Recruiting International Students from Indonesia
Date posted: January 10, 2018
As the new year begins, institutions at all levels across the world will be carefully mapping out their plans and goals for 2018, and evaluating the merits of different strategies to ensure steady growth. For many, this will involve looking into new markets for international recruitment, in the hopes of further growing and diversifying their student base.
If you find yourself in this position, Indonesia could be an exciting country to consider. With increasing international student mobility, a young population, and a growing middle class, the Southeast Asian nation is brimming with opportunity. Yet, despite its potential, Indonesia is often overlooked when schools look to expand their recruitment efforts. Read on to learn why this could be a mistake.
Why Indonesia is Such an Attractive Proposition for International Student Recruitment
Indonesia is actually the world’s 4th most populous country, behind only China, India, and the USA. It is also one of the world’s youngest, with almost 50% of Indonesians under the age of 30, and a median age of just 28.
In addition, while it has historically lagged behind other large nations in terms of establishing its economic power, that is beginning to change, with the country now boasting the 16th largest economy in the world. By 2030, experts are predicting that it will have broken the top ten. The country’s continued economic development has also led to a growing middle class which is expected to double by 2020, according to Boston Consulting Group.
Yet, for all of Indonesia’s potential, a lack of quality education threatens to hold it back. 15-29 year olds make up around one third of the workforce, with over 2 million new entrants to the job market every year. Despite economic growth, youth unemployment is high.
Many experts attribute this to the low skill level of the Indonesian workforce, just 7% of which currently holds a university degree. In a 2014 policy briefing, the World Bank estimated the percentage of workers with a tertiary degree in the country would need to triple in order to meet demand in the Indonesian job market.
To bridge this gap, more and more Indonesians are seeking out international educational opportunities. UNESCO figures show that outbound student mobility has grown by 35% in the past decade, with over 42,000 students now studying at universities abroad, and many more in language and vocational programs.
The need for increased international education opportunities has not been lost on the Indonesian government either. Funding for the Indonesian Endowment Fund for Education (LPDP), a scholarship program that supports Indonesian students seeking master’s and doctoral opportunities abroad, has more than doubled in the past year alone.
Example: This article on Duke University’s website announces the school’s agreement with LPDP to provide funding for Indonesian students who enroll in the school’s Master of International Development Policy (MIDP) program. Promoting scholarship opportunities like this can help schools attract Indonesian students.
Top Destinations for Indonesian International Students
Taking all these factors into account, it’s clear that there is potential for Indonesia to become a hugely important international student recruitment market. But which countries are currently best placed to benefit from these opportunities?
Historically, Australia has led the way when it comes to recruiting students from Indonesia. Its relative geographical proximity, high quality education system, and English-speaking instruction make it a natural choice for Indonesian students, and just under 20,000 were enrolled in institutions in the country in 2016.
Example: Macquarie University in Sydney has a dedicated page for prospective Indonesian students on its website. It includes testimonials from current students, as well as reasons Indonesian applicants should consider the school.
However, as demand for international study increases, Indonesian students are looking to more and more diverse destinations. The USA has seen strong increases in applications and inquiries from the country over the past decade, with enrollment growing by 14% between 2009 and 2014, and maintaining year-over-year growth of approximately 6-7%.There are currently almost 9,000 Indonesian students pursuing higher education in the US.
Indonesian enrollment has been steadily growing in the UK, too. The British Council reported that the number of study visas issued to Indonesian students increased 17% year-over-year from 2016 to 2017. It has been one of the few major markets to sustain steady growth in what has been a challenging few years for British international recruitment.
Mainland Europe is also seeing growing opportunities. Indonesia is one of the top ten origin countries for international students in the Netherlands, with many Dutch universities actively courting prospective Indonesian applicants. Cultural ties, as well as the ease at which students can obtain visas to stay on after graduation, have been key factors in the country’s popularity among Indonesian students.
Example: Leiden University in the Netherlands provides detailed information and resources for prospective Indonesian students through this dedicated page.
However, while some Indonesian students are considering a wide range of far-flung study destinations across the globe, others are looking closer to home. Behind Australia and the US, the third most popular study destination for Indonesians is the neighbouring country Malaysia.
As we have mentioned before, the Malaysian government has invested heavily in higher education in recent years, with the aim of not only providing better opportunities for domestic students, but also attracting international students from other Southeast Asian nations. Offering a similar culture and climate, and the advantage of much closer geographical proximity, it’s not hard to see why Malaysia represents an attractive option for Indonesians, and the country’s increasingly well-financed and well-equipped schools could provide strong competition to institutions from elsewhere looking to tap into the Southeast Asian market.
University Recruitment Opportunities in Indonesia
As mentioned elsewhere in this blog, the most immediate need for international education in Indonesia is at undergraduate level. Unsurprisingly, given the growing economic opportunities available for educated workers, enthusiasm for studying abroad among Indonesian teenagers approaching college age is strong. A survey of Indonesian students aged 13 to 18 conducted in 2017 by AFS Intercultural Programs found that 81% had considered studying abroad.
The survey also offered valuable insights into what they look for. Chief among influencing factors was the reputation of the host country, which 84% of respondents cited as important. Other major factors influencing their choice included price (80%), the reputation of the institution (71%), and the language of instruction, with 78% of students seeking courses taught in English.
Of these, price sensitivity is definitely a factor which universities looking to break into the Indonesian market should take into account. While the Indonesian middle class is growing, spending power in the country is still relatively low. AFS found that 45% of students would only consider a study exchange program if they got a full scholarship, and while destination country is still the top priority for most respondents, 22% said they would select the lowest price offering in the country once they had made their choice. Prominently promoting financing and scholarship options for Indonesian students on your website could be a good way to mitigate this concern.
Example: The University of Sheffield has a dedicated web page detailing the scholarship options available to Indonesian students. This can be a good way to encourage interest when dealing with a price-sensitive international market.
The demand for postgraduate study from Indonesia has not been growing as fast, but new opportunities like the LPDP could lead this to change. Among the Indonesian students currently in the market for international postgraduate opportunities, the QS World Grad School Applicant Survey 2016 revealed that the majority prioritized an institution’s reputation in specific subjects rather than their overall global standing. This means that schools with a track record of offering quality education in specific fields of study are likely to stand out.
Example: This testimonial from Hartanto Ng, an Indonesian MSc student at the University of Bristol serves not only as an example of great promotion, but also as an insight into what postgraduates from the country look for. Ng cites Bristol’s “high ranking, rigorous curriculum and prestige,” as well the fact that the program did not require applicants to have an extensive finance background. He also mentions wanting to study in the UK due to its status as a high profile financial market.
Again, financing is an important factor for Indonesian postgraduate candidates, with the availability of scholarships and financial aid listed as the top driver of destination choice among Indonesian respondents to the QS survey. The international recognition of qualifications and the lifestyle and culture the country offers also played a major role in students’ decisions.
STEM subjects tend to be one of the dominant choices for Indonesian students at both the undergraduate and postgraduate level, but there is also high demand for business and hospitality training. In fact, business students account for a larger share (28%) of Indonesians studying in the USA, according to the International Trade Administration. This means that schools offering good business programs could have an advantage when it comes to attracting applicants from the country.
Other Student Recruitment Opportunities in Indonesia
While the majority of Indonesian students seek study abroad at the university level, there is no shortage of opportunity for growth in language education. Although most Indonesian students prefer to seek out courses with instruction in English, the majority of the population still has a low level of proficiency, and the country as a whole ranks just 39th in the EF English Proficiency Index. This suggests that ELS courses, particularly those that offer pathways to further education and otherwise help them to fulfil the requirements for university entry, could be very successful in attracting Indonesian students.
Example: The University of Kansas offers a specialized 8-week scholarship program for Indonesian students seeking to learn English in the USA.
In addition, a large number of Indonesians travel abroad to seek out quality vocational education. Australia’s Vocational Education Training (VET) system has a long history of providing training to Indonesian students, with the government reporting over 8,000 Indonesian students enrolled in VET as of 2016. The US has also seen growth in this area, and with increased demand for skilled labour in the country, vocational students may well seek out other destinations in future.
Tactics for International Student Recruitment in Indonesia
While Indonesia is a huge country, and the culture varies greatly according to region and city, there are a few things that schools should generally bear in mind in order to increase their chances of breaking into the market.
First, while Indonesian students are quite open to expanding their horizons, their culture can be quite family-oriented. Parents are often actively involved in a prospective student’s decision-making process, and many institutions set up ‘family programmes’ with this in mind, which involve regular newsletters and events for Indonesian parents, in order to make them feel like a part of the wider school community.
Example: The University of Groningen in the Netherlands has a dedicated page for parents of Indonesian students with a video and PDF guide to the school.
Fear of homesickness was also one of the leading barriers to study among the Indonesian students surveyed by AFS, with 46% of respondents listing it as a concern. 47%, meanwhile, expressed concern about safety and security when studying abroad. Given that Indonesia is the world’s largest Muslim-majority country, this is understandable given recent political events.
Schools looking to allay these fears should focus on fostering a welcoming and tolerant image of their institution, emphasizing the existing diversity on their campuses and the services they offer to help international students assimilate. Highlighting any existing Indonesian students at your school, as well as any clubs, societies, or events for Indonesian or Muslim students, can also be a great way to demonstrate that you provide an inclusive and tolerant environment.
Example: The University of Manchester features this student profile video on their website, in which the student specifically highlights the Indonesian Students Society.
The Digital Marketing Landscape in Indonesia
Schools looking to make inroads into international student recruitment in Indonesia will find the online landscape familiar. The top social media platforms are YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, while other globally popular sites such as WhatsApp, Messenger, and LinkedIn also enjoy significant penetration in the country. Mobile is by far the dominant device type, supplying over 69% of total web traffic, according to figures from Southeast Asian content marketing network GetCRAFT.
GetCRAFT‘s research also detailed that social media and social media advertising were the most effective digital marketing channels for reaching Indonesian audiences, with paid search and content marketing also rating highly.
This would suggest that a multichannel approach to recruiting students would be preferable for institutions, with blogs, social media posts, and geo-targeted paid advertising all having the potential to reach and engage with Indonesian students.
Example: Radboud University in the Netherlands uses targeted social media posts to reach out to Indonesian students.
Even with the rapid growth of Indonesian student mobility in recent years, there is still the feeling that there is a wealth of untapped potential in the country. As the economy grows, employment opportunities and spending power increases, and more and more Indonesian graduates see the benefits of studying abroad, interest from the country’s young population is only going to increase. If your institution has yet to explore the potential of the Indonesian market, it may soon become too big to ignore.