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Indonesia is ASEAN’s largest country both in population and landmass. It is an archipelago of over 17,000 islands, and home to over 267 million people, making it the world’s fourth most populous country. While Indonesia is incredibly diverse, over half its population lives on the island of Java and over 80% of its population are Muslims, making it the world’s largest Muslim-majority country. However, its government is structured as a secular constitutional republic.



Though the Indonesian economy relies heavily on agriculture and natural resources, it is one of the region’s fastest-growing economies with notable future potential and a demographic dividend due to its young population. Despite a sizeable demographic of citizens living in poverty, in recent years Indonesia has seen a growing population of middle-income and affluent consumers who maintain savings rates above global averages.1 Nevertheless, Indonesia still lacks HEIs that meet global standards to train and retain quality students to avert a brain drain.2


Formal education in Indonesia has roots in Hindu, Buddhist and Muslim traditions and the establishment of religious schools throughout the archipelago. However, modern HEIs such as the University of Indonesia and the Bandung Institute of Technology were first established in the early 20th century during the Dutch colonial period. Following its independence in 1946, Indonesia’s education system lacked the infrastructure to accommodate its large population; with only 10 HEIs and approximately 6,500 students enrolled at the time, Indonesia’s higher education system was tiny relative to its population. In the 1960s, the New Order Government under President Suharto introduced a comprehensive higher education development plan, which linked higher education to national development and increased university enrolment.3


By the 1990s and 2000s, Indonesia’s higher education system had expanded massively, with its student population more than tripling from 1990 to 2009. More than two-thirds of HEIs in Indonesia were established since 1990 and, as relatively young institutions, student enrolment often superseded quality. In 1996, the government started to implement policy changes that shifted university governance towards autonomy despite laws that emphasise autonomous HEIs as stateowned entities. These changes were reaffirmed by the 2012 Higher Education Law, which positions HEIs with a role in national development and technological innovation. As opposed to nonautonomous universities, which are managed directly by the education ministry, autonomous HEIs are overseen by a Majelis Wali Amanat, or a board of trustees that represents the government, university staff, students and stakeholders. The 2012 law also initiated a funding model for public HEIs, which granted funding based partially on student enrolment as opposed to other performance indicators. Autonomy ultimately gave HEIs more control over their financial governance.


Since 2014, all public and private HEIs in Indonesia have been managed by the Ministry of Research, Technology and Higher Education (MORTHE), marking a trend towards decentralisation of Indonesia’s university system under the Ministry of Education and Culture. HEIs are now required to gain accreditation from the National Accreditation Agency of Higher Education (BAN-PT), to be granted recognition and funding by MORTHE.


Indonesia also has a system of religious HEIs, which are managed separately by the Ministry of Religious Affairs. In 2015, MORTHE launched its first four-year strategic plan from 2015–2019, promoting universities as key facilitators of culture,
knowledge, technology transfer and economic development.4 Private HEIs on the other hand are operated autonomously from MORTHE, but are overseen by a non-profit foundation and KOPERTIS, an organisation that coordinates private HEIs in 14 major regions.5


Trend Towards Vocational Education

Indonesian secondary education in recent decades has been evenly divided between academic-track and vocational-track curricula. However, to meet the demands of the labour market and reduce the skill-mismatch that has plagued the Indonesian job market, the government has made it a priority to shift a larger proportion of secondary school students into vocational-track education and boost enrolment in TVET (Technical and Vocational Education and Training) institutions, aiming for 70% of students to be on track by 2020.6 While academic-track curricula are broad and provide general education courses, vocational-track schools, or SMKs, are more specific and offer students eight majors of specialisation. Based on 2016 estimates, Indonesia would need to annually add 3.8 million new skilled workers to the workforce to achieve a needed pool of 113 million skilled workers by 2030.7 


Added challenges to meeting the demands of the labour market are geographical in nature, with most TVET schools being private institutions clustered on Indonesia’s two most populous islands: Java and Sumatra. Increasing proportions of high school graduates in recent years are expected to boost enrolment in both TVET institutions as well as universities, particularly from lower-income demographics who will be accessing tertiary education for the first time.8



As of 2018 there were over 3,200 HEIs in Indonesia,9 over 90% of which are private. Indonesian HEIs are categorised as follows:



  1. Schools of Higher Learning
  2. Academies
  3. Universities
  4. Polytechnics
  5. Institutes
  6. Community Colleges

Schools of higher learning by far make up the majority of HEIs, at nearly 2,500 institutions; however, their individual enrolment numbers are often small. In addition to secular HEIs, there are an additional 1,171 HEIs with religious affiliations in Indonesia. Though Indonesia’s higher education system has been undergoing a trend towards autonomy and decentralisation, the past two decades have shown a resurgence in madrasah, or Islamic schools, and Islamic knowledge, which was greatly marginalised under the Dutch colonial regime and secular independence movement.12


In 2010, the Ministry of Education and Culture (MOEC) launched the Bidik Misi Scholarship programme for disadvantaged high school graduates who aspire to attend university. As of 2013, only 140,000 students were granted full scholarships to participating universities, covering tuition costs and providing stipends. The Directorate General of Higher Education also distributed approximately 8,000 scholarships to students attending private HEIs, though the coverage remains relatively limited. Effectiveness of the scholarship programme is believed to be impacted by a poor selection process of recipients, frequent late payments, and lack of public awareness of scholarship opportunities.13



E-Learning and the Impact of COVID-19
The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in early 2020 took a toll on Indonesia’s economy, causing capital outflows and depreciation of the Indonesian rupiah not seen since the 1997 Asian Financial Crisis. While Indonesia’s financial system is significantly healthier now than in the late 1990s, Indonesia’s education system was not prepared for the shutdown brought on by the pandemic. The Indonesian government ordered the closure of all universities as of March 13, 2020, though many universities struggled to transition to online learning. Despite the suspension of in-person classes, many students opted to remain in Jakarta or other large university cities where internet access is stronger.14



Although the proportion of Indonesians accessing the internet has exploded from only 10.92% in 2010 to 47.67% in 2019,15 the quality of connectivity in Indonesia is extremely unequal, with only 25% of internet users in eastern regions such as Maluku and Papua having access to stable connections. In 2017, the Indonesian government launched a large-scale e-learning strategy, aiming to tackle gaps in access and reduce costs, which led to 49 major courses being offered by eight major HEIs and over 800 massive online open courses (MOOCs) offered by 44 smaller HEIs.18


Zane Kheir recently graduated with a PhD in Comparative Asian Studies at the National University of Singapore.

APRIL 2022 | ISSUE 10

State of the Region: The Commemorative 10th Issue

  1. Andriansyah, “Savings and Investment in Indonesia”, November 1, 2016, 

  2. Global Business Guide Indonesia, “Indonesia’s Brain Drain Pains”, March 17, 2014, pains.php 

  3. Paulina Pannen, “Higher Education Systems and Institutions, Indonesia”, in The International Encyclopedia of Higher Education Systems and Institutions, eds. Pedro Nuno Teixeira and Jung-Cheol Shin et al. (Dordrecht: Springer, 2020). 

  4. Ibid.; Kementerian Riset, Teknologi dan Pendidikan Tinggi, 2015. Peraturan Menteri Riset, Teknologi dan Pendidikan Tinggi (Ministry Decree) No.13 Tahun 2015 tentang Rencana Strategis Kementerian Riset, Teknologi dan Pendidikan Tinggi 2015–2019. Jakarta: Kementerian Riset, Teknologi, dan Pendidikan Tinggi [Ministry of Research, Technology and Higher Education, 2015. Ministry of Research, Technology and Higher Education Regulation (Ministry Decree) No.13 of 2015 on the Strategic Plan of the Ministry of Research, Technology and Higher Education 2015–2019. Jakarta: Ministry of Research, Technology, and Higher Education]. 

  5. Paulina Pannen, 2020. 

  6. Dragana Borenovic Dilas, Christopher Mackie, Research, Ying Huang, and Stefan Trines, Research Editor, “Education in Indonesia”, WENR, March 21, 2019,

  7. “Indonesia needs 3.8 million new skilled workers per year: Govt”,, December 1, 2016,

  8. World Bank, “Tertiary Education in Indonesia: Directions for Policy”, June 2014,

  9. RISTEK-BRIN (Ministry of Research and Technology, National Research and Innovation Agency), “Statistics”, accessed February 16, 2021,

  10. OECD, “Education in Indonesia: Rising to the Challenge”, March 25, 2015,


    Regarding budgeting, Indonesia has long suffered from under-funding in its public higher education system. However, recent trends show increased spending compared with the early 2000s. In 2018, MORTHE received IDR40 trillion from the government, composing 12.5% of total education expenditures. Though Indonesia spends more on education than Cambodia and Myanmar, it still lags behind its other ASEAN neighbours Thailand, Malaysia and Vietnam. Limited government spending on higher education forces public universities to rely on student tuition as a source of revenue. As the majority of Indonesian students are enrolled in private HEIs, education budgets depend more on consumers rather than the government.

    Higher education fees in Indonesia are extremely complicated to calculate, as students have historically been required to separately pay for an assortment of fees in addition to regular tuition.



    However, in 2013, the process was slightly simplified with the introduction of the “single tuition fee”, or uang kuliah tunggal (UKT), requiring public institutions to only charge students this single tuition fee, which is broken down into eight tiers determined by their economic status.11

    Single Tuition Fee (UKT) at PTN”,, accessed February 16, 2021,

  11. World Bank, “Tertiary Education in Indonesia”, 2014,

  12. Nivell Rayda, “College Neighbourhoods Are ‘Like Ghost Towns’ as Jakarta University Remains Shut Amid COVID-19”, November 28, 2020,

  13. World Bank, “Individuals Using Internet (% of Population) — Indonesia”, accessed February 16, 2021,

  14. Paulina Pannen, 2020.

    16 COVID-19 undoubtedly sparked an amplification of a pre-existing imperative for e-learning in Indonesia, which grew by 25% between 2010 and 2015, and is the only access point to education for young people scattered in remote islands throughout the archipelago. According to a survey by a nationwide student executive board, approximately 77% of university students felt unable to pay tuition in 2021, and 92% incurred an additional cost of IDR200,000 a month on mobile data to conduct schoolwork online.17

    Dyaning Pangestika, University BEMs Urge Nadiem to Cut Tuition During COVID-19 ‘Study at Home' Policy,” Jakarta Post, June 4, 2020,


Leaders and changemakers of today face unique and complex challenges. The HEAD Foundation Digest features insights and opinions from those in the know addressing a wide range of pertinent issues that factor in a society’s development. 

Informed opinions can inspire healthy discussions and open up our imagination to new possibilities. Interested in contributing? Write to us at info@headfoundation

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Leaders and changemakers of today face unique and complex challenges. The HEAD Foundation Digest features insights and opinions from those in the know addressing a wide range of pertinent issues that factor in a society’s development. 

Informed opinions can inspire healthy discussions and open up our imagination to new possibilities. Interested in contributing? Write to us at info@headfoundation

Stay updated on our latest announcements on events and publications

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