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Online Learning in Higher Education for Technological Development in Indonesia

by: Ajaya Kusum, SPI


Online learning has become one of the sought after means of education. Many universities have begun entertaining the idea of transitioning to an online system of education, breaking free from the shackles of traditional brick and mortar education. The inevitable move is further expected to grow. Given its upsurge, what does online learning mean to higher education? How will it shape development?

In this document, we put our focus on Indonesia, understanding how online learning education is evolving and helping in development. This document is tailored for: 

  1. Educational institutions who want to know more about how online education will transform in the wake of its rapid user acceptance.  

  2. Related stakeholders who want to further their understanding of online education in Indonesia, its problems and ways Indonesia addresses them, as well as its impact on development in Indonesia.

  3. Innovation specialists who desire to understand if the education market is getting disruptive.  


Let´s begin first by defining online education. In the present context, online education can be bifurcated into two forms. The first form is in regard to credit courses where the students get enrolled in higher education and take online classes offered by the host institution or other higher education learning institutions. Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Harvard University have been at the forefront in offering such online courses with others following suit. In Indonesia, the University of Indonesia, Universitas Gadjah Mada and Bandung Institute of Technology have started offering exciting online courses. 

The second form consists of courses designed for certifications. This form of education, which is considered to be dominant and popular, targets professionals and students who are training or preparing for certification exams. This may include training for Certified Financial Analyst (CFA) and nursing courses to name a few. Many Indonesians take international certifications. 

According to the Global Shapers Survey1, 47.79% of the respondents said they would hone their skills in reference to professional certifications through the online platform once they launch their careers. This indicates the market potential is significant for online education. Based on a recent research report by Global Market Insights, by 2026, the global market value for eLearning will be worth over €323 billion.2 The growing demand for technology-driven teaching has ballooned over the years, and is propelling the market demand for online learning.

In this respect, Indonesia has been fast embracing online education in both forms discussed above. Given its fast-growing digital economy, it is inevitable that there will be some much needed injection of innovation and new ideas into the nation’s education sector.

In the forthcoming levels, you´ll learn about the problems of going online, how the face of education is changing and what it means to the traditional universities that depend on physical infrastructure. You will also understand why Indonesia´s online education market is a virgin market for EU investors. 





Online education has made great strides in recent years. More institutions of higher learning have reinforced their online education platforms – the main considerations being cost reduction for students and recruitment expansion in face of rising competition. As a result, online education has become an increasingly important part of higher education, with colleges and universities using world-famous faculty members and professional support teams to promote online courses. Some even believe that online education is as good as traditional learning. According to the Global Shapers Survey, 40.56% of respondents said that online education is as effective as traditional education, if not even better due to the cost factor and high value for money. 

Teething problems

The growth of online education does not come without challenges. Since its beginning in the 1960s, this form of education has been constantly criticized for its apparent lack of quality control, lack of recognition, shortage of high-quality teachers, and student-teacher interaction.3

Indonesia faces a similar problem. Based on a survey conducted by SMERU Research Institute, while most of the teachers had proper facilities to teach, the students lacked access to the internet and digital devices. In addition, students were only engaged in learning activities around two to four days a week, and for less than two hours a day.4 This shows the need to improve the learning process and discover innovative ways of teachings.

Indonesia is trying to tackle one of its major concerns with online learning – bridging the gap in teaching in rural areas with online learning. Indonesia recently completed the Palapa Ring broadband project, which started in 2007, connecting all 514 regencies/cities with a fiber-optic network to enable the country to reap the benefits of distance education. 

Potential avenues for disruption

In business theory, disruptive innovation creates a new market and value network and eventually disrupts an existing market and value network, displacing established market-leading firms, products, and alliances.5 The online education market portrays scenarios, which show clear potential for disruption. Here are the reasons why.

First, it offers education at affordable prices, contrary to the educational goliaths who rely heavily on atrociously high tuition fees. Distant learning offers a wide range of payment options for better course selection and budget management. In addition, students do not have to factor in the costs associated with traveling to or living within the proximity of the education site.

Second, online education offers customised learning, which is different from the rigid course selection that conventional universities offer. In a similar sense, online education tends to have smaller class sizes than conventional learning. 

Third, people from any corner of the world can have access. Students do not need to commute or follow a rigid schedule due to the virtual classroom. Its flexibility also allows the teachers and the students to have their own learning pace. Having a common agenda between the student and teacher can also prompt both parties to accept new responsibilities and have more autonomy.

It is evident that the world is now entering into a new era — the revolution of online education. Previously, educational institutions were really conservative in going online. However, things have changed now, and these institutions must act with a sense of urgency if they want to adapt to the market accordingly. 

In retrospect, Indonesia´s Universitas Gadjah Mada (UGM) has made a recent statement encouraging higher education to go online learning in response to the potential disruption and Indonesia’s fourth industrial revolution in manufacturing and industry, or Industry 4.0. As the world is experiencing Industry 4.0, Indonesia is preparing itself to join the trend. 

Reflection on technological growth

Morphing into an online system would mean that the education institutions achieve the seemingly incompatible goals of increased access, higher quality and lower prices. Many universities have been successfully introducing distant learning in a disruptive manner by targeting over-served students at a low-cost6. Those universities who are reluctant to change must accept the unavoidable. This would create a new powerful framework for the education system. 

In a bigger picture, more students will be able to join the education curriculum due to a lower cost threshold to enter. This is something the global economy had been struggling with for a long time – involving as many students as possible in academia. It would also reduce the global dropout rates. In a research study conducted in the OECD countries, some 31% of students who enter tertiary education leave without a tertiary qualification.7 In African countries, the numbers are more depressing. The cost has played a big part in dropout rates. Through an affordable alternative globally, the dropout rates could improve, whilst arming more students with education. 

Presently, Indonesia has one of the largest education systems (both online and offline) in the world with over 3 million teachers across 300,000 schools. Indonesia also has more than 50 million students who are becoming more internet savvy day by day. More than two-thirds of the students use the internet daily. Based on a study by Cambridge International, Indonesian students use more Internet, for education purposes, than their international counterparts. As the number of students going online is high, it has made the transition to online learning easy. As long as the education system supports growing tech demands, it is safe to assume that Indonesia´s growth is incremental.8







Go online or perish

Until a few years back, the majority of Indonesia universities were trapped in a time warp, seemingly oblivious to the technological shifts occurring outside the country. They were hesitant to move out of the conventional brick-and-mortar model. This was because of the problems associated with going online, which include: internet not covering all districts in Indonesia, electricity and connection problems, independent learning habits, tutor/lecturer habits, etc. Out of the 4800 universities, only one of them was registered as a Cyber University that catered to the needs of students online. 

Slowly, things improved. By March 2019, seven Indonesian universities were found to have fully functioning and fully online degree programs. The number jumped to 22 by November 2019. One can project the growth will only accelerate further in the coming years. The numbers look good now. More than 60 higher education institutions have shifted towards online education platforms.

EU and Indonesia bilateral relation 9

Over the years, the EU and Indonesia have successfully worked together to foster the education system. The EU cooperation has been in full support of the Government of Indonesia's policies in this regard.

The EU also has several programmes in Indonesia promoting better education. Higher education is supported through the European Higher Education Fair, as well as through Erasmus+ scholarships and projects. Since 2004, more than 1600 Indonesian students have benefitted from the Erasmus+ scholarship programme. The programme has also funded 11 university partnership projects involving European and Indonesian universities. The EU also has projects supporting education reform in Indonesia, with a budget of €320 million, which have contributed to education quality and improved gender equity for girls and boys in primary and secondary school. In this framework, the EU supported the design and the implementation of the National Education Policy, as well as the new Education Sector Strategic Plan 2015-2019 and the Minimum Service Standards Strategy, implemented in 16 provinces. 

The impact on the education sector has been overwhelming. 54,729 Indonesian schools have benefitted from EU support, covering 16 provinces, 108 districts, and providing 7 million students with improved education, quality and gender equity for girls and boys in primary and secondary school.

Role of EU players

Though renowned, Indonesian higher education must improve the quality of its online services. The Indonesian Government has already given its support to the educational institutions to implement online learning and having such a transformative education system recognised. This is an opportunity for Indonesia to increase the student enrolment rate in higher education. Currently, the student enrolment rate in Indonesian higher education (Bachelor’s level education) is 33.66%10, compared to 61% in the EU region11 and 26% in the USA12

One of the prudent ways of improving the quality of distance learning universities is collaboration with European Universities. Of course, the universities in Europe have been stalwart in offering new ways of online teachings. Here are some of the top Indonesian Universities that the EU could possibly consider collaborating with: 

  1. The University of Indonesia (UI) is one of the oldest tertiary-level educational institutions in Indonesia and is generally considered as the most prestigious university in Indonesia. In the 2019 QS World Universities Ranking, UI is ranked 1st in Indonesia, 57th in Asia.

  2. The Bandung Institute of Technology (ITB) is a state, coeducational research university located in Bandung, Indonesia. Established in 1920, it is the oldest and first technology-oriented university in Indonesia. ITB was considered the top choice among Indonesia's high school students in 2006 and has been credited as one of the most prestigious universities in Indonesia. 

  3. Gadjah Mada University  (UGM) is a public research university located in Yogyakarta, Indonesia. Officially founded on 19 December 1949, Gadjah Mada University is one of the oldest and largest institutions of higher education in the country. It has been credited as one of the most prestigious universities in Indonesia.

Enabling EU – Indonesia Partnership

The EU-Indonesia Business Network (EIBN) is a partnership project between five European bilateral chambers of commerce in Indonesia (BritCham, EKONID, EuroCham, IFCCI, INA) and two counterparts in Europe (EUROCHAMBRES, CCI Barcelona). The aim is to promote Indonesia and ASEAN as high potential trade and investment destinations among companies from all EU27 member states – especially SMEs - and support them in their endeavours to explore the full market potential in Indonesia. The project was initiated and is co-founded by the EU.13





Last updated: 07.07.2021 - 10:12
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