Made up of thousands of islands, Indonesia (meaning ‘Indian Islands’) has become one of the world's major emerging economies, with the largest economy in Southeast Asia. Indonesia is a melting pot of contrasts and diversity, with hundreds of distinct ethnic groups, languages and cultures. It’s also home to some of the most prestigious universities in the region, offering a vibrant study abroad experience.
So if you’d like to study in Indonesia, read on to find out more about the top universities and interesting student cities the country has to offer, as well as how you can apply.
There are both public and private universities in Indonesia, though the majority are private. Both varieties are supervised by the Ministry of National Education. Higher education in the country has experienced dramatic growth since it became independent in 1945. From only 10 institutions of higher education in 1950, there are now almost 3,000. Around 6,000 international students are currently studying in Indonesia, many coming from nearby Malaysia.
Nine universities in Indonesia are featured among the world’s best in the QS World University Rankings® 2016/17, including three in the top 550. These are:
Established in 1849, Universitas Indonesia (University of Indonesia, or UI) is the oldest university in Indonesia and also the country’s highest entry in the World University Rankings at joint 325th, a good leap from the previous year’s position of joint 358th. Universitas Indonesia also ranks 67th in the QS University Rankings: Asia 2016, and has campuses in Depok, West Java and Jakarta. The university’s library is considered the largest in Southeast Asia, with a capacity of 1.5 million books.
Universitas Indonesia underwent substantial reform in 2007, which led to an increase in revenue and research publications. The university’s distinctive logo signifies the idea of kala-makara (the two sources of energy in nature, from the sun and the Earth); the tree represents science and its branches and buds which will blossom into new knowledge, while the water pouring down represents the works of science.
Ranked in the 401-410 range in the world rankings, and 86th in the Asia rankings, Bandung Institute of Technology (ITB) was originally opened in 1920 as a branch of the Dutch Delft Institute of Technology. It was then known as Technische Hoogeschool te Bandoeng, but was renamed when it became a separate academic entity in 1959. ITB has since become an internationally recognized university, and is ranked among the top 300 institutions in the world for mechanical engineering. It teaches around 20,000 students and is located in Bandung (one of Indonesia’s largest cities) with its campuses making up a total area of 770,000 square meters.
Another of the most prestigious universities in Indonesia, Gadjah Mada University (UGM) is ranked 501-550 in the QS World University Rankings and joint 105th in Asia. Founded in 1949, it’s the largest university in the country, with around 50,000 students enrolled in 18 faculties, including 1,187 foreign students. Its 360-acre main campus is located in one of the country’s smaller cities, Yogyakarta, helping to earn the city a reputation as a center of education. UGM has recently been implementing an "educopolis area", creating an encouraging learning environment by developing multidisciplinary collaborations and responding to key environmental issues.
Other top universities in Indonesia include:
People in Indonesia are very friendly and welcoming, and the country is known for its smiling faces. Many universities provide new international students who don’t speak Indonesian with a pendamping – an English-speaking ‘buddy’ to help you settle in. Your pendamping can help you to discover the best and cheapest places to eat, as well as how to get around. Speaking of eating, Indonesian cuisine is spicy and full of flavor, and has been influenced by the diversity of the country.
Generally hot and humid, Indonesia is more temperate at high land. There are two seasons – a wet season between October and April, and a dry season between May and September.
Indonesia is a Muslim country, and it’s important to respect local laws and customs – for example, gambling is illegal, and if you visit religious sites, you should do so respectfully. You should also try to follow social etiquettes when interacting with locals, such as avoiding the use of your left hand for anything, as it is considered unclean. Modest dress is also essential. However, overall Indonesia is a reasonably liberal and tolerant country.
Jakarta is a huge cosmopolitan city, with its metropolitan area home to over 30 million people – the largest not only in Indonesia but the whole region of Southeast Asia. It’s the economic, cultural and political center of the country and is designated as a special capital region, controlled directly by the national government. Jakarta’s great business prospects and higher standards of living attract many domestic migrants who pass on their various languages, dialects, foods and customs, leading to an interesting fusion of cultures.
The city has a rich history which dates back to the fourth century, when it was known as Sunda Kelapa (it’s since undergone several name changes). Today, Jakarta is nicknamed the Big Durian, after the thorny strongly-odored fruit native to the region, as the city is seen as the Indonesian equivalent of New York City (the Big Apple). Although Indonesia does not have a drinking culture, Jakarta offers some of the best nightlife in Asia; however, nights out can be pricey in comparison to the other costs in the city. The cost of living is higher in Jakarta than elsewhere in the country, particularly in terms of rent, but international students who choose to live here will often find it worth the extra money. Jakarta is home to Universitas Indonesia, the highest-ranked university in the country, as well as many other institutions.
Surabaya is Indonesia’s second-largest city, with over nine million inhabitants in its extended metropolitan area. The city is known as Kota Pahlawan, ‘city of heroes’, due to its involvement in gaining Indonesia its independence. Today Surabaya is considered the economic center of Eastern Java and is home to the nation’s navy. The cityscape mixes modern skyscrapers with canals and architecture from its Dutch colonial past. There is an eating culture in the city, and the city is home to a large number of restaurants. Among the top universities in Surabaya is Airlangga University, which is considered one of the most prestigious in the country.
Indonesia’s third-largest city, Bandung is the capital of the West Java province and has a metropolitan area which is home to around seven million people. Located 768 meters (2,520 ft) above sea level, Bandung has cooler temperatures year-round than most other Indonesian cities. The city underwent rapid urbanization and development after Indonesia gained independence, transforming it from a town to a large city. However, it does have a ‘university town’ feel, and its universities include Bandung Institute of Technology (ITB), the oldest and most prestigious technical university in the country. Bandung is also known for its colonial and art deco architecture, good shopping and cuisine.
Often called ‘Jogja’, Yogyakarta is the smallest of these student cities, with a population of 388,000. Its name translates to ‘a city that is fit to prosper’ and it certainly does so, with a reputation as a center of education. It’s also renowned for its traditional arts and cultural heritage, with a royal complex known as a kraton (or Sultan’s palace) and the city is also close by to other popular tourist sites, such as the Prambanan temples, some of the largest and most beautiful Hindu temples in Asia and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Yogyakarta is home to Gadjah Mada University, along with many other well-known and respected universities. Many students will be attracted to Yogyakarta’s winning combination of traditional culture with progressive thinking.
If you want to study in Indonesia, you’ll be pleased to hear that tuition fees are on the low side in both public and private universities, at around US$3,000-6,100 a year for most subjects, with medical degrees at the higher end of this estimate.
The cost of living is also quite low in Indonesia, with Universitas Indonesia recommending a budget of US$8,600 per year to cover everything from accommodation to the cost of books and travel. You may need to consider budgeting more depending on your lifestyle and spending habits, and be aware that living costs in the capital city Jakarta are higher than average in the rest of the country.
You should apply directly to your chosen Indonesian institution/s, for which you’ll need to pay an application fee of around US$50. The documents you’re likely to be asked to include are:
You’ll need a sosial/budaya (social/cultural) visa to study in Indonesia. You should apply for this at an Indonesian embassy or consulate in your home country after you’ve gained acceptance at an Indonesian university and in plenty of time before the start of your course. The social/cultural visa enables you to stay in Indonesia for 60 days but will be extended, as your university will act as your sponsor. You’ll need to pay a small fee to apply for this visa. You should check the Indonesian Embassy website of your home country for exact information on what documents you’ll need, but generally you should provide:
The official language of instruction in Indonesia is Bahasa Indonesia (Indonesian), but Indonesian universities are increasingly offering more courses in English, including ones aimed specifically at international students. English-taught programs are most common at master’s level at private universities. You will not find English spoken much outside of major cities, and it’s definitely a good idea to learn some basic Indonesian phrases to help you to interact with the locals.
You must secure health insurance before travelling to Indonesia, as good healthcare can be expensive. You should visit your health professional before leaving for Indonesia to check if you should have any vaccinations. Tap water in Indonesia is not safe to drink without first being boiled or sterilized. There is some risk from terrorism and general unrest, while Indonesia has a number of active volcanoes and the area is prone to earthquakes. Foreigners in Indonesia are advised to remain vigilant and educate themselves on what to do in an emergency, but overall your stay should be trouble-free.