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Purposes of transnational higher education programs: Lessons from two
Indonesian universities
Agustian Sutrisno and Hitendra Pillay
Faculty of Education, Queensland University of Technology, Brisbane, Australia
Victoria Park Road, Kelvin Grove, Queensland, Australia 4059
While intended to facilitate knowledge transfer from international universities
and develop Indonesian universities’ capacity, transnational higher education
programs (TEPs) in Indonesia have been criticised for operating merely as an
international trade in education—implying discrepancy between the rhetoric and
reality surrounding the key purposes of establishing TEPs among Indonesian
universities. This case study seeks to ascertain what actually drives Indonesian
universities to operate the TEPs. Interview and document data from two private
Indonesian universities were thematically analysed to identify the key purposes
of establishing TEPs in light of the conflicting global-national-local agendas and
unequal power relations between TEP partners. The findings suggest the
Indonesian universities actively advanced their particular institutional purposes
within the Indonesian national agenda and negotiate mutually beneficial
outcomes with their global partners. This study informs other universities to
devise clear purposes and expectations in managing TEPs to avoid functioning
merely as student recruitment pathways for international partners.
Keywords: transnational education, Indonesian higher education, case study,
knowledge transfer, power relations
Transnational higher education programs (TEPs) are an example of innovative delivery
modalities of this globalised era, where nations and universities are becoming more
interconnected, stretching beyond their national borders (Marginson and Ordorika 2011;
Ziguras and McBurnie 2011). In managing TEPs, universities have to reformulate their
purposes to be in line not only with the institutional and national agendas, but also with
the potentially competing broader global interests (Naidoo 2010). Given the TEPs’
substantial number and importance (Hill et al. 2013), a study of how universities
understand the purposes of establishing TEPs is necessary to help inform and strengthen
this initiative. Therefore, as implied by Marginson and Rhoades (2002) and Unterhalter
and Carpentier (2010), the study reported here examines the purposes of TEPs as a
specific type of higher education program to provide a tangible grounding for
understanding the direction taken by universities in the 21st century.
As a part of a large higher education sector, Indonesia’s TEPs are distinctive,
growing, but under-studied. Indonesia, the world’s fourth most populous country, has a
sizeable higher education sector with more than 4.3 million students and 3,011 higher
education institutions in 2010 (Pusat Data dan Statistik Pendidikan n.d.). It has
participated in free trade agreements that promoted the liberalisation of higher education
services, prompting the government to allow partnership between Indonesian
universities and international universities to establish TEPs. One of the aims of the
policy liberalisation initiative was to encourage and facilitate knowledge transfer from
international partner universities to develop the Indonesian higher education capacity
(Nizam 2006; Kementerian Pendidikan Nasional 2007). According to OECD:
Capacity is the ability of people, organisations and societies as a whole to
manage their affairs successfully. Capacity development is the process whereby
people, organisations, and society as whole unleash, strengthen, create, adapt
and maintain capacity overtime (2006, 12).
Unlike their Malaysian and Singaporean counterparts, Indonesian TEPs are run by
established Indonesian universities, rather than non-degree granting colleges used as
shopfronts to deliver overseas programs (Welch 2011). The Indonesian TEPs generally
take the form of dual degree programs within established comprehensive public and
private universities which allow students to commence their studies in Indonesia, and
then continue at an overseas partner university, resulting in the granting of two
equivalent degrees—one from the Indonesian university and the other from the overseas
partner for the single program undertaken (Tadjudin 2009). Among Indonesian
universities, TEPs are normally considered as additions to their regular programs where
the graduates are only granted the Indonesian degrees. Despite the abovementioned
government directive for TEPs as a means for capacity development, they are often
criticised as mere revenue-generation enterprise (Tadjudin 2009). In the absence of any
in-depth study, little is known about the actual rationales driving Indonesian universities
to establish TEPs. Hence, the current article attempts to address this paucity in empirical
research. The subsequent section examines the interplay between global-national-local
priorities in transnational higher education, followed by description of the methodology
used in this study, leading to the delineation of its findings. The discussions of the
findings conclude this article.
Global-national-local interplay in TEPs
Marginson and Ordorika (2011) argue that researching higher education in the global
era has to take into account the interplay between global, national, and local
environments within which universities determine their actions. Although there are
global networks between universities, such as the TEP partnerships, universities
simultaneously function in particular national systems and local contexts. In their view,
universities cannot be positioned as passive research objects swayed by global and
national influences. Universities are dynamic actors in the global-national-local
interplay, as their actions can undermine, negate, and alter the global and national
influences, underpinned by their own local-institutional agendas and vice versa
(Marginson and Rhoades 2002). Nevertheless, the local-institutional agendas are also
not free from competing aspirations between schools, faculties, and university
executives, which may contest each other, and consequently re-interpret the localinstitutional agendas in the midst of the global-national-local interplay (Marginson and
Rhoades 2002). Traditionally, Indonesian universities, as stipulated by the government,
subscribe to the ideals of Tridharma: education, research, and community service
(Nugroho 2005). In the context of growing globalisation and heightened globalnational-local interplay, these ideals are often renegotiated by the universities when
considering developing and offering TEPs.
Within the global-national-local environment, issues of power relations and
knowledge flow between universities across national borders demand special attention
(Marginson and Ordorika 2011).Unequal power relations between TEP partners persist
as universities from OECD countries tend to dominate their partners in developing
countries because of their perceived superior reputation and thus have greater influence
on decision making (Altbach 2004). Utilisation of the OECD country partner’s
reputation to elevate the local public perception of the developing country university
seems to benefit the local universities just as much in increasing local market share
(McBurnie and Ziguras 2007). This phenomenon was reported by Akiba (2008) who
found that a Malaysian private university attracted a substantial number of students
because of the reputation of its Australian TEP partner. Regarding power relations and
decision making, Canto and Hannah (2001) found that a British university that
partnered with a Brazilian university could steer the partnership direction to postgraduate student recruitment to suit its objectives instead of supporting the Brazilian
partner’s capacity development aspiration. The general perception that emerges from
the literature tends to suggest that generating revenue through student recruitment from
developing countries was the key purpose of establishing TEPs among OECD country
universities, whereas for developing country universities, it was more about their
capacity development (Sakamoto and Chapman 2010). Some the cases reported in the
literature tend to imply that these divergent expectations are mutually exclusive, but if
one follows Akiba’s (2008) findings and if developing country universities are strategic,
then there can be benefits for them as well.
The global-national-local interplay also makes possible the flow of knowledge
between universities across national borders (Marginson and Ordorika 2011). However,
given the potentially distinct purposes and unequal power relations between partnering
universities, knowledge transfer may be pushed lower on the priorities of Indonesian
universities’ TEP partners, contrary to the institutional aspiration of the Indonesian
universities and the national policy of the Indonesian government (Gilbert and
Gorlenko, 1999; Yang 2010). It is acknowledged at the outset of this article that by
focusing on knowledge transfer, the study does not negate Indonesian universities’
ability to generate their own knowledge, but as directed by the government, TEPs can
be used as means to facilitate knowledge transfer and develop institutional capacity.
Thus the global-national-local interplay in higher education shaping the drivers of TEPs
is the focus of the study reported in this article.
This study examines how particular Indonesian universities understand the purposes of
establishing TEPs in the midst of the global-national-local interplay. Therefore, case
study design was employed to generate thick description regarding potential causal
relationships between purposes, actors, actions, and outcomes (Yin 2009). Moreover, as
previous studies on transnational higher education among Indonesian universities are
limited, the current study is a revelatory case study as it aims to reveal a previously
unknown phenomenon and report the preliminary findings upon which future studies
can be based (Yin 2009). As in most case studies, defining the boundaries of the
research to make it manageable is important. This case study was bounded by two
participating universities, which was sufficient to serve its revelatory purpose.
Focussing the study on two universities allowed in-depth exploration into the
commonality and particularity of the purposes of TEPS as espoused by the participating
Indonesian universities, which can be contrasted with findings in other national
contexts. By doing so, future studies on the international activities of Indonesian
universities can have solid grounding to base their directions.
Research sites
In 2010, there were 2,928 private compared to 83 government-owned higher education
institutions in Indonesia (Pusat Data dan Statistik Pendidikan n.d.). Private Indonesian
universities far outnumber government-owned universities, and they are more likely to
enter into a TEP partnership than government-owned ones. However, private
universities are less studied than the government-owned universities yet are equally
subjected to the growing national and global competition for student recruitment. Since
they receive no subsidy from the Indonesian government, they are perhaps more prone
to the impacts of such competition as they depend on student number to sustain their
existence (Susanti 2011).
To maintain anonymity of the participating universities, they are referred to as
Indonesian University A (IU-A) and Indonesian University B (IU-B). IU-A has been in
operation for more than 40 years with a student population of around 10,000 students. It
is located in a major urban centre of Indonesia and at the time of data collection, IU-A
had three TEPs in cooperation with Australian and European universities for
undergraduate programs in Business and Information Technology. Although a private
university, IU-A was traditionally-organised, in line with Indonesian government public
sector organisational structures with leadership hierarchies at executive, faculty and
school-levels. IU-B is a more recent university which was established about 20 years
ago with a student population of approximately 25,000 students. IU-B had 13 TEP
partners in Australia, Europe, and Asia, offering undergraduate and master-level
programs ranging from Fashion Design, Business to Information Technology. IU-B is
located in a city that is three-times the size of the city where IU-A is located. In 2011,
IU-A’s TEPs were in their fourth year of operations, whereas IU-B’s oldest TEPs were
about a decade-old. Selecting these two very different private universities can produce
comparative findings providing insights into how different characteristics and
experience influence the management of TEPs.
Procedure and data collection
In line with the case study methodology, semi-structured interviews were used to collect
data from key informants at IU-A and IU-B. These included university executives,
faculty officers, and TEP lectures at the school level, which broadly corresponded to the
three organisational levels of the university structure. Given the focus on the managerial
and purposive aspects of TEPs, it was decided that students enrolled in these programs
were not included as participants as they have limited knowledge on their university’s
management and aspirations. A total of 20 interviewees, 10 from each university, were
involved. Their names were withheld as per mutual agreement. Since English is not the
main language of instruction in most Indonesian universities, 13 participants preferred
to be interviewed in Bahasa Indonesia (the national language of Indonesia) with the
remaining 7 choosing English for their interviews. The interviews were about 40-60
minutes long. All interviews were audio-recorded and transcribed. The Indonesian
transcripts were translated to English using the back-translation procedure to ensure the
trustworthiness and accuracy of the translated data was maintained. The data were
firstly translated into English by a certified translator and then back-translated into
Indonesian by another translator (Liamputtong 2010). Furthermore, the transcribed data
was shared with the respective interviewees to verify the accuracy of the recording.
The second source of data was relevant university documents. They included
Memoranda of Understanding for International Cooperation, Letters of Agreement for
TEP Partnership, Future Roadmap, and Strategic Plans. Documents only available in
Indonesian, such as the Strategic Plans, were translated into English and backtranslation procedure was also applied. These documents were considered as a
secondary data source to corroborate the main findings from the interviews. Both
interview and document data were then thematically analysed.
Data analysis
Thematic analysis strategy was used to analyse all the transcripts which were translated
to English (Braun & Clarke 2006). The themes were derived from both the literature
review and emergent ideas from the data. For the analysis, the data were read repeatedly
and arranged into themes in two stages. In the first stage, the thematic analysis was
conducted on all the interview data to identify and generate the dominant themes.
Dominant themes were defined as themes that were frequently referred to by the
participants (appearing more than 25 times in the entire dataset) and noted by at least
60% of the participants. Particular attention was given to the grouping of participants
based on the three organisational levels of the university structure in order to examine
the potential differences in understanding the purposes of establishing TEPs within a
university, not only between the participating universities. NVivo 9 qualitative data
analysis software facilitated the data aggregation and thematic analysis process.
In the second stage, given that the documents were considered as secondary
data, they were not subjected to the same level of scrutiny as the interviews. The
documents were analysed based on the dominant themes generated from the interview
data. The document data extracts that supported the dominant themes were collated and
used to substantiate those themes.
Besides considering the trustworthiness of the translations as mentioned earlier,
this study also undertook to ensure trustworthy research findings through four means
(Guba, 1981). First, the findings from the interview data were triangulated with findings
from the relevant university documents as previously outlined to achieve findings that
are not solely dependent on the participants’ subjective views, thus establishing the
confirmability of this study. Second, to address the credibility issue, this study
employed member checking process. The participants were invited to review the
interview transcripts and provide feedback to ensure the meaning was consistent with
what was intended. Third, as this case study involved a small number of participants, it
is acknowledged that the findings could not be generalised to all Indonesian
universities. However, by providing thick description of the context and findings, the
study can have transferability of underlying theoretical principles to other universities in
a comparable situation. Finally, to ensure the dependability of the study, an audit trail
was provided through careful documentation of the data collection and analysis
procedures. This is reflected in this article through clear identification of the sources of
interview and document excerpts by mentioning the position of the interviewee as an
executive, faculty officer, or lecturer and referencing the page number or particular
section of the documents. Altogether, these actions assist in maintaining the rigour of
the study.
Three common purposes of establishing TEPs were identified in both IU-A and IU-B:
international profiling, developing institutional capacity, and commercial purposes.
While sharing commonalities, each university placed varying emphases on these
purposes, revealing unique strategies to situate their local expectation and
simultaneously honour their TEP agreements.
International profiling purpose
In this first purpose, both Indonesian universities established TEPs to improve the
universities’ recognition on the international stage. This international profiling purpose
was discussed by 75% of the total participants. Each university had specific
conceptualisations of what constitutes international profile. IU-B aimed to gain
international accreditations from international agencies to increase their profile. This
notion was consistently reported by participants from the three organisational levels in
I would like to have TEP cooperation... give priority to universities with EQUIS
and AACSB...Because we want to gain international recognition. (IU-B University
Executive, Excerpt 1)
The accreditations sought were from European Quality Improvement System (EQUIS)
and Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB). IU-B’s Future
Roadmap Document outlined the goal of securing EQUIS accreditation by 2015 and
AACSB accreditation by 2018.
Whereas, IU-A sought to lift its international profile through leveraging the
recognition of the TEP partner. In this case, the Indonesian university was content to
consider recognition by association and international accreditations were not a priority.
One of the executives stated:
…by opening this TEP, people in our city or the market segment of IU-A will see
that IU-A is an international university. This TEP can also prove that our
curriculum is accepted overseas, so it is a guarantee because if we try to apply for
the international accreditation, it will be a longer process. But now we have a TEP.
This is a type of recognition too (IU-A University Executive, Excerpt 2)
As shown above, the TEP partner’s recognition of IU-A’s curriculum was perceived as
an indication that IU-A’s academic standing was recognised at the international level.
Furthermore, the first half of Excerpt 2 reveals the university executive’s view that
TEPs could be used to elevate its image as an internationally-reputable university
among the local market.
However, the idea of improving the university’s international image by using the
TEPs was not supported by IU-A faculty officers and lecturers—suggesting a difference
of views within a single university.
There might be the need of the institution to improve its positioning in the public
perception. But in my opinion, and well since I also have the authority to speak
about it, I will try to redirect the goal to improving the quality... (IU-A Lecturer,
Excerpt 3)
Excerpt 3 suggests that projecting the university’s international image to the local
market was not considered as the key purpose of establishing TEPs by participants from
the faculty and school levels. According to them, the programs should be used to
improve the university’s academic quality.
One key explanation on the above different views was provided by one of IU-A
university executives.
... at the level of the implementer, such as... the lecturers, they think more about the
content and the implementation. While in the upper level, they tend to consider
financial interests more... But so far they don’t lead to a higher tension, but it is
definitely potential. (IU-A University Executive, Excerpt 4)
The university executives had to constantly be aware of the financial situation of the
university and the TEPs, whereas the lecturers as implementers of the TEPs’ delivery
was more focussed on academic aspects and quality improvement, which corresponds
with the next purpose of establishing TEPs—institutional capacity development.
Institutional capacity development purpose
The second purpose embodies the universities’ intention to develop their institutional
capacity through knowledge transfer from TEP partners. This capacity development
purpose was discussed by 60% of the total participants. Views from all the
organisational levels in IU-A and IU-B on the capacity development purpose were
consistent. Two excerpts from lecturers representing each university illustrate the
We hope there will be transfer of knowledge or experience which has been done
there [i.e. TEP partner] ... so that IU-A can also develop and learn... That’s why
what is important is how our curriculum here matches with the curriculum in TEP
partner. (IU-A Lecturer, Excerpt 5)
We want to also learn from them [i.e. TEP partners], looking at what
[international] accreditation that they have, and basically try to take some good
qualities that they have and try to adopt it over here. (IU-B Lecturer, Excerpt 6)
As illustrated in the above excerpts, a key similarity between IU-A and IU-B’s
institutional capacity development purpose is the focus on knowledge transfer from the
TEP partners to improve their educational quality, albeit different manifestations for
each university. Based on Excerpt 5, IU-A anticipated knowledge transfer from the TEP
partner with a focus on seeking the partner’s recognition for its curriculum. As
mentioned earlier, IU-B aimed to be internationally-accredited, thus Excerpt 6 indicates
that IU-B wanted to learn the partners’ experience in preparing for international
accreditation and apply that to its own preparation for the accreditation.
The document analysis, particularly the Letter of Agreement between IU-A and
one of its TEP partners clarified how the curriculum recognition by the partner could
facilitate knowledge transfer and improve IU-A’s quality.
The parties agree that some modification of the curriculum in each of the courses
involved may be beneficial, in order to assist articulation and credit transfer... To
that purpose, they will encourage the sharing of relevant curriculum material and
the sharing of information on teaching methodology (IU-A Letter of Agreement
article 8.1, Excerpt 7).
In the TEP partnership, the modification of curriculum required reviewing course
rationale, course content, and teaching-learning approaches. This knowledge transfer
was enabled by IU-A learning from its partner’s curriculum material, teaching design,
and delivery methodology. Therefore, despite different needs for knowledge transfer,
both participating universities similarly established TEPs to develop their capacity.
Commercial purpose
The final purpose denotes the global trade in education, focussed on financial
consideration that drives establishment of TEPs. Based on the responses from 70% of
the total participants, both Indonesian universities were concerned about the TEPs’
financial sustainability. Nevertheless, they differed on viewing the programs as a
commercial venture to generate revenue.
Generally, IU-A participants stated that their university did not prioritise profit
from TEPs. However, IU-A still needed to keep the TEPs financially sustainable.
I think that's the main reason, to be known globally, rather than driven by
economic reasons (IU-A University Executive, Excerpt 8).
As a university, IU-A is not really profit-oriented. But I think profit is important to
maintain the sustainability of a program [i.e. TEP] (IU-A Lecturer, Excerpt 9).
The above views exemplify agreement by the majority of staff members across the
different organisational levels that IU-A’s main purpose for establishing TEPs was not
entirely commercially driven, and financial profit was only important to ensure the
TEPs’ sustainability. The emphasis on sustainability is also supported by one of IU-A’s
documents which called for, ‘The improvement of the quantity and quality of
sustainable cooperation programs with other universities (Strategic Plan of IU-A
Faculty of Engineering 15, Excerpt 10).’
While there were indications of IU-A’s non-profit orientation in running TEPs,
the university did not totally disregard the commercial value of TEPs. One university
executive explained:
We don’t directly target that [i.e. student enrolment] in TEP, but indirectly we
need to target it in other [regular] programs... If [local] people believe that IU-A
has internationally acceptable quality, they will enrol, well, maybe not in the TEP,
but other [regular] programs... We are open to a partnership with TEP Partner, in
which it can introduce itself not only to IU-A but also to high schools... It looks as
if IU-A were used by the TEP Partner for its promotion, while actually IU-A also
benefits from it as people will see IU-A as an international university. (IU-A
University Executive, Excerpt 11)
The above excerpt alludes to IU-A’s cost recovery strategy in capitalising on the TEP
partner’s reputation to boost student recruitment for its regular programs. In its
marketing campaigns, IU-A involved the partner’s representative to visit local highschools. From the perspective of an outsider and also perhaps the staff members at
lower organisational levels, the international partner appeared to be using IU-A’s access
to local high-schools to promote itself. This view resonates with the earlier discussion
where faculty officers and lecturers disapproved using TEPs to promote IU-A’s
international image. However, for IU-A university executives, this joint-marketing was
intended to improve its international image and recruit more high-quality students to its
regular programs. IU-A’s TEPs had small student number, only single digit in the
Information Technology TEP, but IU-A anticipated student enrolment increase in its
regular programs. With higher student enrolment in the regular programs, IU-A could
subsidise the TEPs and keep the partnership to serve its local student-recruitment
agenda. Evidently, IU-A aimed to maintain the financial sustainability without being
overly commercially-driven and dependent on TEPs’ income. Hence, improved
international profile was anticipated to increase IU-A’s base level revenue generated by
higher student enrolment in the regular programs.
Given its longer experience in running TEPs, the commercial purpose at IU-B
has changed over time, from simply increasing TEP student enrolment numbers to
securing financial sustainability. While the commercial purpose was dominant in the
initial years of its TEPs, IU-B started to leverage the partnership beyond the direct TEP
financial consideration. The subsequent excerpts highlight the shifting purpose.
At first we opened the TEP, we did it only for marketing and student recruitment,
but now we are also trying to leverage partnership that we have for other activities,
including research. (IU-B Faculty Officer, Excerpt 12)
We would like to run the TEP financially sound. Otherwise, how to make the
programs sustainable? ...At the beginning we were very focussed on the economic
reason. But when we have a good partnership, for five years, do you still want to
put priority on the economic consideration?... We have to move to next level,
faculty collaboration...lecturer exchange...research collaboration (IU-B University
Executive, Excerpt 13)
Excerpts 12 and 13 show congruency in perceptions of IU-B staff members across
different organisational levels concerning the priority on student recruitment and
marketing of TEPs in the initial years. As the TEP partnerships matured and the
commercial purpose was achieved and stabilised, IU-B was ready to move to the next
stage of the partnership that provided non-monetary benefits, such as lecturer exchange
and joint research. Excerpt 13 also signals a change in the commercial purpose to
sustainability of the programs, rather than market expansion. To understand how IU-B’s
commercial purpose changed overtime, some historical perspective is discussed below.
The initial priority on student recruitment could be associated with IU-B’s first
partner’s demand. The Australian university partner required a set number of students as
a pre-condition for the TEP to start.
The Australian partner university said: ‘You have to have at least 20 students in
this program. You have to pay the 20, because we [i.e. the Australian university]
have to fly out our faculty. That is our fixed cost.’ I said: ‘Oh, okay. I understand
that.’ Otherwise, we cannot have our first partnership... But what happened when
we ran the program? They asked for a minimum of 30 students. The first time we
only got like 15 students, so we had to pay the 15 extra. (IU-B University
Executive, Excerpt 14)
The preceding excerpt illustrates how unequal power relations in the TEPs
disadvantaged IU-B. It had to increase efforts on marketing the TEPs and recruiting
more students to maintain the financial viability. Understandably, IU-B focussed on the
commercial purpose during the initial stages of the TEP operation. In this case, IU-B
was treated as a recruitment agent rather than a partner. There was little regard for what
IU-B expected from the partnership.
Nevertheless, for IU-B executives, accepting the initial unequal position as the
TEP partners’ recruitment agent was a strategy to engage in knowledge transfer.
We are like our partners’ channel of supply chain... Sometimes we think [about]
our students that we send to them. We’re like their marketing agent. But I say, yes
we can be like that if you ‘marry’ with a not so good university but if you partner
with good university... It’s a win-win. We give them students, but they give us
quality. (IU-B University Executive, Excerpt 15)
According to the university executive, acting as the partners’ recruitment agent was a
necessary pre-condition to advance IU-B’s agenda to acquire knowledge from the
partners and eventually improve its own quality. IU-B was ‘trading-off’ its TEP
students for knowledge transfer opportunities with these ‘higher-quality’ international
partners. One of the effects of this strategy was IU-B’s adopting a strong marketing
campaign that saw exponential growth of TEP student number, from 15 to 1,400
students within a 10 year-period.
For TEP, we [i.e. IU-B] have 1,400 students. We are the biggest in the country. We
have a name now... Now [international] universities come to us to do partnership
and we are more selective... We have a good track record in working.... make sure
that our partners also actually make some money out of the TEP. So we try very
hard to make them happy as well. (IU-B Faculty Officer, Excerpt 16)
Based on Excerpt 16, the high number of students was seen as evidence of IU-B’s
success in managing the TEPs and generating substantial income for itself and its
partners. Due to this financial success, in recent years, more international universities
approached IU-B to actively seek TEP partnerships. IU-B had a privileged position and
could be selective in forging new partnerships—a change in the power relations. This
opportunity to selectively choose TEP partners with internationally-accredited
universities afforded IU-B with greater opportunities to acquire knowledge and prepare
for its own international accreditation. In fact, IU-B was sponsored by two of its
internationally-accredited partners to join the European Foundation for Management
Development (EFMD)—the body that grants EQUIS accreditation. ‘Earlier this year,
we already became a member of EFMD, sponsored by an Australian and a European
partner university (IU-B University Executive, Excerpt 17).’ The particularity of IU-A
and IU-B’s strategies in their commercial purpose and other differences on the purposes
of establishing TEPs identified previously show how Indonesian universities
strategically use the programs to support their institutional agendas, to be discussed in
the following section.
This empirical case study sheds light on the Indonesian perspectives regarding the
purposes of establishing TEPs, the power relations between Indonesian universities and
their international partners, and the global-national-local tensions in managing the
programs. In conjunction with the theme of this special publication, the findings also
offer insights into the changing purpose of Indonesian higher education in this
globalised world.
Mutually exclusive vs. mutually supportive purposes of establishing TEPs
International profiling, commercial, and institutional capacity development are the main
purposes for establishing TEPs among the two participating Indonesian universities.
Based on the literature review, there is an assumption that commercial and institutional
capacity development purposes are mutually exclusive (Canto & Hannah, 2001).
However, in the case of IU-B, the university’s initial priority on the commercial purpose
did not stop it from advancing its institutional capacity development purpose. Acting as
a student recruitment agent for the earlier TEP partners and increasing student
enrolment were strategies to secure partnerships with internationally-accredited
universities, which in turn privileged them to seek opportunities to engage in knowledge
transfer with these internationally-accredited partners. IU-B executives were aware that
the commercial purpose was pivotal for its partners and were strategic in acquiring
knowledge from higher-quality partners. As shown in the finding section, IU-B kept
them engaged by increasing the financial profit from the TEP partnerships and ‘tradingoff’ its students for access to the TEP partners’ knowledge and experience. The
knowledge transfer initiatives, therefore, were not necessarily of less priority than the
commercial purpose for IU-B. Instead, the commercial purpose supported the initiatives
to develop institutional capacity and pursue IU-B’s desired international profile. Thus
the purposes of establishing TEPs were mutually supportive rather than exclusive. In
contrast, for IU-A, the commercial purpose was not prioritised, contributing to the low
student number. Without commensurate financial profit, there might have been little
incentive for the TEP partners to engage in knowledge transfer.
The findings that the three main purposes of establishing TEPs complement each
other criticise two opposite views on the purpose of TEPs and suggest an alternative on
how TEPs can be sustained to benefit the Indonesian universities. In the first view,
Indonesian TEPs have been criticised as essentially a profit-making endeavour
(Tadjudin 2009). Such critique may be based on a surface level observation of the
programs’ high tuition fee, but may miss the universities’ underlying strategies of using
TEPs to improve their own institutional capacity and develop an international profile.
In the second view, Huang (2007), for instance, views that developing country
universities’ interest in transnational education is primarily on capacity development,
which concurs with one of the purposes identified in the present study. However, as
government subsidies shrink and universities are required to support themselves, both
private and government-owned universities cannot neglect the commercial purpose of
TEPs and solely focus on capacity development.
In line with Mercer and Zhegin’s (2011) findings on a British and Russian
universities’ TEP partnership that the partnership cannot be sustainable without
financial viability, complementarity of the three purposes identified in the current study
highlights the need to balance the ideals of capacity development and the reality of
maintaining the financial viability of the TEPs. Universities guided by such balanced
view may be more successful in maintaining the TEPs and reap the benefits of
knowledge transfer from the TEP partners to support their international profiling. Some
of the participants in the current study have noted the occurrence of knowledge transfer
from the TEP partners and tangible changes in the practices of the Indonesian
universities. A formal study concentrating on knowledge transfer through TEP
partnerships is currently undertaken by the first author and should make further
contribution to this increasingly important aspect of TEP partnerships.
Unequal power relations between TEP partners
Both Indonesian universities, coming from a developing country, understandably
experienced unequal power relations with their partners from OECD countries. As
found in previous studies by Beerkens (2010) and Marginson and Sawir (2011),
Indonesian universities were considered unequal when compared with the leading
international universities’ reputation and capacity. In the current study, the inequality is
most evident in the case of IU-B which had to accept the demands made by its first TEP
partner for a set number of students. To some extent, the inequality could also be
observed in IU-A which used its international partner’s reputation to build the
university’s international image for the local market.
Nevertheless, the two Indonesian universities were strategic and instead of
seeing the inequality as negative, exploited it to advance their own institutional agendas.
This was exemplified by IU-A’s strategy to capitalise on the TEP partner’s international
reputation to increase its local market share and IU-B’s readiness to act as a recruitment
agent for the TEP partners in order to secure partnerships with more reputable
universities and engage in knowledge transfer with those universities to obtain
international accreditations. IU-B’s purpose of establishing TEPs was chiefly to learn
from the TEP partners and then seek recognition from independent accreditation
agencies and become an internationally-reputable university. In other words, TEPs were
means toward an end and was not the end in itself. Hence, IU-B avoided dependency on
the existence of TEPs to build its international profile.
The lack of dependency on the TEP partnerships generally distinguishes
Indonesian private higher education institutions from private colleges in neighbouring
countries. Despite the unequal power relations with TEP partners, Indonesian private
universities have their own degree-granting authority and a larger proportion of students
in the regular programs than the TEPs. Consequently, they do not depend entirely on the
TEP partners for their survival as was the case of Malaysian and Singaporean private
colleges. The Malaysian and Singaporean partnerships seem to be purely commercially
driven and can be vulnerable and often at the mercy of the TEP partners. Murray (2011)
reported that after one Australian university terminated its TEPs, the Malaysian,
Singaporean, and Hong Kong college partners had to find another TEP partner as they
were dependent on the partner’s reputation and credential to stay commercially viable.
However, in the case of the Indonesian universities, because they saw TEPs as
additional rather than core programs, they were less vulnerable and, therefore, could use
the programs to strengthen themselves. Taking IU-A as an example, using the partner’s
reputation to boost the university’s local marketing effort demonstrates IU-A’s
resourcefulness to exploit the partner’s higher international reputation, instead of being
dependent on the TEP partners.
Global-national-local tensions in TEPs
As actors in the global-national-local environment, the participating Indonesian
universities had to reformulate their conceptualisation on the purposes of establishing
TEPs and renegotiate their strategies to achieve the purposes in light of the conflicting
global, national, and local priorities (Marginson, Kaur and Sawir 2011). Considering the
large higher education market in Indonesia, the global pressure for international trade in
education is substantial. To be competitive both globally and locally, the Indonesian
universities had to accommodate the demands made by the TEP partners or risk losing
the partnerships altogether. In the case of IU-B, the university persevered through
unequal power relations to achieve its purposes in establishing TEPs. This illustrates the
strategic approach adopted by IU-B and in doing so, the university’s TEPs were not
converted into mere international trade enterprises despite pressures from a certain
partner to boost student enrolment. IU-B still actively pursued its institutional capacity
development purpose. Overtime, the initial priority of commercial purposes was
saturated and the partnerships matured to pursue other mutually beneficial goals beyond
mere student recruitment, such as joint research and lecturer exchange.
In pursuing the institutional capacity development purpose, the Indonesian
universities seemed to maintain the national imperative to use TEPs as means for
knowledge transfer. Nevertheless, each participating university was able to apply its
own interpretation of institutional capacity development and pursue its respective
institutional agenda. IU-A emphasised curriculum matching, whereas IU-B emphasised
developing capacity to prepare for international accreditation. As the Indonesian
universities continue to develop their institutional capacity through knowledge transfer
with the TEP partners, eventually they may obtain international accreditations and no
longer need the recognition from the TEP partners. In this scenario, the TEPs may
outlive their use for the Indonesian universities and require alternative initiatives. The
scenario perhaps will soon eventuate at IU-B, which has been accepted as a member of
EFMD, one step closer to receiving the EQUIS accreditation. IU-B seems to have clear
plans regarding what it expects in the long run from the TEPs.
Given the findings reported here centred on two Indonesian universities, it only
represents a very small proportion of the 3,011 higher education institutions in
Indonesia. Hence, caution must be exercised when interpreting and transferring the
findings. There may be other Indonesian universities that have different experiences,
such as those not succeeding in TEP partnerships and are swayed into mere commercial
venture due to global pressures, or those succeeding but for reasons other than reported
in this study.
At the universities’ local-institutional environment, staff members from different
organisational levels were not always in accord about the main purpose of establishing
TEPs. This was particularly evident among IU-A participants who had different views
about the international profiling and commercial purposes. At the executive level, there
was greater acknowledgement of the need to generate revenue by utilising the TEP
partner’s reputation to recruit students. The view was not shared by the faculty officers
and lecturers who believed that the purpose of TEPs was for institutional capacity
development and gaining international universities’ recognition for IU-A’s curriculum
and academic processes. Therefore, within the local environment itself, there were
tensions among different organisational levels. As stated earlier in Excerpt 4, such
tension arose due to different level of awareness concerning financial viability of the
TEPs between the university executives as the top financial administrator and staff
members at the faculty and school levels as the implementer of the academic programs.
This awareness of financial viability is crucial in an environment where the government
assistance to higher education is shrinking and the number of higher education
institutions in Indonesia is growing, thereby increasing competition between
universities (Hill and Thee 2012). TEPs were seen by the university executives as a
competitive advantage for the university compared to other Indonesian universities that
did not have similar programs. However, staff members at the lower levels were not
necessarily made aware of the executives’ strategies in using TEPs.
As mentioned earlier in the university description, IU-A was more rigidly
structured than IU-B. Communicating ideas and strategies between the different
organisational levels could be challenging in traditionally-structured universities (Dill
1999). This suggests a need to develop better internal communication within the
university. While each organisational level of the university contributes differently in
managing and delivering TEPs, the purposes of having the programs should be made
clear and consistent throughout the different levels. Without effective internal
communication, directing the TEPs will be further complicated as it involves not only
renegotiating the national and global purposes with the institutional purposes, but also
renegotiating the competing purposes espoused by different groups within the local
university level.
Indonesian higher education purposes and Conclusion
Reflecting on the theme for this special edition, understanding the purposes of
establishing TEPs in Indonesia offers insights into the changing focus of higher
education in Indonesia. The Indonesian universities in this study attempt to strengthen
their position locally and simultaneously develop international profiles. As mentioned
previously, the underpinning purpose of developing institutional capacity is to adopt
international standards in curriculum, teaching and learning, and management to
achieve international recognition. Nevertheless, developing and successfully running
TEPs cannot disregard financial considerations. The TEP partners’ influence appears to
help the Indonesian universities attract more high quality students not only to the TEPs
but also to the regular programs. At the same time, their influence also drives
Indonesian universities to pay more attention to the financial sustainability of higher
education programs. Therefore, the purpose of Indonesian higher education has not
remained unchanged amid the global-national-local interplay. As previously stated,
Indonesian universities are expected to follow the principles of Tridharma (Nugroho
2005). These ideals of education, research, and community service have been reinterpreted and expanded in TEPs to include international benchmarking of educational
standards and increasing the universities’ financial robustness. While research in the
Indonesian context suggests an outward conformity to the American-style
entrepreneurial research university model and purposes, at the deeper level there are
institutional-local based adaptations and re-interpretations of the global and national
purposes of higher education (Beerkens 2010). This can be seen from the subtle
differences in how each Indonesian university has understood the outwardly similar
purposes of establishing TEPs and the tensions within one of the universities concerning
how the purposes have been prioritised. Each university and higher education program
offer particular insights into the contemporary purposes of higher education in this
globalised world.
To conclude, the findings suggest the purposes of establishing TEPs,
international profiling, commercial, and developing institutional capacity, may be
common to many universities but how individual universities manifest and interpret
those purposes can vary. There can be subtle differences concerning what each
university seeks from the TEP partnerships based on its institutional agenda and
leadership’s strategies. Indications of unequal power relationship with the partner
universities can be found, but the Indonesian universities have devised strategies to take
advantage from this inequality. One of the interesting findings is that while it may
appear from the outside that the Indonesian universities have been passively subservient
to the global and national forces affecting them, the finding suggests otherwise. They
have actively sought solutions to advance their own institutional agendas and negotiate
mutually beneficial outcomes with their TEP partners, with due consideration to the
Indonesian Government national aspirations. Thus this study has demonstrated how the
Indonesian universities have formulated their specific interpretation on the purposes of
establishing TEPs in the midst of the global-national-local environments which have
competing agendas. Other universities can also gain advantages from their TEP
partnerships by devising their unique institutional strategies underpinned by clarity of
purposes and expectations in TEPs to avoid simply functioning as a recruitment
pathway for international partners.
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