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Cheap & quality education in Indonesia

A warm and friendly study environment, plus a degree which is cheap, yet of good quality – that is what Indonesia offers.

WHICH country has about 737 living languages, over 17,000 islands and the most volcanoes in the world?  

To give you an extra hint, this country is also home to the world's largest Buddhist temple – Borobudur – as well as the world's largest lizard, the komodo dragon. Welcome to Indonesia! 

"There is no other country that can rival ours in terms of concentration of cultures and ethnicities," says former Indonesian Coordinating Minister for Economic Affairs Prof Dr Dorodjatun Kuntjoro-Jakti, at a recent talk on Malaysian-Indonesian relations in Universiti Malaya (UM). 

"Geography, demography and history charted our economic destiny," he adds, drawing attention to the fact that there are many advantages to studying in this neighbouring country. 

Firstly, Indonesia is geographically nearer to Malaysia, which makes it cheap and easy for homesick students or worried parents to fly to and fro the two countries.  

"If you book Air Asia tickets early, you may end up paying less than RM100 for a flight," says education agency QAS Management manager Zaini Idris.  

"Students can go home during festive seasons like Chinese New Year and Hari Raya.  

"Indonesia has a one-week break during Hari Raya." 

The diversity of culture, food, people and places also means that studying in Indonesia will never be boring. 

"You are surrounded by various ethnic groups and can find out so much about the cultural heritage of the country. "Learning takes place beyond the classroom," says Indonesian Embassy education and cultural attaché Imran Hanafi.  

Students will also have no problems fitting in to the Indonesian way of life as its national language and religion closely mirrors ours.  

"The culture is still Asian in nature, so students can adapt easily and concentrate on their studies instead of struggling with culture shock," says Zaini, whose daughter Na'eemah Zaini is studying medicine in Yogyakarta.  

Long history of collaboration 
Historically, Indonesia and Malaysia go back a long way, from the days of Dutch and British imperialists to the time of discussions about the formation of one confederation under Maphilindo (uniting Malaya, Indonesia and Philippines) and political confrontations when Indonesian president Sukarno was in power. 

In 1998, the first Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) in education was signed between the two countries. As of last year, MoUs have subsequently been signed by 14 tertiary institutions.  

A recent agreement sealed UM's collaboration with 12 Indonesian universities in fields such as medicine, engineering, social science, computer and information technology, law, dentistry, Malay studies and Islamic studies.

UM Academy of Malay Studies director Assoc Prof Datuk Zainal Abidin Borhan points out the usefulness of such partnerships.  

"Our department has signed MoUs with, for example, Universitas Haluoleo, because Indonesia is located on the periphery of the cultural and linguistic Malay world and we want to study the Malay kingdom there," he says, adding that staff and student exchanges help one to "see things in a broader picture". 

Allianze College of Medical Sciences (ACMS) in Malaysia has a medical twinning programme with Universitas Sumatera Utara (Usu) where students study the first four years in Usu and complete the two-year clinical component at ACMS. 

"Students who take up the ACMS pre-medical programme and score a CGPA of 3.0 and above, and pass the entrance exams are assured of places at Usu. 

"Usu reserves over 100 seats for our students," says ACMS medical programme coordinator Dr Badrul Akmal Hisham Md Yusoff, adding that the course costs about RM35,000 per year. 

ACMS also conducts the entrance exam, compulsory for all students intending to enter Indonesian universities.  

Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia also has a medical twinning programme with Universitas Padjadjaran (Upad), which allows students to do a stint at Upad or opt for a 3+3 programme. 

Quality, recognised degrees 
Studying in Indonesia is cheaper than most other options.  

"You are looking at around RM140,000 in tuition fees for a five-year medical course, maybe RM200,000 inclusive of other expenses," says Zaini.  

"This is even cheaper than studying medicine in India, which costs about RM300,000 in tuition fees alone." The cost of living varies from place to place.

"Jakarta is a more expensive place to live in compared to places like Bandung," says Imran. "But many universities offer on-campus accommodation." 

On the average, a student pays up to RM250 to RM300 a month for a two-bedroom apartment.  

"With about RM500 a month, a student can manage to live comfortably," says education agent Richard Veerapan. 

Besides the cost factor, top universities in Indonesia such as Universitas Indonesia (UI) and Universitas Gadjah Mada (UGM) have also been around a long time and are ranked in the top 250 varsities in the world. 

Institute Teknologi Bandung (ITB), for instance, was established by the Dutch in 1920.  

"Most Malaysian students look at infrastructure when they talk about quality, but what is more important is the content taught," says Zaini.  

"Indonesian universities have substance and their staff are knowledgeable."  

Prof Dr Dorodjatun, who also teaches at UI's Economics faculty, reveals that the university's economics syllabus mirrors that of American universities where students only major in their specific areas after the first year. 

"In fact, 80% to 90% of our lecturers in UI come from American universities," says Prof Dr Dorodjatun.  

Universities like UI, UGM, Upad, Usu and Universitas Hasanuddin have regular programmes conducted in Bahasa Indonesia and international ones in English, in partnership with foreign universities. 

Currently, there are about 3,534 Malaysian students studying in Indonesia. The most popular programme is medicine and medical-related courses, with economics, management and technology-based courses following closely behind.

Education agency Eagle Eye Network Holdings Sdn Bhd director Prabagaran Perumal explains that medical students in Indonesia have the added advantages of learning via the Problem-Based Learning approach method and more practical work. 

The Malaysian Medical Council and Public Services Department (JPA) recognises medical degrees from 13 Indonesian universities; it also recognises several others for architecture, education, engineering, arts and social science.

Sponsorship available 
Students intending to study in Indonesia have to go through the Selection for Acceptance of New Undergraduates (SPMB) process, usually held between May and July.

The SPMB requires applicants to sit for an entrance exam that tests them on the Indonesian and English languages, and basic mathematics. Applicants also have to take a mock lecture in Bahasa Indonesia. Each university conducts its own entrance examination which may be held at the Indonesian Embassy, hotels, education agencies, or in the university itself. 

Students have to obtain the non-objection certificate (NOC) issued by the Indonesian Education Ministry before they can commence studies.  

Entrance prerequisites for mathematics and science related courses are five Bs at Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia level, or a CGPA of 3.0 at Sijil Tinggi Persekolahan Malaysia level. 

A number of Malaysian students in Indonesia are sponsored by agencies including the Public Services Department (JPA), the Defence Ministry (Mindef), Maju Institute of Educational Development (MIED) and the Malaysian Indian Education Development Fund (MIDEI). 

The Indonesian government also offers the Developing Countries Partnership Scholarship to those intending to pursue master degrees in the sciences, humanities, education, agriculture, social science and engineering.

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Updated: 14 Oct, 2014
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