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