New Zealand Embassy Jakarta, Indonesia

New Zealand lifts education cooperation with Indonesia

Dr James Waite, Second Secretary (Political) from the New Zealand Embassy, recently spoke to students from the Sampoerna School of Business in Jakarta about the Embassy’s efforts to lift education cooperation with Indonesia. His speech follows.


This morning I’ve been asked to compare life in New Zealand and Indonesia and discuss the educational opportunities in New Zealand, education cooperation, and the value of English language proficiency.

Indonesia and New Zealand have a very good relationship and Indonesia has huge importance for New Zealand because of your country’s large size and geographic position between Asia and the Pacific. The democratic transformation in Indonesia since 1998 has also created much greater scope for the two governments to work together. Relations between the two countries have never been better.

Like Indonesia, New Zealand is a diverse, multicultural country. About 15 percent of New Zealanders are Maori – the original Polynesian inhabitants. Other large ethnic groups include Asians – mostly from China and India – recent migrants from Europe, and people from all over the Pacific Islands – especially Tonga, Samoa, and the Cook Islands. However, New Zealand is one of the least crowded countries with a population of only 4 million living in a land area as big as the Philippines.

The difference in density of population is one of the main differences that I feel living on Java, which is one of the most densely populated parts of the planet.

New Zealand is also relatively rich and most people enjoy a high standard of living. The United Nations Development Program’s Human Development Index ranks New Zealand third highest in the world behind Australia and Norway. The United States is fourth. Indonesia ranks 108. This index measures life expectancy, education levels, income, poverty, human security, gender equality, and savings.

Despite its rapid growth, the wide gap between haves and have nots is striking and one of the main differences between Indonesia and New Zealand that I notice is the high incidence of poverty in Indonesia and very poor living conditions of many Indonesians.

As future business people you have an important role in trying to address this challenge to create better employment opportunities for Indonesians, link rural and provincial Indonesia with markets, and increase peoples’ incomes and quality of life.

New Zealand also wants to partner with Indonesia to help this country succeed as a democracy and deliver a much higher standard of living to its population. Indonesia receives New Zealand’s largest aid programme in Asia, the majority of which is focused on eastern Indonesia.

Turning to the issue of language: New Zealand has three official languages – English, Maori, and New Zealand Sign Language. English is by far the most widely spoken language. In fact, many New Zealanders speak only English and no other language, which is also very different to Indonesia. Many of my Indonesian friends speak three or more languages. In my experience, Indonesians often have a gift for language learning.

Interestingly, Bahasa Maori has a similar structure to Bahasa Indonesia and many common words. Indeed, the two languages are closely related. Some examples – the verb to grieve in Maori – tangi – is similar to cry in Indonesian – tangis. Numbers are similar. Lima (5) in Indonesian is rima in Maori. Dua (2) in Indonesian is rua in Maori.

I was very lucky to study Indonesian for eight months before I started work in the Embassy. I am passionate about Bahasa Indonesia – a language that unites this country and provides a common platform for hundreds on ethnic groups to communicate. Bahasa Indonesia is an important foundation of Pancasila and the principle of unity in diversity.

Regionally, Bahasa Indonesia and Malay are also important languages. Malay and Indonesian are spoken by hundreds of millions of people. It would be helpful for the bilateral relationship if more New Zealanders would learn your language.

But the reality is that English has emerged as the global language of commerce, diplomacy, and education. All international meetings that I attend are principally conducted in English. English is the working language for most multinational corporations. Just as Bahasa Indonesia gives all Indonesians a common language that unites the whole country, English is now provides access to the global economy.

I think this is why the Sampoerna Foundation is so focused on increasing students’ English language proficiency.

English, however, is really only a tool. Success in business or the success of a nation’s economy does not depend on which language people speak. English is the official language of Zimbabwe, which is one of the poorest countries in the world. Rotten politics, corruption, HIV/Aids and conflict have relegated Zimbabwe to the lowest rank – 168th – on the UNDP Human Development Index. English language and success do not necessarily go hand in hand.

English is nonetheless an enabler and sound English language skills, including written English, are becoming very helpful if not essential to secure good employment opportunities.

My office is one example. Most of the staff who work in the New Zealand Embassy are Indonesian. Written and spoken English is now required to secure employment. For the higher paying jobs, above Rp 15 million per month, near native fluency is necessary. This fluency can be obtained without studying overseas. I can think of several of our senior locally engaged staff who have developed excellent English language but have never lived or studied in an English-speaking country.

Conversational English is not enough. The ability to understand and preferably write sophisticated documents is a requirement.

I think that the same is true in other offices that work in an international environment – be it in business, government, or the education sector.

Working in Indonesia has also made it apparent that English language excellence is important to many organizations’ competitiveness. Essentially, in an era of globalization – when new technology has broken down many of the costs and barriers to doing business globally – English language competency opens up the global economy to anyone with a computer and modem.

I regularly travel to eastern Indonesia where I encounter few people working in government, civil society, and business competent in English. This is a huge impediment for organizations in eastern Indonesia, which miss out for want of an ability to access information and communicate with potential partners.

New Zealand is committed to doing its part to support Indonesia in the field of education and specifically on English language.

This year New Zealand Foreign Minister, Hon Murray McCully, came to Indonesia and announced a dramatic increase in the number of postgraduate scholarships available for Indonesians, including masters, PhD and non-degree postgraduate qualifications. We have increased the number of development scholarships from around 15 a year to 50.

The themes for the 50 development scholarships will be leadership and we look forward to selecting talented young Indonesians from whatever backgrounds. Candidates must be under 40 years of age and are eligible to apply for a visa to bring their families to New Zealand. Spouses are able to work in New Zealand and families have access to free healthcare and primary and secondary education.

Those candidates with merit but who fail to reach the required IELTS can receive up to 12 months full time language training in Indonesia so that they can gain entry to a New Zealand university and take up a scholarship offer.

Candidates should have at least two years professional experience.

We are currently writing the criteria for the awards and are not yet accepting applications. Hopefully we will soon advertise and I’d encourage you to keep an eye on the New Zealand Embassy Facebook page, and this website,

Beyond scholarships we also want to boost the flow of students in both directions and encourage education institutions in the two countries to work together.

To this end we are excited that several universities are looking seriously at providing double degree programmes with Indonesian universities. We are looking at a model where are student could spend one or two years at a New Zealand university and receive a degree from both the New Zealand university and the Indonesian university. For example, BINUS University and the Auckland University of Technology offer a double degree in business computing and we are hopeful that several other institutions will establish similar programmes.

Why are we doing this?

First, by educating Indonesians New Zealand contributes to Indonesia’s political, social, and economic development. A strong, democratic, and prosperous Indonesia is in New Zealand interest.

So we hope that students – both fee-paying and scholarship recipients – will return to Indonesia and make good use of their English language competency and qualifications. We have ample evidence that this is the case. I recently travelled to Lombok with the Ambassador where we met with scholarship alumni working for the NTB provincial government on development issues. In this case, some the alumni were using their network in New Zealand and knowledge gained to improve the beef industry in NTB.

New Zealand has also trained hundreds of Indonesians on geothermal engineering – a vital sector for Indonesia’s economic development.

Second, attracting fee paying students makes good business sense. Foreign students inject millions of dollars into the New Zealand economy. New Zealand receives many students from Malaysia, China, and other parts of Asia, but comparatively few from Indonesia. We hope that Indonesians who are wealthy enough to choose to study overseas will consider New Zealand alongside other English speaking countries. I expect that New Zealand will more aggressively market New Zealand education in Indonesia – as Australia and Singapore have done for many years.

Indonesian students and alumni often give back to the relationship. By studying in New Zealand, students gain knowledge about the country and later in life become involved in commerce or other positive activities. For example, the Chief Executive of the Sampoerna Foundation is a New Zealand alumni and is now a founding member of the recently formed Indonesia-New Zealand Friendship Council – a group of leaders who support relationship improvement.

Hosting Indonesian students on New Zealand campuses – especially at the post-graduate level – is also a good way to foster an academic and research interest in Indonesia, strengthening New Zealand knowledge about this important country.

Finally, Education is an important element in the bilateral relationship between New Zealand and Indonesia and the Embassy will do its part to support education cooperation wherever we can. Given New Zealand status as an English speaking country with first rate schools and universities, we have a lot to offer Indonesia.

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