Nearly a year after the Obama administration set a priority of improving higher education exchanges with Indonesia, the U.S. is increasing its âcommitment to cultural diplomacy', writes Sara Schonhardt at Voice of America.
As part of the outreach, the administration aims to double the number of Indonesian students studying in the U.S., which officials say will help the U.S. economy and improve relations with the rapidly developing Muslim-majority nation.
Last June, to support university partnerships and student exchange programs, the Obama administration earmarked $165 million over five years. This would support subjects such as agriculture, business and information technology.
The U.S. is continuing to reach out to fast-growing economies like Indonesia and Vietnam as potential new markets for U.S. goods and services. International students injected nearly $19 billion into the U.S. economy last year, and Indonesia's rising middle class could open new opportunities for U.S. universities to bring in more tuition dollars.
The U.S. says, in an attempt to improve understanding between the two countries, it also wants to send more American students to Indonesia. U.S. Ambassador to Indonesia Scot Marciel said student exchanges create a "personal basis for better relations."
But to entice more Indonesians to American schools, Marciel said the U.S. must research and market better:
"We have to do a much better job of A, marketing our universities, which are the best in the world; and B, changing this terrible perception that you can't get a student visa. So I'm literally almost out on the streets grabbing people as they walk by saying, âhey, we'll give you a visa if you go study in America.'"
The number of Indonesians studying in the U.S. has fallen steadily over the last decade because the Asian financial crisis curtailed some families' resources to send their kids to study in America. Visa issues also contributed to the drop in numbers, and it is still to rebound fully. Fewer than 7,000 Indonesians studied in the United States in 2010, down about eight percent from 2009.
With improvements in universities in Australia, Singapore and Malaysia, more Indonesians are choosing to study at cheaper options closer to home.
There is, however, the undeniable lure of quality: the U.S. is home to many of the world's most prestigious universities and research institutions. Many Indonesians who have studied abroad say the combination of strong academics and unique life experience from study in the United States is invaluable.
American officials say that improving educational opportunity is crucial to the economic growth and political stability of a key ally, writes Karin Fischer at the Chronicle.
"We can't change the rainfall", says Cameron R. Hume, the U.S. ambassador to Indonesia. "But we can change people. We can improve opportunity for a generation of young people".
For Education Minister Mohammad Nur, the exchange is a part of enhanced cultural diplomacy that will help develop Indonesia and strengthen bilateral friendship, writes Schonhardt.
"There is a lot of history behind Indonesia's relationship with America, he said. That is why it needs to be strengthened. But Indonesia also wants to strengthen ties with Europe and other countries that can give it new insights."
Some students, at the education fair, said it does not matter which country they study in, as long as they can afford it. Others said they want to experience life in the United States, as long as there are good scholarship opportunities, writes Schonhardt.