Bridging the gap in diversity through collaboration between higher education institutions

Op-ed by Prita Ika Dewi, Head of Planning and Development Department, Universitas Ma Chung, and participant in the ASEF Capacity Building Training on Equitable Access to Higher Education in Edinburgh, UK, from 24–27 November 2019

ASEFEdu (Editor)
Jan 6 · 4 min read
Prita Ika Dewi at the ASEF Capacity Building Training on Equitable Access to Higher Education in Edinburgh, UK

My father-in-law once told me that he had to walk more than 5 kilometers to get to school, and there was no university near his province other than a religious seminary. He was born in East Nusa Tenggara province, about 65 years ago. In 2013, after he passed away, I visited his hometown, and I realized that the world he had told me about, still exists there. The development- and socio-economic gaps in my country are real. My father-in-law’s village didn’t have access to electricity; the nearest junior high school was around 10 kilometers away, and there was no public transport. If the students from this area manage to graduate from high school and the parents can afford their further studies, they usually pursue their higher education in East Java or Bali province.

As a vast archipelago with a big population, Indonesia is striving hard to provide economic development for all. In 2018, the gross enrollment ratio (GER) of higher education in Indonesia reached 34.58%, with a total of 4,670 HEIs spread in 34 provinces (MORTHE, 2018). The government has been implementing some policies to widen access to higher education to the people living in the foremost, outermost, and less developed (FOLD) areas. For example, opening more higher education institutions (HEIs) in some FOLD areas and providing affirmative scholarships (Salmi, 2018). However, these programs also have their own challenges. A few months ago, higher education in Indonesia was tarnished by an act of anarchy due to the dissatisfaction of some university students from one of the FOLD regions. They experienced discrimination from the society where they live, who complained about their disruptive behaviors.

I think widening access to higher education should not provoke another problem to society. Unfortunately, the culture gap is a complex challenge to face in a multicultural country like Indonesia. Atherton et al. (2016) mention that proper data will reflect the understanding of higher education equity means in policy and practice of a country. The Ministry of Research, Technology and Higher Education (MORTHE) of Indonesia has been trying to collect the proper data of HEIs since 2015 in order to obtain a good comprehension of the situation in higher education. However, the problem is that HEIs perceive this data-collection merely as a way of ranking the institutions and ensuring competition among them, since the data is still only used to categorize access to grants.

Indonesia has the opportunity to bridge its diverse cultures and communities together through collaboration between its 4.670 HEIs and the government. Data collection can be a good area to start this initiative, where the higher-ranking HEIs can cooperate with lower-ranking HEIs or even on the same rank, especially HEIs located in the remote areas like FOLD regions. It should not only rely on the ranking position, but also the characteristics of each institution, like religion, founders’ background, study programmes, and so on. To promote collaboration between HEIs, the government could start the initiative by providing access to institutional information and facilities to some HEIs volunteer as a pilot project. This cooperation should be able to answer two main problems in Indonesian higher education; first to overcome the quality gap between HEIs, and second, to help students from FOLD regions to access and succeed in higher education, wherever they go to study.

First, to overcome the quality gap, the host and partner institutions should agree to share “best practice” experiences. Furthermore, the partner institution has a higher responsibility to provide training, workshops in every aspect of the teaching and learning process, and higher education management. This one-to-one mentoring between institutions should also be monitored by the government to make sure that the cooperation run smoothly.

Second, to give the students from FOLD regions an experience of study in a high-ranking university, yet have a good understanding of different culture settings, we should encourage them to enroll in the HEI nearest to their location, with the opportunity to take a credit transfer to the partner institution. An approach implemented in Ireland and England to conduct a foundation year for students as a way of supporting them to transition into university and supplement the attainment gap (O’Sullivan et al., 2019) could be one of the inspirations. The host institution could organize a foundation year in cooperation with the partner university, and it is not only to bridge the knowledge gap, but also the culture gap. Students will be more confident to face the next step, where they will take in the partner university.

“It is time for parents to teach young people early on that in diversity, there is beauty, and there is strength,” said Maya Angelou. Born in a country with a high cultural diversity, I believe that teaching the young generation is not only parents’ responsibility, but also the government, educational institutions, and communities. Everyone should promote collaboration in everything, so that diversity will not lead us into disparity but prosperity.


Atherton, G., Dumangane, C., Whitty, G. (2016). Charting Equity in Higher Education: Drawing the Global Access Map. London: Pearson.

BPS-Statistics Indonesia. (2019). Statistical Yearbook of Indonesia. Available at: Accessed: November 1, 2019.

Countries With A Smaller Population Than Java — Infographic. Available at: Accessed: November 11, 2019.

Pusdatin Kemenristekdikti. (2018). Higher Education Statistical Yearbook 2018. Jakarta: Pusdatin Iptek Dikti.

Salmi, J. (2018). All Around The World — HIgher Education Equity Policies Across The Globe. Indianapolis: Lumina Foundation.

World Population Prospects 2019. Available at: Accessed: November 11, 2019

The views and opinions expressed in this article are solely by the author(s) and do not represent that of the Asia-Europe Foundation (ASEF)​.

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