since 2009, the Association of Southeast Asian Nation (ASEAN) member countries have been working hard to increase intra-regional mobility through the harmonization of qualifications frameworks and the development of functional credit transfer mechanisms. The creation of a ‘Common Space of Higher Education,’ similar to that created in Europe through the Bologna Process, has made regional competition for Indonesian students more pronounced than ever.

China, Malaysia and Japan, which offer scholarships and a comparatively affordable education for international students, have seen increases in their Indonesian student populations. In contrast, more traditional destinations, such as the U.S. and Australia, have seen their Indonesian enrollment volumes contract. Despite these trends, Indonesian enrollments are bouncing back in the U.S and have increased from 6,882 students in 2010 to 7,670 in 2013. Two-thirds of these students are enrolled at the undergraduate level.

Despite the decline of enrollment numbers from the peak in 1998, we believe that Indonesia remains a promising emerging market and should be considered a part of any U.S. institution of higher education’s portfolio of countries for recruiting international students. U.S. colleges and universities that offer scholarships or financial aid, or those that are comparably affordable in terms of cost of living and tuition should market the affordability of their programs to Indonesian students. Institutions should also consider other means of engagement with Indonesian students, such as educational partnerships and student exchange programs. The timing for these initiatives are especially pertinent considering the U.S. government’s 2011 pledge to increase such programs with the injection of $165 million in support of bi-national mobility and educational collaboration initiatives over the five years to 2016.

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WES Research & Advisory Services offers research-based consulting solutions on student mobility, international enrollment, and transnational education.

See more at wes.org/RAS

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