Archived Information

Secretary Duncan’s Remarks at the U.S.-Indonesia Higher Education Summit

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan spoke at the opening and closing sessions of the summit.

Contact:  
(202) 401-1576, press@ed.gov


Opening Remarks

Thank you, Under Secretary Stock. The State Department and Secretary Clinton are deeply committed to international education. In tandem with the U.S. Department of Education, they have demonstrated an unwavering dedication to expanding international exchange and higher education partnerships.

They very much share our sense of urgency about the need to increase educational attainment throughout the globe. And we are fortunate to have the State Department as a partner in building and strengthening the important collaboration between the U.S. and Indonesia that we’ll be exploring and advancing today.

I want to also extend a warm welcome to Minister Nuh and the impressive Indonesian delegation with us here today. The mutual interest that Indonesia and America share in promoting higher education and international exchange is plain. Indonesia has the fourth largest population in the world. It has the biggest Muslim population of any nation on the planet.

And like America, Indonesia is a tolerant and diverse democracy. Our national traditions, both reflect and celebrate that diversity. America’s e pluribus unum—out of many, one—is similar to Indonesia’s national motto, Bhinneka Tunggal Ikam, or unity in diversity.

Under President Obama’s leadership, America’s partnership with Indonesia has taken on renewed importance. The President treasures the years he spent in Indonesia as a young boy. He has spoken with me often about that time. And he has a special appreciation for the warmth and vitality of the Indonesian people.

He knows firsthand the value of international education for American students and institutions, and the lessons that we learn from each other thru international exchange.

In fact, if it was not for an international scholarship program, the president’s father would never have met Ann Dunham at the University of Hawaii. And we know that Ann Dunham, the president’s mother, was deeply involved in studying and learning from Indonesia and its people for most of her career.

So, there is a special relationship today between our two nations, and the Higher Education Partnership that President Obama and President Yudhoyono announced in 2010 is a testament to that partnership.

The United States committed more than $165 million over five years to support increased academic exchanges, with a goal of strengthening collaboration in higher education and doubling the number of students studying abroad in both the U.S. and Indonesia.

The U.S. has established the largest English Language Fellow Program in the world in Indonesia. And I’m pleased to see that the U.S. has already increased its funding for the bi-national Fulbright-Dikti Program to $8.5 million per year--making it one of the largest Fulbright scholarship programs in the world.

The new $15 million Fulbright Indonesia Research, Science, and Technology program—or the FIRST program, as it is known—is an absolute model for how to promote study abroad of high-demand science and technology fields by students and scholars.

I’m excited to see that Cornell University-- which hosts one of our department’s National Resource Centers on Southeast Asia--is working on a new Climate Change initiative with the University of Indonesia. That initiative will include student and faculty exchanges, as well as collaborative research in the U.S. and Indonesia.

One final model of innovation I want to briefly mention is the State Department’s community college partnership with Indonesia. We will hear more about that partnership later today. But outside of this room, few people know that 40 percent of Indonesians requesting study visas to the U.S. intend to matriculate to community colleges.

Half of the top ten destinations for Indonesian students in the U.S. are community colleges. We want to nurture and expand that distinctive partnership, as we place more and more emphasis on strengthening community colleges here.

Now, as encouraging as these initiatives are, there is still a lot of work to be done to strengthen collaboration in higher education between the U.S. and Indonesia. The challenges ahead are well-known to everyone here today.

The U.S. and our postsecondary institutions have clearly not done enough to promote interest in Indonesia and study abroad there. In 2009, less than 200 U.S. students studied abroad in Indonesia for academic credit, only five percent of all U.S. students going to Southeast Asia. Nearly nine times as many U.S. students went to Thailand, and about twice as many studied abroad in Vietnam.

A recent survey of more than 150 postsecondary institutions in the U.S. by the Institute of International Education found that just two percent of the institutions listed Indonesia among its top ten study abroad destinations.

In an interconnected, global economy, this lack of knowledge and interest in Indonesia on most U.S. campuses is troubling. That must improve.

It is doubly concerning that the number of Indonesian students studying in the U.S. has actually dropped significantly over the last decade, from more than 12,000 students in 1999 to about 7,000 students today. Last year, both Vietnam and Thailand--two countries that have much smaller populations than Indonesia--sent more college students to study in the U.S. than Indonesia.

Increasing study abroad, both in the U.S. and in Indonesia, will provide tremendous benefits to both of our nations. And I know that Minister Nuh is eager to boost the institutional capacity and quality of colleges and universities in his homeland--in part thru new and expanded partnerships with American postsecondary institutions.

Today, few American institutions give academic credit for studies at an Indonesian institution. And Indonesia’s laws and regulations too often deter foreign commercial and non-profit investment in higher education.

The Institute of International Education’s directory of study abroad programs lists 83 programs in Thailand but fewer than 10 programs in Indonesia. In the long-run, that too will have to change to empower Indonesia to achieve its goal of creating a world-class higher education system.

These obstacles to collaboration are real. But the potential for transformational partnerships is far greater.

I am absolutely convinced that the U.S. and Indonesia have much to share with each other, to our mutual benefit. The challenges of climate change, public health, sustainable agriculture, and renewable energy do not stop at the border. And I believe that the status quo is both ripe for change and cannot stand.

Transformational change will not come overnight. But I guarantee you that it will come—the worldwide thirst and demand for highly educated workers is only going to grow in the years ahead.

It is worth remembering that nations do transform their higher education systems--despite having to overcome hurdles.

When Indonesia declared its independence in 1945, it had about 2,000 students enrolled in higher education. Today, Indonesia has more than 3,000 institutions of higher education--and nearly four million college students.

At today’s Summit, you will be exploring four present-day challenges that leaders of higher education share in the U.S. and Indonesia.

You will discuss how to increase access and expand the community college model. You will exchange information on the best accreditation and governance models for higher education.

You will talk about how to stimulate innovation, cutting-edge research, and academic exchanges. And finally, you will talk about how to attract, prepare, and support the next generation of great teachers.

It is an ambitious agenda. But in a knowledge-based, global economy, increasing college attainment and strengthening international collaboration are urgent issues for both of our nations.

Today, I encourage you to be bold, to think outside the box—but to always keep in mind that our ability to meet these collective challenges are central to the future of our children and our countries.

We meet today not for the sake of meeting, but to build our partnership--and to deliver results for the Indonesian and American people.

Closing Remarks

I am glad to hear Andre’s report about the promising proposals discussed today to strengthen and expand collaboration in higher education between the United States and Indonesia.

We’ve heard today about innovative models for strengthening community colleges, and expanding faculty-student exchanges and twinning programs. And we have been reminded that advancing the U.S-Indonesia partnership in higher education is of great value to both of our countries.

One reason this Summit is so timely is that the importance of international cooperation and collaboration in higher education cannot be taken for granted.

Unfortunately, in both the United States and Indonesia, there are some who treat international education partnerships as a zero sum game, where one country gains a competitive upper hand--instead of treating these partnerships as a win-win proposition for both nations.

Here in the U.S., skeptics of international collaboration believe that prosperity depends on a state’s ability to preserve a finite amount of goods and human capital within America’s borders.

One of my good friends and predecessors, U.S. Education secretary Richard Riley, once said that “for much of the last 50 years, international education was often defined by Cold War imperatives.” He was pointing out that rival nation’s education programs were often treated in the U.S. more as national tools for winning hearts and minds and not as mutually beneficial engines for economic growth and democracy.

In this parochial view of human capital, the large number of foreign-born students studying engineering, computer programming, and science pose a threat to U.S. workers and American competitiveness.

Some Indonesian leaders similarly view America’s institutions of higher education as a source of brain drain and a competitive threat in Indonesia.

Each year, about 500,000 students compete for roughly 100,000 spots at Indonesia’s competitive public universities. Clearly, demand today surpasses supply. But despite Indonesia’s pressing need for more high-quality colleges, universities, and vocational training institutes, some elected officials have promoted regulations that prevent or limit the development of Indonesian-based campuses of leading U.S. institutions of higher education. To date, no foreign university has received a permit to establish its own program in Indonesia.

I believe this skepticism about the benefits of competition and collaboration is both short-sighted and misguided. A number of nations in Southeast Asia, including Singapore, Malaysia, and China are all shifting away from educational protectionism. Malaysia and Singapore both aim to be centers of educational excellence. And Malaysia is actively encouraging foreign universities to set up branch campuses.

What accounts for their shift away from educational protectionism? The global job market has undergone a sea-change.

In today’s knowledge economy, education is a public good unconstrained by national boundaries. Innovation, manufacturing, and research and development are now borderless--to the mutual benefit of all.

It’s a fundamental misreading of the knowledge economy to interpret the contribution of Indonesian students or entrepreneurs to America as Indonesia’s loss or brain drain. ‘Brain gain’ better captures our growing higher education partnership.

I think President Obama said it best in his speech in Jakarta last year. He said that when he had moved to Indonesia as a child “it would have been hard to imagine a future in which the prosperity of families in Chicago and Jakarta would be connected.” In fact, that is the reality today.

What all nations have learned during the recent economic crisis, President Obama said, is that “we have a stake in each other’s success. America has a stake in Indonesia growing and developing, with a prosperity that is broadly shared among the Indonesian people. A rising middle class in Indonesia means new markets for [American] goods--just as America is a market for goods coming from Indonesia.”

The work at today’s Summit testifies to this new awareness of the value of international collaboration in higher education as a win-win venture.

The U.S.-Indonesia Partnership Program for Study Abroad Capacity that Peggy Blumenthal discussed is a great example of six U.S. postsecondary institutions working together with six of their counterparts in Indonesia to increase capacity in Indonesia to provide high-quality programs for U.S. undergraduates.

Jack Bermingham, the president of Highline Community College, talked about how Highline and North Seattle Community College, along with the University of Washington, are working to bring an additional 200 Indonesian students to their campuses. Miami Dade College, led by my friend Eduardo Padron, has set the same goal.

Here, and in Indonesia, I see visionary entrepreneurs and educators recognizing the value of collaboration. In partnership with Texas A&M University, the Bogor Agricultural Institute has established an advanced research facility to improve agricultural practices.

At Harvard, the Kennedy School of Government has created a chair and established an Indonesian studies program for the first time. In my home state, Northern Illinois University--with support from our department--has established the Mid-America Consortium for Southeast Asian Studies.

I think Indonesian entrepreneur and philanthropist Putera Sampoerna got it right, when he said that today “education is the single most important component to building vibrant economies and resilient democracies.”

Working with Iowa State and USC’s business school, his foundation has opened the Sampoerna School of Education and the Sampoerna School of Business. His foundation is working to develop the next generation of Indonesian entrepreneurs and teachers. And the education school’s four-year program to train and prepare teachers can both strengthen teacher preparation in Indonesia and reduce looming teacher shortages.

In closing, I want to note that America and Indonesia can not only benefit from working together but can learn a lot from each other.

Too many Americans today have become complacent about our educational performance. And it wasn’t always that way. When America was buffeted by a massive wave of immigration a century ago, parents started a grass-roots movement to create free public schools in their communities. The book Middletown, a classic sociological study of life in Indiana, reported that education then “evoke[d] the fervor of a religion, a means of salvation, among a large section of the population.”

Today, it’s Indonesia where education evokes that hunger and passion. Today, it’s Indonesia that can teach America about how to drive rapid economic growth.

You are reminding us anew that education is the great equalizer--the one force that can help overcome differences in background, culture, and privilege.

So, America can learn from Indonesia about how to reinvigorate our hunger for higher education. But Indonesia can benefit from America’s long experience in building a system of higher education.

In many respects, the American system of higher education is still the best in the world. Our blend of top-ranked research universities, liberal arts colleges, comprehensive state universities, and a robust community-college system provides unparalleled access to students of all socioeconomic backgrounds.

Clearly, all of this took time to build. And our higher education system was nurtured and shaped by far-sighted leaders and government action.

In the midst of the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln signed the Morrill Act, creating our nation’s land grant colleges. In the twentieth century, America adopted the tradition of research universities from Germany. But those universities thrived in the U.S. in large part because the government invested heavily in research in medicine, science, energy, and technology, and awarded research grants through a competitive peer-review process free of political interference.

America’s rapid expansion of higher education after 1945 stems from the GI Bill, which provided free tuition to war veterans. President Roosevelt signed the GI Bill during World War II, in the midst of the battle of Normandy. And in the fragile aftermath of that deadly war, President Truman helped foster the creation of our community college system.

So, our higher ed system not only took time to build, it took large public investments as well. And this public investment was deliberately designed to spur quality research and increase access for veterans, and low-income and working-class students.

If the U.S. experience is any guide, it suggests that Indonesia may want to expand its investment in higher education and do more to steer financial aid toward low-income students.

At the moment, Indonesia spends a substantially smaller amount of public resources on higher education as a proportion of GDP than some neighboring countries in Southeast Asia, like Malaysia and Thailand.

In Indonesia, scholarships comprise about three percent of total public financing of higher education--compared to 26 percent of federal and state financing in the United States.

As you can see, we all have a lot to learn from each other, to our joint benefit.

I hope you will come away from this Summit with a renewed commitment to the U.S.-Indonesia partnership in higher education. And I hope you will come away with a renewed faith that this evolving partnership is a win-win proposition for both of our nations.

Imagining the future as a contest among states vying to get larger pieces of a finite economic pie for themselves is a recipe for protectionism and global strife in the information age. Expanding educational attainment everywhere is the best way to grow the pie for all. Let this Summit advance that cause.

And now I’d like to ask Djoko Santoso, the Director General of Higher Education for Indonesia, to deliver the closing remarks for the Summit.

And again, thank you all so much for being here--and for your courage and commitment to increasing access and attainment in higher education throughout the world.