Indonesian students will spend 18 months at GSU training to become their country’s future policy makers
Story by Andrea Jones | Photography by Carolyn Richardson
This past summer, more than a dozen eager students gathered in a crowded classroom at Gadjah Mada University in central Java with some very specific questions about the destination for which they would soon depart.
“So how cold does it get?” one student asked.
“What kind of jackets should we buy? Where do we get them?” asked another.
The inquiries, made to GSU President Mark Becker, Provost Risa Palm and Dean Mary Beth Walker, who leads the Andrew Young School of Policy Studies, were completely sincere.
In Indonesia, seasons simply do not exist. They are accustomed to batik shirts, not bulky sweaters. Tropical, humid temperatures are the norm year round, and the group — who would soon travel to Atlanta as part of an ongoing partnership between Georgia State and Gadjah Mada universities — wanted to know how to prepare.
Fast forward six months to a blustery afternoon in downtown Atlanta. The group of graduate students, now clad in jeans and hooded sweatshirts and laden with backpacks and messenger bags, clearly have figured out the lay of the land.
“We came to Atlanta in the summer, so the weather was similar to Jakarta,” says Dedy Sunaryo, one of the master’s students. “Now we will experience our first winter here and we are excited.”
The students’ learning, however, goes far beyond whether or not to dress in layers.
They will become their country’s newest cadre of fiscal policy experts, trained at both their home university and Georgia State, where they are earning dual advanced degrees to help guide Indonesia’s financial future as part of a $3 million grant from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).
"Given ongoing changes in the Indonesia economy, the need is growing. These students will guide the country's policy dialogue and further improve its governance." - Regents' Professor of Economics Jorge Martinez-Vazquez
Connecting theory and application
Here for 18 months, the students are studying toward becoming their country’s next generation of policy experts. At the end of the program, they’ll have earned two advanced degrees in applied economics — an M.A. from GSU and an M.S. from Gadjah Mada.
“Programs like these are so important for building professionalism in developing countries,” Walker says. “It is great to have your tax professionals truly understand modern budgeting and how to use the appropriate tools.”
Georgia State, through the international-studies program, is now in its second iteration of a dual-degree partnership with Gadjah Mada, a top-ranked institution in Yogyakarta on the island of Java. GSU’s long ties to Indonesia through the Andrew Young School of Policy Studies are thanks in large part to the work of Regents’ Professor of Economics Jorge Martinez-Vazquez. Over the past two decades, Martinez-Vazquez, an expert in fiscal decentralization, and several other professors in the school have done extensive work there.
In 2002-03, more than 50 Indonesian economists earned advanced degrees from GSU with funding from USAID. Graduates of that program, including Sri Mulyani Indrawati, the Indonesia’s current Minister of Finance, continue to effect change in the country.
“Given ongoing changes in the Indonesia economy, the need is growing,” Martinez-Vazquez says. “These students will guide the country’s policy dialogue and further improve its governance.”
Paul Benson, associate director of the International Studies Program in the Andrew Young School, said the program is unique in its ability to give students real-world examples of policy.
“Our professors are out in the field, in budgeting, in decentralization,” he says. “This program connects the theory they are learning in the classroom to the actual policy work they will do.”
The students learn from professors and guest lecturers who are involved in the technical aspects of policy work, preparing them for their jobs when they return home, Benson says. After their course work, they will work in a fiscal analysis unit as a cohesive group.
At home in central Java, the towering Buddhist monument of Boroburdur is the main tourist attraction. In Atlanta, the students take in the sights at Stone Mountain.
Developing an economy
Aiding Indonesia’s educational system has become a priority for the current U.S. presidential administration. President Barack Obama, who lived in Indonesia as a child, visited the country in 2010. That same year, he and President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono signed the U.S.-Indonesia Comprehensive Partnership, which broadens relations between the two countries. In it, the U.S. pledged $165 million in higher education support to expand exchange programs and scholarship opportunities. While Indonesia is the fourth most populous nation in the world, just 8,000 Indonesians hold graduate degrees.
Indonesia’s geography alone presents challenges. The nation’s vast network of islands — more than 17,000 — and 33 provinces have created a mix of distinct cultures and traditions. From the picturesque beaches of Bali to the urban density and traffic jams of Jakarta, the archipelago encompasses a vastness similar to that of the United States.
The country decentralized in 2001, granting regional autonomy to provinces and giving local governments more power. Consequently, training experts in a range of fields has become even more important, Benson said.
U.S. Embassy Deputy Chief of Mission Ted Osius, who spoke to the Indonesian students at a send-off reception in Jakarta in May, recognizes that higher education is key for the country.
“Without educated citizens, it becomes even more difficult for a country to achieve prosperity and well-being,” he says.
Before coming to Atlanta, the students attended an intensive one-year English program at Gadjah Mada run by Andrew Young School alumna Artidiatun Adji.
Adji, an energetic economist, earned her master’s degree in economics from GSU in 2004, and her Ph.D. in 2006. As director of the graduate program in economics and business at Gadjah Mada, she made sure the students were ready for their Atlanta adventure.
Walker says Adji’s impact has been immense.
“Arti saw the value of the program and got her colleagues onboard,” Walker says. “She’s been an extraordinary asset as an alumna and truly set this program up for success.”
As part of their training at the Andrew Young School, the students are meeting with public officials from all over the metro area, including the Department of Revenue and the Fulton County tax assessor’s office.
They’ve also managed to have a bit of fun — visiting Stone Mountain, the Georgia Aquarium and even Amicalola Falls in north Georgia.
Sunaryo said he and his fellow students deal with a bit of homesickness, but know that in the end, their education will be worth the trip.
“We want to go back and make our country better,” he said. “That is why we are all here.”