POWERFUL charms or jampi, terrorist bombings and lots of people – these are the things that usually come to mind when the vast archipelago of Indonesia is mentioned.
However, visitors who are willing to brave the journey will find themselves charmed by the country's amazing cultures, beaches, mountains and volcanoes.
Indonesia's tropical climate and, not to mention, its local fare, is bound to make any Malaysian feel right at home almost immediately upon arrival.
Although Bahasa Indonesia is the national language, there are hundreds of distinct ethnic groups speaking over 583 different languages and dialects.
Over the years, an increasing number of tertiary level students from Malaysia have made their way to Indonesia, drawn by its proximity and affordability.
Indonesian Embassy's Information Department officer Nasrullah Ali Fauzi says it makes more economic sense to pursue a degree in Indonesia compared to anywhere else in the world.
He adds that many of the country's 1,442 universities are all looking to increase the number of international students. “Come and experience Indonesia for yourself; you'll be pleasantly surprised,” he says.
At present, some 200 Government-sponsored and 2,000 privately funded Malaysian students are pursuing medicine, engineering, science and information technology courses in the country.
Facts and figures
The name Indonesia has its roots in two Greek words: “Indos” meaning Indian and “Nesos” which means islands.
The archipelago consists of over 17, 508 islands including Sumatera, Java, Kalimantan, Sulawesi and Papua. It is the world's most populous Muslim country and is home to over 230 million people.
The country's history of civilization dates from the Sriwijaya Empire in the seventh century. One of the earliest Homo sapiens, the remains of a 500, 000-year-old Java Man, was unearthed in Indonesia.
After a bloody war, Indonesia declared its independence from the Dutch in 1945. The country's official ideology is called Pancasila (Five Principals) and it affirms a belief in God, humanitarianism, national unity, democracy and social justice.
With such a multiplicity of ethnic groups, Indonesia has, unsurprisingly, a surfeit of cultural events throughout the year.
On Sumba, mock battles that hark back to the era of internecine warfare are held in February and March.
The day before the Balinese Caka New Year (March-April) temple icons are taken to the sea to be bathed and drummers drive evil spirits back to the spirit world.
Between August and October, there is a dramatic Easter Parade on the island of Larantuka, whip battles in Ruteng, and Torajan funeral feasts in central Sulawesi.
Jakarta is the most expensive city with costs outside major centres being significantly lower. The use of cash is advisable as credit cards are only accepted at expensive hotels, restaurants and shops.
Although tipping is a not normal practice in Indonesia, Jakarta taxi drivers expect you to round the fare up to the next IDR (Indonesian Rupiah) 1, 000.
The cheapest form of land travel is via ekonomi buses followed by the express bus which is faster and the more expensive luxury air-con buses.
Local transport also includes the ubiquitous bemo (pick-up trucks with rows of seats along each side), opelet (minibuses), bajaj (auto rickshaws), becak (bicycle rickshaws) and dokar (horse-drawn carts).
The Education and Culture Ministry is responsible for Indonesia's four main divisions of education – primary and secondary education, higher education, culture and out-of-school education and sports.
Primary education, which is both free and compulsory, is divided into three semesters, while secondary education is divided into two semesters.
The language of instruction is Bahasa Indonesia, although local regional languages (primarily Javanese, Sundanese and Balinese) may be used during the first three years of primary school.
Entry into universities in Indonesia is mainly through success in the Entrance Examination for both local and international students.
There are a total of 1,442 universities in Indonesia – 77 public and 1,365 private. However, only 11 are recognised by the Malaysian Public Services Department (PSD).(Refer to chart).
Academic programmes are accredited by the National Accreditation Board for Tertiary Educational Institutions.
The Sarjana (bachelor's) degree is awarded after completing four years (144-160 credits) of study.
Professional disciplines (medicine, dentistry, science, pharmacy, engineering, etc) require an additional two to six semesters.
Magister (Master's) is awarded after an additional two years of coursework (180-194 credits) and research following the Sarjana, including the writing of a thesis.
Those intending to do a Magister must have an undergraduate Grade Point Average of between 2.5 and 2.75, letters of recommendation and English language proficiency.
The Doktor (PhD) requires additional coursework (230 credits or 16 semesters) after the Magister and the writing of a dissertation.
Universities offer an array of courses, from law and economics to medicine and engineering and there are two semesters a year – in September and February.
Medan hosts one of the largest Malaysian communities in Indonesia. The oldest government-funded university is University Sumatera Utara or Usu (established in 1952), ranked third by the Indonesian National Accreditation Board.
Its medical faculty is known for producing quality doctors and the primary clinical hospital for students is the H. Adam Malik Hospital, which is equipped with facilities for open-heart surgery.
Last year, close to 20 Malaysian students secured places at the medical faculty.
Those with excellent academic achievements can complete their studies within five years and six months. The tuition fee for a medical degree is about RM35, 000 a year.
Another university of repute is University Padjadjaran (Upad) in Bandung, offering medicine, nursing, and specialist programmes such as Surgery, Anesthesiology, Psychiatry, Obstetric and Gynecology and Radiology.
The medical and dentistry faculties of this university have the largest number of Malaysian students and courses are conducted both in English and Bahasa Indonesia.
With two teaching hospitals that service a population of about five million, students are assured of hands-on experience.
The programme spans a total of six years, the final two being clinical years.
Each year, close to 40 qualified Malaysian students are selected based on an Entrance Examination to enrol into Upad's medical faculty.
Situated in Yogyakarta, University Gadjah Mada (UGM) stands as the largest and oldest university in Indonesia with 18 faculties, 200 courses and about 50, 000 students.
Its medicine, dentistry and pharmacy programmes are recognised by the Malaysian Medical Association, Education Ministry and the PSD.
Tuition fees amount to RM100,000 for the six years of the medical programme, lower than fees at private institutions in Malaysia, that range from RM300,000 to RM500,000.
Polytechnics also offer two to three-year programmes in engineering technology, agriculture, business administration, accountancy, graphics, publishing and tourism leading to diplomas or certificates.
The Indonesian government is offering two-year postgraduate scholarships to Malaysian students in 46 fields of study.
Study sessions consist of eight months ofIndonesian language classes, a four-month preparatory programme, 24 months of the actual course followed by research.
All lecture and thesis writing should be in Indonesian language.
The scholarships are in line with the Indonesian Government's plan to strengthen the relationship and mutual cooperation between members of the Non Aligned Movement,
Education Ministry secretary-general Datuk Ambrin Buang said Indonesia has agreed to accept more Malaysian students in fields such as medicine, dentistry and pharmacy.
He said that the Government wanted to raise the number of sponsored students from the present quota of 22 to 110 annually.
Ambrin said LAN would also liaise with its Indonesian counterpart to accord dual-recognition degrees to students from both countries to encourage more student exchanges.
There are Indonesian colleges wanting to offer places to Malaysian students but these institutions need to be recognised by the PSD and Mara.
LAN has signed several memoranda of understanding with foreign universities and tertiary institutions to reach this objective.
Ambrin added that at present, Malaysian students with medical qualifications faced difficulties securing places in local institutions as not many medical courses were offered.
For more information on studying in Indonesia, visit the Republic of Indonesia embassy in Malaysia at www.kbrikl.org.my/ or call 03-2144 5528.
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