Fri, 05 Mar 1999

German universities ready to educate Indonesians

By Lena Rosenthal

JAKARTA (JP): In these times of rapid globalization of the world's markets, international experience has become one of the top qualifications for job applicants, raising the number of students seeking to study abroad.

While the United States along with Australia and Great Britain are still the most preferred destinations for students, German universities are now introducing themselves to the Indonesian public.

As part of a daily program at the TECHNOGERMA Science Show being held at the Jakarta Convention Center until this Sunday, the "Study and Research in Germany" exhibition introduces 11 German universities and technical colleges to exhibit their international postgraduate programs.

Many of the exhibited technical programs are newly developed, a response to the challenge posed by the demand of modern business. For instance, the Technical University of Berlin is offering a new international course of studies called Global Production Engineering, begun in October 1998.

While most German universities once offered their courses in German only, they are now increasingly available in English, making it easier for Indonesian students to apply.

The University of Bremen, presenting its international two- year science master's degree course on Tropical Aquatic Ecology, expects its non-German students to hold a certificate of the English-language TOEFL test. The University of Mining and Technology in Freiberg, offering a three-year master's degree course in international resource management, is -- besides teaching in English -- also providing German classes for its students.

Stefan Dreher, representative of the Technical University of Berlin, said that interest shown by Indonesian students is unexpectedly high.

"Many students come and ask about our programs, even the ones that haven't even started university here in Indonesia," he said, adding that the institution emphasizes postgraduate programs which allow international students to obtain master's degrees after a successful completion of the two year course.

Recent U.S. educational exhibitions also showed a high desire to study overseas, despite (or maybe because of) the rapid economical and political developments in the Indonesia.

"We did not know what to expect," explained Gregory F Barattini, vice president for International Programs at Kaplan Educational Center in the "Study USA 99" exhibition, "but there are a lot more students here compared to other Southeast Asian cities where we have displayed this show."

Although there is a lot of interest among students to study abroad, the economic crisis forces many to give up their hopes.

"I was very interested in studying overseas, but I have to drop my plans because of the crisis," said 18-year-old Hadi, who studies electrical engineering at Atma Jaya University in Jakarta.

In fact, applications in Asia have dwindled with the economic crisis. "We estimate to have 10 to 15 percent less applicants than we used to have," says Barattini.

Although the tuition fees have dropped by up to 20 percent for Indonesian students, U.S. universities are often not affordable for Indonesian families. The tuition fee at City University in Washington state, for example, is US$840 for a three-credit graduate course.

Studying in Germany could therefore be seen as an appealing alternative for Indonesian graduates, keeping in mind that most German universities are state-run and therefore do not charge any tuition fees, not even for foreign students.

Nevertheless, housing is seldom provided and living expenses in Germany run up to DM1,000 (about Rp 5 million) per month, making many start to look for scholarships and grants.

All of the universities presenting themselves at the TECHNOGERMA Science Show therefore encourage international students to apply for scholarships in Indonesia or seek financial aid at the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD).

The scholarships enable more students to study in Germany.

"We are expecting to get at least three to four applications as a result of this exhibition," Christian Bettstetter of the International Graduate Program in the Technical University of Munich said.

According to Dorothea Rueland from the DAAD there are about 2,000 Indonesian students studying at German universities. Although the number has gone down slightly within the last couple of years, it seems to be increasing again as indicated by the growing number of visa applications within the last 12 months.

But the number is much smaller compared to that of students studying in the United States. Nancy Gong from the U.S. Embassy said about 13,200 Indonesians currently enrolled at U.S. universities. But an informal survey done by the IIE (Institute of International Education) showed a decrease in enrollment of less than 10 percent since the economic crises hit Indonesia in July 1997.

Despite the economic crisis that has made some students reconsider their plans, many affluent parents are now sending their children abroad.

"Parents are worried about the political turmoil they are expecting because of the upcoming elections," explained J. Hanadinata Kosasih, an English teacher at the Oriental Service Activity's Training Center for Communication. "The elite can afford to send their children abroad, so they are sending them to the U.S."

A father at the U.S. exhibition agreed. "Yes, we are worried about our children," he said. "The U.S. offers a better education for our children than the one they could get here."

Gede Aditya, a graduate from a telecommunications college in Bandung, said that most students are expecting better job opportunities abroad if they earn a degree overseas. But he added, "They are trying to escape from the political situation here in Indonesia".

Not all share the idea, though. "I am here because I believe the U.S. study program is more flexible -- it has nothing to do with the political situation here in Indonesia," said Suyanti, 22, who is studying accounting at the Tarumanegara University.

As diverse as the reasons to study abroad may be for the students, the exhibitors agree on their purpose: "We have a strong commitment to the Indonesian market," said Barattini, or, as the leaflet handed out at TECHNOGERMA puts it: "(Germany is) a partner of Southeast Asian economy."