The Responsible University in Southeast Asia: A Tale of the Transition from an Elite to a Mass Higher Education System

  • Laila Nordstrand BergEmail author
  • Rómulo Pinheiro
  • Puguh Prasetya Utomo
  • Pradnika Yunic Nurhayati
Open Access


As is the case in the Nordic countries, universities in Southeast Asia are expected to act in a responsible manner by fostering greater participation in higher education across different social groups and by promoting regional development. To date, however, few studies have investigated such important aspects within the context of emerging economies undergoing considerable political, social and economic changes. Our study setting is Indonesia, a country with large socio-economic asymmetries that is undergoing the historical transition from an elite to a mass higher education system. The chapter provides evidence of the roles played by different types of universities located in specific local settings, in addition to the interplay between policy frameworks at the national and local levels and university policies, strategies and academic initiatives. In so doing, we relate and contrast the findings to the situation across the Nordic countries and provide important lessons and recommendations going forward.


Responsible universities Widening participation Third mission Regional development Indonesia 


This edited book explores the responsible university in the context of the Nordic countries and beyond. This chapter contributes to the ‘beyond’ aspect by exploring the responsible university in the context of Southeast Asia, namely in Indonesia. Indonesia was selected to reflect one of the ways a Norwegian university, University of Agder (UiA), spells out its mission as being a responsible university. Being ‘responsible’ not only has local or national connotations but also refers to contributing to the development of emerging economies. UiA has for years collaborated with Gadjah Mada University in Indonesia on teaching and research. This collaboration has many elements; professors from UiA give lectures at Gadjah Mada, Gadjah Mada professors teach students visiting from UiA, UiA educates Indonesian PhD students and there is collaboration on research across the universities. The cooperation with Indonesia is also in line with national policy imperatives by Norway’s Foreign Minister, when it comes to promoting democracy and institutional capacity building in regions of need. Contrasting Nordic universities (the scope of this volume) with findings from such a different context can offer fruitful perspectives on how to demonstrate responsibility in different settings, thus assessing the so-called Nordic model from the outside.

Knowledge, skills and human resources are crucial for economic growth and innovation and have been at the forefront of policy agendas in the last two decades (World Bank 1998, 2008). In this chapter, we focus on two actors that are central in this development, namely regions and universities. Regions refer to territorial entities below the nation-state. Regions do not exist in a vacuum, and they function within a so-called regional system (Schmitt-Egner 2002) that encompasses a multiplicity of actors, including those involved with the transmission and creation of knowledge, such as universities.1 Universities are considered important actors that enable socio-economic development and global competitiveness (Lester and Sotarauta 2007). Policy efforts are underway in many parts of the world, for example, across the OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development), to enhance the competitive standing of localities and entire regions (OECD 2005), with universities seen as key actors in such endeavours (OECD 2007; Pinheiro and Pillay 2016).

Universities the world over have, either symbolically or in real terms, adapted their roles and functions to meet the demand for being considered responsible actors of society. They have done this by, inter alia, expanding their recruitment practices to broaden participation by under-represented groups, to increase enrolments and cater for students from such groups and by actively participating in the creation of economic assets through interactions with external actors like industry (Čábelková et al. 2017; Stachowiak et al. 2013). The role of universities is no longer limited to providing teaching and research for educational purposes in the classic sense but, to a larger degree, meeting a societal demand for outreach through so-called third-mission activities (Pinheiro et al. 2015b). This comprises common activities between the universities and partners in the regions as a means for developing and applying new knowledge (Benneworth et al. 2017b). The success of universities in contributing to regional development, however, depends primarily on the interconnections between universities (and their diverse academic communities), state actors at various levels and local communities (Mbah 2016; Benneworth et al. 2017a).

As of today, few studies have investigated the contribution of universities to broadening participation and local economic development within the East Asian context and the so-called emerging world economies (Schwartzman et al. 2015). Indonesia possesses large socio-economic asymmetries amongst its various regions or provinces as well as between rural and urban areas. Despite positive economic growth—averaging 6 per cent of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) annually in the last two decades—social exclusion remains prominent, particularly in poorer, remote regions. Of a population of 265 million, 26 million (nearly 10 per cent) Indonesians currently live below the poverty line. Following the fall of the Suharto autocratic regime in the late 1990s, the modernisation of the domestic economy has been at the forefront of the policy agenda.

Given this backdrop, the chapter addresses two core themes. At the macro, policy level, we investigate how local governments in two regions of Indonesia attempt to improve access to higher education (HE) for under-represented social groups. At the meso level, we shed light on how universities in the selected regions, both through formalised arrangements and via the ad-hoc initiatives of managers and academics, are re-organising internal rules, structures and procedures to meet the needs of various external stakeholders and hence respond to calls for more responsible action. Given the mandate of this book and its focus on the Nordic context, we also provide an analysis of our findings by contrasting them with ongoing developments within the Nordics. The research questions are fourfold:
  1. 1.

    How does government policy, represented by various levels of local government, conceive the role of universities in regional development, including issues pertaining to widening access and participation?

  2. 2.

    What effect, if any, does a socially responsible agenda have in universities’ strategies and academic initiatives?

  3. 3.

    To what extent is there an alignment between policy measures and university strategies and initiatives?

  4. 4.

    What lessons can be learnt, in either direction, in light of current developments in the Nordic countries?


In the remainder of the chapter, we first present the key features of the Indonesian HE system, followed by a discussion of the traditional functions of universities and their role in regional development. Methodological issues are then elaborated upon, and the selected case studies are presented. The main part of the chapter presents the empirical findings and discusses the main issues by relating back to the literature. Finally, the chapter concludes by elaborating on the implications of the findings regarding policy and future research inquiries.

Higher Education in Indonesia

The HE system in Indonesia has undergone considerable change in the last few decades, not least due to the country’s drastic political transition into a constitutional democracy since 1998. As far as HE policy is concerned, the period 1996–2005 focused on two main aspects: enhancing social mobility and equity. The financial crisis hit the Indonesian economy in 1997–1998, followed by economic, political and social crisis. As is the case elsewhere, the government’s ability to expand the supply of public higher education institutions (HEIs) is constrained by the budget and, consequently, the private sector has dominated HE in the last two decades. By 2017, the HEI sector had more than 3100 private and over 120 public HEIs (PDDIKTI 2017). Public HEIs have higher status due to their higher quality (Ministry of Education and Culture 2012, 13), but many students from the poorest segments are unable to meet the admission requirements of public institutions and opt for private universities. Most private HEIs rely on student fees, which are rather expensive for those from disadvantaged backgrounds (Wicaksono and Friawan 2008, 164).

Furthermore, there is a strong regional clustering of HEIs. More than half of all study programmes are located on the highest populated islands, namely Java and Bali. Java and Bali have populations greater than 1000 inhabitants per square kilometre and contribute more than 50 per cent of the total Indonesian revenue and expenditure. Another 30 per cent of all study programmes are located on the islands of Sumatra and Sulawesi (World Bank 2014, 13).

Access and equity remain two central policy issues, despite HE enrolments’ exponential rise since the late 1980s, reaching more than 6 million students in 2014 (see Fig. 10.1). Private HE (87 per cent of total enrolments) guarantees access and equity, fulfilling the aims of massification, while public HE acts as the government’s engine to steer the country towards excellence and global competitiveness (Asian Development Bank 2012). The gross enrolment rate (GER) in 2014 was 31 per cent, which is low compared to other Southeast Asian countries such as Singapore (70 per cent) and Thailand (53 per cent) (UNESCO-UIS 2014). Turning to equity, Law 12/2012 states that 20 per cent of all HE students should originate from less advantaged groups. In 2016, only 7 per cent of the least well-off households (quintile 1) attended HE, compared to 49 per cent of the most well-off households (quintile 5) (BPS-Statistic BPS 2016, 40). The data also show that in 2016, 31 per cent of students originated from urban areas, compared to 14 per cent from rural areas (Ibid., 113–114).
Fig. 10.1

Tertiary enrolments in Indonesia: 1971–2016 (% gross). Source: Economics (2018)

Universities and Regional Development

The role of HE as an engine for the development of regions is particularly salient in the case of developing and emerging nations within the context of a globalised, knowledge-based economy (Pinheiro et al. 2012b; Schwartzman et al. 2015). Across many national jurisdictions, governments have enacted policy frameworks aimed at establishing universities in peripheral regions or across localities faced with major socio-economic challenges (Pinheiro et al. 2016a). The contribution of universities to local development occurs both in terms of supply and demand. In the supply situation, they provide regions with needed professionals (teachers, doctors, engineers, etc.) and knowledge (technology transfers), with the latter thought to be a critical element in local industrial regeneration (Huggins and Johnston 2009). On the demand side, the presence of universities tends to attract the provision of other economic (e.g. businesses) and social goods (e.g. schools, hospitals), which often have a positive impact on the region’s overall outlook and attractiveness (Douglass et al. 2011).

Earlier studies revealed that there are multiple barriers, both structural and cultural, to universities serving as engines of local development. These range from the absence of incentive systems to clashes in norms and values and from gaps in time horizons to a lack of commitment by leaders (Balbachevsky 2008; Pinheiro et al. 2012a). The fiercely competitive environment facing universities worldwide, combined with increasing levels of resource scarcity, makes the regional mission a daunting task (Pinheiro et al. 2015a).

Castells (1993) referred to the traditional functions of universities as pertaining to four main aspects:
  • Ideological apparatuses (transmission of norms and values through socialisation)

  • The selection and socialisation of (political, economic and cultural) elite groups

  • The production and application of knowledge

  • The training of a skilled labour force.

In so doing, the author shed light on the contradictory nature of the various societal functions that universities are expected to fulfil. As systems expand and move from elite to mass and then to universal stages, the policy emphasis (system level) tends to shift from elite socialisation towards widening access and knowledge production and transmission (Cantwell et al. 2018).

Trow’s seminal work (1970) referred to the ‘autonomous’ functions that universities tend to voluntarily adopt (e.g. research) from those ‘popular functions’ they are compelled to address as a result of popular demand or government coercion (e.g. teaching the masses, engagement). Like Castells, Trow pointed to a clash between these two functions. It could be argued that, for the most part, universities (at least in the classic sense) are more committed to teaching and research activities when compared to the so-called third-mission (e.g. regional development), with the latter being relegated to ‘nice to have’ (Pinheiro et al. 2015a). However, this does not entail the absence of university leaders and academics committed to supporting the economic well-being of their surrounding regions and localities (Benneworth et al. 2017a; Mohrman et al. 2009), but it does suggest that tensions and dilemmas exist.

Gunasekara (2006) made a distinction between the developmental and generative roles of universities in the context of their importance to the surrounding society/economy. In the latter scenario, the university is the engine or catalyst behind regional development, providing high-level skills and competences as well as knowledge of central relevance to the regional development process. In contrast, in the developmental scenario, universities are but one of many actors comprising the local knowledge and innovation ecosystems, with their role being primarily one of supplying graduates. Studies from North America revealed that despite the presence of adequate local conditions, such as technology transfer offices, policy incentives and industrial outreach projects, ‘most research universities have not been particularly successful at technology transfer and have not yet generated significant local economic development’ (Feldman and Desrochers 2003, 5). Part of the reason pertains to the fact that universities are necessary but not sufficient conditions for development. The absence of other knowledge actors, such as firms, may result into the outflow of graduates and knowledge, implying low absorptive capacity at the regional level. This is particularly problematic within the context of so-called peripheral or remote regions, thus reinforcing a vicious cycle (Pinheiro et al. 2018b).

Methodology and Cases

Our study adopts a multi-method research design, combining a desktop analysis of major policy initiatives and a case study design with interviews with key actors. Among the desktop material, we analysed the Law 12/2012 on HE (GOL 2012), political initiatives from central and local governments and the profiles and strategic intentions of HEIs. Due to large differences between and within regions in Indonesia, we chose study cases that are as different as possible. Thus, we selected a most different systems design (Przeworski and Teune 1970) and two different case regions. In terms of HEIs, we selected four institutions located in two distinct geographies, namely: the ‘central’ case, which comes from a vibrant urban area characterised by developed service sectors like tourism, and the geographically ‘remote’ case located in a less developed region reliant on the primary sector.

Due to the Indonesian system, which comprises a high status and higher standards in public universities and more limited frames for private universities, we selected cases from both groups. In the central case, we chose a public university with comprehensive disciplines and many faculties and a private polytechnic institution focused on applied and practical skills. In the remote case, we selected the opposite: a public polytechnic and a private university. The reason for this selection was to follow our design, which consisted of variation amongst the cases to investigate the role of the university in regional development.

We interviewed three stakeholder groups: (1) politicians from the central and provincial levels, (2) academics from various fields, with managerial positions and at different levels in the universities, and (3) external stakeholders from local industries. Many of these stakeholders had mixed roles between the university and/or at the policy level. A total of 30 interviews were conducted, the majority at the end of 2015, supplemented by a few more in the summer of 2016. A semi-structured interview guide was adjusted to the three groups. The first part consisted of questions centred on equity and access to HE. The second group of questions dealt with regional development and focused on the relevance of education and its impact in the region.

Data Findings

In this section, we highlight the key findings associated with each of the four research questions and respective levels of analysis.

Governmental Policy Within Regions

Due to the widespread decentralisation of Indonesian politics, the authority of national government regarding HE is low and delegated to local governments. The local governments are responsible for addressing the needs of the districts and for developing community colleges according to the needs of the regions, while the role of central government is to monitor quality and accreditation functions. There is a widespread consensus that local governments have the responsibility to enhance access to HE locally. Joint efforts by the universities and local authorities to develop programmes that are specific to local needs are the norm.

Most of the programmes and curricula follow the national standard. But, the main focus is on the local context. For example, in [local university], they have education orientation relating to [local needs; e.g. fishery, dryland farming]. They follow the national standard, but while teaching they use the local context as an example. (Local government representative, remote district)

To address the need for HE to foster regional development, governmental organisations, both in the central and remote areas, rely on the expertise of universities, such as experts on infrastructure, medicine and mechanical engineering. These academic experts contribute their knowledge at different stages by surveying, planning and evaluating. Academics also play an important role in shaping policy frameworks both at the local (province) and central levels.

In almost every ministry, the top management positions are taken by popular people from universities. Many ministers are professors […] many politicians are professors as well. So, you can imagine that the role of HEIs is very significant at the national level. And this also happens in the regions. (Central government representative)

The participants from the universities in both cases referred to different types of scholarships and affirmative programmes aimed at providing economic support for poor students from remote areas. Some are meant to fully support these students, while others are supplemental, for example, they cover student fees. Scholarships are provided by the central government by regional and local authorities as well as by private actors, such as companies and associations. Both local and central authorities and university staff are concerned that students from remote areas tend not to return to their communities to apply their new knowledge. To counterbalance this trend, the central government provides incentives to educated people with certain skills to move back to remote districts. They are offered better salaries and facilities such as housing and transportation for professionals who are willing to stay in the districts for a period of five to ten years. However, the evidence shows that only a few of these professionals remain in the areas at the end of the period.

University Strategies and Initiatives

The case HEIs applied different strategies and initiatives to act as responsible universities and broaden access for, and participation from, less advantaged groups. As for strategies to enhance access to HEIs, the interviewees gave examples of initiatives from the universities to change the recruitment system of new students. By establishing a new entry test, a higher proportion of students from lower socio-economic groups was admitted. The strategic initiatives also included accepting lower credits from students coming from districts where the quality of secondary education was lower. The university strategies also focused on following up on students from disadvantaged groups. As soon as the students were admitted, supporting or ‘bridging’ programmes were offered to help students complete their education and graduate. These could be extra classes in subjects such as math or chemistry or cultural programmes to help students from, for example, the jungle adjust to urban life. As for recruitment, the HEIs in remote districts also faced difficulty recruiting lecturers. The strategies of the remote HEIs included recruiting the best students at their universities as well as students from their islands educated elsewhere.

There seemed to be a common strategy across the cases to involve local communities in developing the educational content. Research served as a means to meet the needs of local regions and foster local development. There were no clear differences between the cases in this respect, and the differences merely reflected the characteristics of the regions (e.g. regions focused on eco-tourism, farming in dry land, fishery or the oil industry). This is expressed by a central university manager:

As a lecturer, we have three main responsibilities—Tri Dharma. The first is teaching, second research, and the third is community service. When we create the curriculum, we must involve all stakeholders, including the community, so that the curriculum can fit the needs of society. We then apply it to our students. It is possible that the research conducted by lecturers will be used as material for curriculum and community services. The results will be applied to the society. (University manager, central university)

The term ‘Tri Dharma’ was central in the stories from the participants and relates to teaching, research and outreach or third-mission activities. Our study also indicates that many academics were engaged in mixed roles as university managers, managers in the private sector, public servant roles and as politicians at the local, regional and central levels. In these roles, they contributed their expertise to develop the regions, but they also received input valuable for the development of the curricula.

Furthermore, teaching and research were closely linked to outreach programmes and so-called third-mission activities. The programmes were designed to meet the specific needs of the various regions, such as improving health, developing tourism, improving fisheries and dry land farming or developing routines to handle natural disasters. All students had to participate in such programmes during their studies, and academics were eager to participate as advisors and in research connected to the programmes. Such programmes were established in both remote and central cases, but where the central academics talked about the programmes in a passionate way, the remote participants were more critical. Perhaps these participants were more critical, as they lived in poorer regions and could see the long-term effects of such programmes. Criticism also came from a civil servant:

I think that the outreach programmes benefit the universities more than the locals. In [our province], the programmes are designed for the needs of the universities, especially for students to finish the process of education at these universities. (Local government representative, remote district)

Alignment Between Governmental Policy and University Strategies and Initiatives

In general, university stakeholders reported a good alignment with policy measures and cooperation with government at different levels. There was a synergy between the different governmental levels and stakeholders whereby the stakeholders received support and, in return, helped to tackle critical social issues through their local programmes. This synergy was also facilitated through the mixed roles of the academics, who were also engaged in governmental agencies as ‘external’ stakeholders (e.g. as policy advisors). Another aspect was that most bureaucrats and many of the stakeholders were educated at the HEIs and thus shared common norms and values and had developed cross-sectoral networks. Governmental policies and strategies were not merely developed through top-down processes. Universities were considered think tanks or knowledge repositories for the regions, with the local government seeking to adjust its missions and vision to those of the HEIs. Some visions were driven more by the grassroots than as a result of governmental policy, for example, the growth in the tourist industry. On the problematic side, some participants pointed out that there was a time lag in the development of regional policy because the industry was growing faster than the ability of governmental agencies and the bureaucracy to evolve. As such, there were no major differences between the cases.

Turning back to the HE sector, and regarding the degree of alignment between governmental policies and university initiatives, several dilemmas emerged from the interview data. First, the bulk of academic work was project-based with short-term financing. This made it difficult for the universities in both cases to pursue sustainable strategies, policies and initiatives. Second, the data showed a decoupling of the policy of equity/access for students from all layers of society, which could have been facilitated by the distribution of scholarships. Participants from the remote case were particularly critical of the distribution and the way in which the scholarships were promoted. Information circulation was not widespread and mostly went through channels that benefited civil servants and university bureaucrats, for example, through the internet. The third problem mentioned in both cases was the absence of policies from governments and universities on how to face the expected surplus of students in certain educational fields, such as teaching, nursing and different types of planners. Autonomy by HEIs was also referred to as a bottleneck.

However, the provincial government does not intervene in the policy in order to improve people’s awareness of what will happen in 2030. What should be done by the people and campuses to welcome the 2030 development agenda? The provincial government has no vision at all on these issues. This can lead to huge problems in the future. Further, the government cannot control campuses due to latter’s autonomy. (University manager, remote university)

In the next two sections, we discuss the main findings: first, for Indonesia and against the backdrop of the conceptual dimensions presented at the onset in the introduction and second, by reflecting on the data findings from a Nordic perspective.


Discussion Part I: Indonesia as a Case

As the country is in a phase of political and social transition from an autocratic to a multi-party democracy, Indonesian HE is also shifting from an elite system to a mass system (Trow 1970). Widening participation and local development rank high in the policy agenda, with universities addressing the new policy imperatives and taking the role as ‘responsible universities’ in the frames of their capabilities, resources and specific local circumstances. Widening participation with a focus on increased access and measures to attract under-represented groups work hand in hand with regional development. Likewise, regions with their public and private actors actively participate in the development of universities and the entire HE sector by participating in the development of curricula according to local needs and by ‘offering’ problems to solve for students and academics in the Tri Dharma regime of third-mission activities.

As studies from other countries have revealed (Pinheiro et al. 2015a), resource scarcity hinders the development of the HE sector. This is also an issue for Indonesia. The majority of HEIs are localised in the central and most populated islands, which is a hindrance for students from remote islands to pursue HE. Critics also point to the fact that few public universities were established in the districts, thus creating problems regarding access to high-quality education and the region’s long-term absorptive capacity (Pinheiro 2014). Private universities contribute to massification and access, still supporting inequalities amongst the wealthy and disadvantaged groups, since private HEIs are unable to maintain a high quality of education. As a result, those who can least afford education tend to pay for low quality, hence supporting the inequality of HE distribution, as found in other countries (Cantwell et al. 2018).

Recruitment to universities is, in theory, based on grades, but in practice, there are several barriers that result in the selection of elite groups, pointing to the elite function within mass HE systems (Cantwell et al. 2018; Palfreyman and Tapper 2008). The first barrier is the quality of secondary education, with grades as the base of student recruitment. There are large variations in the quality of secondary education, and this increases the challenges in relation to access for potential students from these regions. The small number of universities in remote areas is another barrier for poor people who cannot afford to travel to pursue HE. Likewise, differences in quality between public and private HEIs and the urban rural divide play an important role in student choice and university behaviour (recruitment, engagement, etc.). Similar challenges can be observed in other systems that have undergone political and economic transformation and the transition from elite to mass HE systems (Trow 1970). The two cases are Poland, which assisted (late 1990s to mid-2000s) the rise and decline of private universities without adequate quality screening (Pinheiro and Antonowics 2015), and South Korea, which was able to find a proper balance between policy coordination at different levels and the role played by the private sector in promoting access whilst fostering quality and (horizontal) differentiation at the system level (Pinheiro and Pillay 2016).

Another major access barrier pertains to financial aspects, and one way to overcome this is to provide scholarships from public and private actors. However, the distribution of scholarships is not transparent, and information on certain scholarships is not widely distributed. This points to the critical issue of information asymmetries and the notion of HE systems as ‘quasi’ markets (Dill and Soo 2004; Dinkelman and Martínez 2014). Studies from the US revealed that poor people are often unaware of the support systems available to them (Johnstone and Marcucci 2010). Criticisms from some of the participants that the wealth accumulation of the rich was not distributed to the poorest speak to the wider debate about who benefits from HE and what role governments play in the re-distribution of public goods to promote social mobility (Marginson 2011; Pinheiro and Antonowics 2015). As in other countries (Cantwell et al. 2018), in Indonesia, middle-class students seem to gain the most from the current access and governance policies and university recruitment practices. Financial issues are severe problems faced by both students and universities in the form of short-term and project-based financing. Similar problems were found in earlier studies from Africa whereby international donors funded projects that did not contribute to strengthening core academic activities, ultimately resulting in ‘projectisation’ (Cloete et al. 2011).

By revisiting the traditional functions of universities and their inherent tensions and contradictions (Castells 1993), local academics critically questioned the ability of their HEIs to act as transmitters of norms and values (socialisation role) in the context of a society and economy in flux and an HE system in transition from elite to mass access (Trow 1970). By taking the role of responsible universities, academics problematised their role in socialising students. They wanted to meet people from diverse cultures with respect. This was challenging, and they questioned whether they had the rights to claim that their values (e.g. knowledge transfers) were better than the more ‘primitive’ practice of learning by doing. Another related issue pertained to the responsibility of academics to socialise and teach students how to live in fast-growing urban settings, which goes against government policies aimed at attracting professionals and other graduates to the more remote regions from where they originated. As a general notion, the participants reported an alignment between policy measures and the various stakeholders. This can be viewed from the role of universities in the socialisation of students (Castells 1993), as most of the bureaucrats and stakeholders were educated at the same institutions.

Employees from the universities actively participate in society with their expertise and specific skills as planners, politicians, civil servants, managers in the private sector and so forth. Such commitments, combined with teaching and research, are time-consuming and show a high level of engagement. This may, however, be considered a double-edged sword. Such an overlap is positive regarding the sharing of information, coordination and social capital (trust building) but may result in increased dependency on certain individuals as key brokers who might take advantage of this situation to address their own strategic agendas and imperatives (for a similar case in a country in transition, see Hladchenko and Pinheiro 2018). The decades of dictatorship might have undermined the role of HEIs as autonomous institutions. This phase was followed (mid-1990s) by an acute financial crisis, where academic expertise was found to be of high value to the reconstruction of the economy and society nationally and locally. Hence, HEIs played the role of strategic instruments for the accomplishment of policy agendas.

The data support the notion that Indonesian universities act as engines for regional development and thereby take a generative role in society (Gunasekara 2006). Similar findings were demonstrated in earlier studies outside Asia (Castells 1993; Harding et al. 2007; OECD 2007; Pinheiro and Pillay 2016). In less developed areas or outside urban centres, there is an increasing dependence on HEIs as engines or catalysts for development, partly due to the absence of other knowledge and innovation players, such as firms. Recent studies from Norway revealed that similar challenges are at play when it comes to the role of less research-intensive HEIs located in more peripheral geographies (Pinheiro et al. 2018a).

On the teaching front, the case universities supplied programmes that relate to the interplay between breadth and depth. Examples of breadth are educational activities addressing general social needs, represented by the training of teachers, doctors, nurses, midwives, engineers and planners. However, the universities also specialise according to the needs of the regions, for example, fisheries, dryland agriculture, the oil industry and tourism. On the research front, the focus was on projects aimed at supporting the development of different types of industries and efficient government in the regions. These research projects were often developed as part and parcel of outreach programmes and third-mission activities implemented in the context of Tri Dharma, where activities involving researchers, students and local actors were tightly integrated.

Regional development constituted a core activity for the case universities, and this commitment seems to provide reciprocal benefits to both HEIs and the community partners involved—a key principle of engaged scholarship (Brown et al. 2016). This behaviour can be interpreted in the light of socialisation theory (Grusec and Hastings 2014), with respect to both the importance attributed to societal engagement in the context of HE as an institution (Tri Dharma) as well as the role attributed to local norms and values in creating a supportive cultural atmosphere (Breznitz and Feldman 2012). This, in turn, might produce a vicious cycle as universities socialise future professionals to become actively engaged with social issues (Austin 2002), bringing to the fore certain normative preferences (Wildavsky 1987).

Discussion Part II: Assessing the Findings from a Nordic Perspective

In this section, we briefly reflect on how the case findings presented above may be of relevance to understanding the responsible role of universities in a Nordic context, the subject of the current volume. First, it is worth keeping in mind the large differences in populations between Indonesia, with its 265 million inhabitants, and the four Nordic countries, with a combined population of less than 26 million (the largest country being Sweden with close to 10 million and the smallest being Norway with about 5.1 million). Due to size, there are considerable challenges associated with organising and funding the HE sector in Indonesia, as well as challenges related to ethnicity, religion and geographical disparity. Indonesia is also a young democracy facing its own institutional challenges. Second, the Nordic countries currently top the rankings in the UN Human Development Index 2018 (UN 2018), while Indonesia, with its large share of the population living close to the poverty line, is ranked number 116. Still, such a comparison can be fruitful.

The Nordic countries have not always been wealthy, but due to increased focus on HE and access for all layers of the population, universities and other types of HEIs such as more vocationally oriented colleges have been important actors (acting as engines) for the socio-economic development of the societies. This is particularly salient in the cases of Norway, Sweden and Finland, where regional imperatives have long ranked high in the policy agenda, including within HE (Pinheiro 2012b), partly as a result of a geographically dispersed population and significant economic and demographic asymmetries amongst domestic regions. From a policy viewpoint, the regional agenda in Nordic HE (particularly so in the cases of Norway and Finland) has been enhanced by the convergence between regional policy following World War II and HE policy, focusing on widening access and participation and horizontal differentiation along a binary system composed of research-intensive universities and other (more vocationally and locally embedded) HEIs (Kyvik 2009).

The majority of HEIs in the Nordics are public, and education is tuition-free for domestic students at all levels. The sector is funded by the general tax system, which reflects a broader social contract between society and the public sector brokered by the state. In some Nordic countries, as in Norway, both public and private institutions are assigned grants following the same distribution model (Kvaal 2014). This is a significant contrast to how the sector is organised and financed in Indonesia. Just a small share of the universities are public, and the private sector, the bulk of which lacks quality and is concentrated in urban areas where student markets are located, dominates. In Indonesia, only public universities receive public funding and are thus able to provide a better quality of education compared to the private sector.

In Indonesia, both sectors rely on student tuition fees, which are unreachable for potential students from the lower quintiles of disadvantaged groups, thus bringing to the fore a series of equity-related dilemmas, that is, who can access what and where? Although there are different types of financial arrangements targeting public and private actors, this system is not large enough to provide education to the masses. Since the 1950s, the Nordics have offered scholarships and affordable loans to all students as alimonies to remove any potential socio-economic and geographic barriers for accessing HE (Pinheiro and Antonowics 2015). Information on these arrangements is offered by senior high schools and universities and is publicly available. The sharing of information on funding schemes is another hindrance in Indonesia, and the distribution of information of these funding schemes is not well implemented and thereby fails to reach the poorest groups. One consequence, as in many other countries (Cantwell et al. 2018), is that those least likely to afford HE are either the ones gaining access to lower quality HEIs or are completely excluded from the system.

With respect to quality and in contrast to the rigorous oversight by quality assurance agencies and other governmental agencies in the Nordic countries (Pinheiro and Stensaker 2018), as well as proper design and implementation of quality procedures by HEIs (Karlsson et al. 2014), the scale and complexity inherent to the private HE system in Indonesia makes quality assurance and steering by the government a daunting task. This is particularly the case with respect to ensuring the interests of less resourceful students (often located in more remote areas, outside large urban centres) attending private HEIs, since these are ill-served when the state is unable to provide proper quality controls. A 2012 analysis shows that despite the large size of the domestic HE system, including a massive private sector (at that time, 3000 private vs 80 public HEIs), the Indonesian government agency responsible for quality assurance within tertiary education (BAN-PT) employed less than 50 people and had an annual budget of 7 million euro (SEAMEO 2012, 77). In comparison, Norway’s quality assurance agency (NOKUT), responsible for supervising about 160 institutions, employed in 2016 a total of 125 employees with a budget of 14 million euro (NOKUT 2016, 39).

The third mission was found to be a core activity of Indonesia HEIs, important both for education and research purposes but also as a practical contribution to the socio-economic and cultural development of the regions. This is in contrast to findings from the Nordics, where third mission is more in line with a ‘nice to have’ task (Pinheiro et al. 2015b) and the focus is more on the collaboration between academics and public and private sector organisations in the context of knowledge transfers (Benner and Sandström 2000). In the binary Nordic HE system, the more locally embedded HEIs cohere better with the ‘responsible university’ agenda compared to HEIs centred on the classical Humboldtian model (Nybom 2007). The latter, represented by the ‘old’ flagship, comprehensive universities, focuses on teaching and research excellence and autonomy as a core value. Interestingly, due to concentration as a result of mergers, more vocationally oriented Nordic HEIs are being integrated in the internal structures of more classic, research-intensive universities where engagement is not seen as a core task (Pinheiro et al. 2016b). Furthermore, as a result of the ‘managerial turn’ in Nordic HEIs, these have increasingly embraced metrics and excellence as strategic means for managing performance in teaching and research (Pinheiro et al. 2019). This, in turn, seems to have hindered HEIs’ motivation to institutionalise third-mission activities as a ‘natural part’ of their roles and functions (Sima et al. 2017), despite external expectations for doing so.

By viewing the universities in the light of the ‘responsible university’, the participants emphasised both teaching and research, but what distinguished them from the Nordic context was the emphasis on third-mission activities. This is highlighted as one of the core activities in Indonesia and is an important base for education and research purposes, in addition to the practical contribution to the socio-economic and cultural development of the regions. In the Nordics, and despite an ongoing discourse of HEIs’ social responsibility and research impact (also framed within the broader European Union context), the third mission is, as alluded to earlier, more in line with a ‘nice to have’ task (Pinheiro et al. 2015b). In the Nordics, HEIs as one of many actors are playing a more developmental role (Gunasekara 2006) by supporting local knowledge and innovation ecosystems rather than being the core engine of it (Nilsson 2006).


Based on the data collected, there appears to be a consensus that universities play a responsible role in the context of Indonesian society, both nationally and locally. Respondents from central and local government, academics from private and public universities and stakeholders in both contexts emphasised the role of the university as a central actor in the development of society by playing a generative role (Gunasekara 2006), particularly in more remote geographies. This process takes a multiplicity of forms and is intrinsically connected to the education of students, academics participating on a part-time basis in different areas of society, the provision of technological know-how that poorer regions cannot develop themselves and through outreach programmes, many of which directly involve students as active participants in leveraging the resources of the local community. This could be because there are fewer alternatives in terms of knowledge institutions (e.g. global firms) capable of playing such roles in many of the more remote regions of Indonesia. Still, the regions are not passive recipients of help but also play active roles in engaging with the universities, for example, in relation to curriculum development, which is related to local needs, and by cooperating in third mission and outreach-related activities.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, and mirroring the results from earlier studies (Goddard et al. 2016; OECD 2007; Pinheiro 2012a), we tentatively draw the conclusion that both contextual circumstances and historical trajectories do matter when it comes to the responsible role undertaken by the HE sector. This is particularly the case when assessed against the backdrop of societies undergoing considerable social, political and economic transitions, including, but not limited to, the development of democratic institutions and more equitable educational systems, which are expected to result in a fairer and more inclusive society. In this respect, policy makers and HEIs in Indonesia have much to gain from looking at the so-called Nordic model (Christiansen et al. 2005), given the long historical commitment (as well as track record) to balancing equity (access to critical public goods) with market dimensions (competitiveness), in addition to accountable and efficient government.

In the realm of HE in particular, the Nordic countries provide an important template of how to find an adequate balance between (1) steering at a distance and enhanced institutional autonomy on the one hand and (2) access (widening participation based on tuition-free education) and excellence (teaching quality and world-class research) on the other. In addition, the historical focus attributed to regional decentralisation and horizontal differentiation by policy makers (cf. Pinheiro and Stensaker 2018) offers important lessons to countries like Indonesia that are entering a mass HE expansion phase (Trow 1970). However, the recent policy emphasis put on rationalisation, performance management and concentration (mergers) has brought to the fore a series of new tensions and dilemmas facing all the Nordic HE systems, not least with respect to the interplay/trade-off between global excellence and local relevance on the one hand and horizontal versus vertical differentiation on the other (Pinheiro et al. 2014).

Regarding efforts to broaden participation and regional development, the study has revealed that there is an explicit link between national and local authorities, the ‘regulative pillar’ (Scott 2008) or ‘superstructure’ (Clark 1983), universities’ policies and strategies (‘the middle structure’; Clark 1983) and bottom-up initiatives across the ‘academic heartland’ (Clark 1998). That said, it is worth stressing that, as is the case with the Nordic countries, local authorities were not found to have any formal mandate on universities, thus constraining the level of coercion they may impose on them to address issues of critical importance to the locality. However, local government was revealed to play a role in terms of influencing curriculum development, research projects and outreach programmes as a result of tight collaborations, which, on aggregate, were found to have a positive effect in instituting a responsible agenda across university policies, structures, activities and normative postures.

Informally, the hybrid nature of the positions played by members of the academic community in society (as experts, policy makers, leaders, etc.) enables them to actively participate in the development of society and to serve as important role models for students and colleagues alike. This is a major departure from established practices across the Nordic countries, where a clearer demarcation of academic roles and responsibilities has traditionally been the norm, helping shape the ethos of the academic profession throughout the region (Vabø and Aamodt 2008). In this regard, one could argue that the Nordic countries have something to learn from the Indonesian experience, where more fluid and hybridised tasks, roles and professional identities facilitate the responsible role of universities in society—what some have termed the rise of the ‘third space professional’ in contemporary (Western) academia (Watermeyer 2015; Whitchurch 2012).

From a policy prism, the findings suggest that there is a need for a embracing a more systemic or holistic perspective of policy design and implementation that accounts for the complexities associated with HE as a policy sector and the university as a multi-faceted and complex organisation (Pinheiro and Young 2017; Room 2011). More specifically, we urge policy makers and university managers alike to, to the best of their abilities, anticipate the unintended effects caused by the interplay amongst macro-, meso- and micro-level dimensions and to move away from ‘one-size-fits-all’ solutions that neglect historical trajectories and local circumstances values.

In terms of future studies, we urge social scientists interested in the topic in Southeast Asia, the Nordics and beyond to address critical queries about the accountability of agents with mixed, multiple and overlapping roles, as well as the real autonomy enjoyed by universities and the effects that has in fulfilling their ‘responsible’ mandates or missions. There is also a need for further empirical studies on how the abstract notion of the ‘socially responsible university’ is articulated at different levels of the HE system and amongst different actors both within the university and outside (influential external stakeholders). Finally, future studies could shed empirical light on the roles played by resource allocations (funding streams), competition and professional (managerial vs academic) norms and values in devising and diffusing (institutionalisation) a socially responsible agenda across teaching, research and third-mission activities and the interplay (degree of coupling) amongst them.


  1. 1.

    In this chapter, we use the term ‘university’ to refer to all types of tertiary education institutions. In certain contexts, we refer to the broader term ‘higher education institution’.



The authors thank the generous funding from the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs for the institutional cooperation between Gadjah Mada University, Indonesia, and University of Agder, Norway. Also, thank you to the book editors and contributing authors for constructive feedback on earlier versions of the chapter. Any remaining errors are the authors’ own.


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Authors and Affiliations

  • Laila Nordstrand Berg
    • 1
    Email author
  • Rómulo Pinheiro
    • 1
  • Puguh Prasetya Utomo
    • 1
    • 2
  • Pradnika Yunic Nurhayati
    • 3
  1. 1.Department of Political Science and ManagementUniversity of AgderKristiansandNorway
  2. 2.Gadjah Mada UniversityYogyakartaIndonesia
  3. 3.National Cheng Kung UniversityTainanTaiwan

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