Seeking to reinvigorate frayed ties between educational institutions in the United States and Indonesia, a delegation representing 33 American universities has concluded a four-day visit to the country with calls for a bilateral partnership to double the number of Indonesian students studying in the United States.
“It was like speed dating,” David Merrill, the president of the US-Indonesia Society, who headed the delegation, said of several rounds of talks held between the US educators and their counterparts here.
The objective, he said in an interview with the Jakarta Globe, is to use current warm relations between Washington and Jakarta to encourage universities to get in on the action.
Merrill hopes to reverse a steady 12-year decline in the number of Indonesian students attending American colleges and universities. There are around 7,700 Indonesian students currently enrolled in the United States, he said. In 1997, that figure was more than 13,000.
The goal of the current effort is to double the number of Indonesians studying in the United States, he said.
He also noted that only about 130 American students are currently doing academic work in Indonesia. “That figure should be at least 1,000,” Merrill said.
The impetus for the delegation, which included representatives from the 10 University of California campuses and 23 other universities, was President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s proposal late last year for a bilateral partnership with the United States and the fact that President Barack Obama spent part of his childhood in Jakarta.
“This was like a heavenly alignment of interests for us,” said Merrill, a former ambassador to Bangladesh who once headed the USAID office in Indonesia.
His group, which encourages cooperation and exchanges with Indonesia, convened a conference in Washington in April to discuss the bilateral partnership. Out of that gathering grew the educators’ delegation, which was co-sponsored by the Institute for International Education, the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities, and the East-West Center.
Merrill said that the task of encouraging educational partnerships could not be left to governments. “You had to get US universities out here to talk to their Indonesian counterparts.”
The group met with University of Indonesia students and officials in Jakarta and Gadjah Mada University representatives in Yogyakarta. In Jakarta, they also met with a number of private universities.
Merrill said the decline in the number of Indonesians studying in the United States could be accounted for by the 1997-98 Asian economic crisis, strict visa requirements that followed the 9/11 attacks and US travel advisories after the 2002 Bali bombings.
“We felt it was more important than ever to show up” after the blasts at the Ritz-Carlton and Marriott hotels on July 17 that claimed nine lives, Merrill said.