Tailored, long term, cultural: Exporting education to Indonesia

With a large slice of Australia’s export industry being international education, the sector is at a major crossroads having been hit hard by the COVID-19 travel bans and social distancing.


The AIC’s recent In Conversation webinar brought together three industry leaders, from universities, TAFEs and EdTech, to discuss rapid changes in the marketing and delivery of their various services, and how to succeed in Indonesia.

Key messages

Working in Indonesia:

    • Don’t rush: find the right partner, and tailor or customise a program
    • Align your product with government (and your partner’s) priorities
    • Test ideas before investing heavily
    • Get used to having conversations on Whatsapp

Designing online learning:

    • Do not simply make course content accessible online
    • Consider practical and cultural learning: perhaps through a hybrid approach
    • Spend time training teachers to deliver online
    • Don’t forget internet and connectivity challenges

Meet the experts

Rongyu Li leads the University of Queensland’s international engagement efforts, which stretch back over 50 years in Indonesia. UQ wants “a long-term partnership,” he says, in a sentiment echoed by all speakers. It must be “mutually beneficial rather than just a ‘taking’ approach.”

Watch or listen to the full webinar: Indonesia’s international education potential

Janelle Chapman, executive director at TAFE Queensland, sees many international VET students enrolling in Melbourne and Sydney and wants to attract them north. Right now though, like all players, she is pivoting to online learning, and an in-country presence, which is becoming easier as Indonesia opens up its education market.

She sees alignment between the shift to online and Indonesians’ famous affinity for mobile phones: “Delivering short, sharp skill-sets via mobile phone [is] an opportunity that we probably wouldn’t have addressed as diligently [if not for the pandemic].”

Pivot to online learning you say? Well cometh the hour, cometh the man…

Adam Brimo is CEO of Open Learning, which assists TAFEs and universities to translate their courses into rich online experiences, and Indonesia, he says, “is the market where we think we can do something meaningful.”

Working in Indonesia

“I can honestly say it probably took us five years of trying to build relationships before we really saw any traction,” recounts Janelle Chapman, “[but then] almost like a flick of the switch, everything seemed to fall into place.”

To navigate the bureaucracy, TAFE Queensland worked with people who understood the system, and they now work directly with industry to develop tailor-made or customised programs.

“Many providers will go in with a one stop shop for [a] particular partner,” explains Janelle. “That’s the only way to go for Indonesia…. You can’t go in with an off-the-shelf product.”

At Open Learning, says Adam Brimo, “rather than trying to just import courses, we focus on supporting local education providers to make a difference and design higher quality learning experiences.”

Open Learning has entered various Southeast Asian countries over the last five years, and always spends time offering free services as they get to know different organisations.

This, Adam says, allows them to test out the market, and “see how we can support the local goals.”

Rongyu also suggests ensuring your product is aligned with Indonesia’s national priorities to demonstrate your readiness to work together, and show that you’re not “going in quickly to make a buck or two.”

Once you think you’re aligned, then test, he says. Run it by partners or contacts in industry and government before you invest too much. “Remember, they want solutions.”

In terms of day-to-day strategy, Janelle advises, “get used to the fact that they want to do everything on WhatsApp…. That’s just the way it is and you have to accept that or you’ll miss out.”

Designing online learning

“Discussion in a Zoom session [is] more of a tutoring approach,” says Adam, probably not for the first time.

“To actually design a high quality learning experience, you sit down and you think: What are the outcomes you’re trying to achieve? How do we want the students to interact? How do we want them to form a community?”

The challenge of “building up cultural exchange entirely online” as Adam describes it, is one all three leaders are facing, with no clear solutions yet.

The University of Queensland is looking at a hybrid model, delivering some of the fundamentals online but, once permitted, making travel and face-to-face contact part of other subjects.

All three agreed that taking time to prepare teachers for online delivery is vital.

“The greatest challenge we’ve seen is in some cases less from the students and more from the providers,” says Adam. Open Learning assists educators to learn new methods of facilitation and engagement for online teaching.

Another key challenge for TAFE Queensland and the entire VET sector is in practical learning.

“[Students need to] graduate with employable skills… if you can’t do that face to face, that’s a real dilemma.”

Some in Janelle’s network have deferred competency training until after restrictions end. Others are looking at partnering with local industry to teach practical components face to face, in-country.

Finally, Adam adds, delivering online in Indonesia will always depend on reliable access to the internet, so be aware of your audience’s limitations there.

No turning back

Notwithstanding the ongoing health and economic turmoil, the panelists agreed that much has changed as a result of the pandemic that will make life easier for many.

The huge development potential stemming from Indonesia’s fast-tracked digital transformation is clear, including benefits for education, both domestic and international.


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As well the suitability of now-necessary mobile phone delivery and Indonesian lifestyles, Janelle notes that with travel on pause it is more likely now that when you pick up the phone (or click ‘new meeting’) the official/partner/colleague at the other end will be there.

“Even though we’re not seeing our colleagues and our students face to face, we are in fact more connected,” agrees Rongyu.

“[Furthermore] shifting everything online is something we’ve tried to do for many years without actually getting there. And within the week, we’ve done it!”

Watch or listen to the full webinar: Indonesia’s international education potential

Image: Gradikaa Aggi on Unsplash.

Picture of Tim Fitzgerald

Digital Communications Manager
The Australia-Indonesia Centre

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