The start of a new era

12 October 2008

Professor John Hearn
Professor John Hearn

The celebration of fifty years of Indonesian Studies at the University of Sydney has focused attention on our partnerships in higher education and research with Indonesia and the ways in which we can build better, stronger, sustainable programs.

We have already instituted a number of initiatives: an Indonesian Forum, organised by our students and addressed by Ambassador Hamzah Thayeb; a University-wide delegation of 19 academics to Jakarta in July; a high-level Indonesia Briefing on political and economic outlooks from leading government officials in Sydney in October; and an enhanced Indonesia action plan for 2009-10 developed by our Indonesia Expert Group drawn from faculties across the University.

The advice and support we have received from Consul General Hartomo Sudyarono and his staff in Sydney and from the Indonesian Ambassador in Canberra have been gratifying. We also received great support from Australian Ambassador Bill Farmer and his staff in Jakarta, and we have been assisted by the Australia-Indonesia Business Council and by an increased number of visits from rectors and staff of leading Indonesian universities.

It is vital for future success that we broaden our understanding of Indonesia, helped by the experience of members of our staff who have worked there in medicine and public health, science and technology, agriculture and the environment, economics and law, arts, the humanities and the social sciences.

There is certainly a great deal to learn about our large and dynamic neighbour. Indonesia has a fascinating history and diverse culture, with enormous variety in architecture, the arts, music and food. A country of more than 17,000 islands with a population of nearly 240 million and a median age of only 27 years, Indonesia has the largest Muslim population in the world and mega-diversity in fauna and flora. Over the past 10 years it has been transformed through the policies of Reformasi into a democracy with significant powers delegated to the provinces. It has achieved remarkable economic and social stability in a short period. At the same time it has had to address major challenges such as the tsunami in 2004, and exercise continuing vigilance to deal with international security and emerging disease.

The University delegation in July received a warm welcome. Our visits to five universities, including "Sydney Day" at our APRU partner the University of Indonesia, and our meetings with government and media were met with great interest. Our visit to the Eijkman Institute has already resulted in return visits and the development of projects in biomedical research. Our Frontiers of Knowledge symposium in Jakarta on the role of universities attracted a large audience including five rectors and the Minister of National Education, Professor Bambang Sudibyo. Our Chancellor, Professor Marie Bashir, a champion for cooperation with Indonesia, also visited the Governor of Jakarta Province, who has since paid a return visit to Sydney.

All of this gives us opportunities in research and education that are a high priority for both countries. We are putting seed funds towards research programs and speaking to government and industry about new scholarships and internships. We are confident that improved stability and security will lead to a two-way exchange of staff and students that will deliver results, while attracting the resources for sustained engagement.

I am aware of the hard work, humour and increased emphasis on internationalisation among my Indonesian academic friends. I have seen vast changes on my own intermittent visits to Indonesia with World Health Organisation expert teams since the early 1980s. Now is the time to make a concerted effort to build effective partnerships in research and higher education, to strengthen the diplomatic ties and raise the level of basic understanding between Indonesia and Australia.


John Hearn  is the Deputy Vice-Chancellor (International) and Professor of Physiology in the School of Medical Sciences.

Contact: Claudia Liu

Phone: 02 9351 3191

Email: 175f581e1426413d132f7f0b521f5d0a13