Disclosing the 'international' to Indonesian minds  

Disclosing the 'international' to Indonesian minds  

Almost a year ago, international relations (IR) academics from various universities across the country gathered at the University of Indonesia campus in Depok, West Java, to discuss the standard learning outcomes of the IR undergraduate programme in response to the Research and Technology and Higher Education Ministry's demand for a national qualification framework for IR graduates in the country.

One of the results of the gathering was an agreement that studying the IR undergraduate programme should allow students to acquire the ability to identify Indonesian "national interests" and to understand the country's position in analysing "international" phenomena.

As universities differentiate themselves to find niches to attract both national and overseas students, they seem to agree that the teaching should have a more nationalistic feature. Meanwhile, IR has become good business in the academic "industry" in Indonesia.

Many universities open IR programmes with an aim of producing good-quality diplomats who can not only apply negotiating skills well but also various theories and paradigms.

IR students might benefit from the images of the discipline as "multiparadigm" because it allows them to see various arguments that could make them more apt in dealing with day-to-day political debates.

In such a context, it is particularly interesting that it has been agreed to set the qualification in terms of Indonesian "national interests" to find how "international" is being framed among IR academics in Indonesia.

Such a particular standard was juxtaposed by other terms like "Indonesian foreign policy" and "diplomacy," "level of analysis (local, national, regional, and global)," and "negotiation." It is then arguable that there is a strong sense of "official" in the way the study of IR is being conducted in Indonesia.

Many students initially think that, as they apply for an IR programme, the "international" is pretty much fascinating and it can allow them to be closer to becoming part of the global cosmopolitan elite, to speak foreign languages frequently and to be able to travel around the world more legitimately.

As students are being trained in such programmes, many students - albeit not all of them - find that the main practicality of the study will someday ultimately be realised if they become diplomats, officials, international agency workers, consultants and in various positions including returning to the university as lecturers.

Observing how IR is studied in Indonesia thus brings us to the question of how "international" is being discussed in Indonesia.

A recent publication in the Review of International Studies journal by Gerard van der Ree (2015) offers a very fascinating insight into IR study in Indonesia.

For van der Ree, the knowledge of IR is pretty much influenced by the way the "international" is being disclosed to us.

Some people will be buzzed by "international" if someday they find that the fuel price is hiking and they will immediately link their experience with what is going on in the Middle East.

Other people with some religious outlook might say that living a decent life in Indonesia is not enough without thinking deeply about the fate of Palestinians.

In IR there are long debates about how we should study the "international." American scholars tend to study the "international," by investigating how a liberal polity could have a stable and prosperous life in a dangerous world consisting of both liberal and non-liberal regimes.

Some European scholars might go further to problematise the nature of "power" and the politics behind defining "security," "domestic," and "international" to justify change and to show that transformation in world politics is indeed possible.

Some scholars would like to see "international" as consisting of given entities and thus allow them to provide "scientific recommendations" for policy-making, while others are more interested in pushing ideals and visions forward to introduce more subtle and abstract elements of international phenomena such as norms, principles and narratives.

However for people living in developed countries it is easy to see that the world is their playground as their countries possess the capability to afford such mobility, outlook and indeed knowledge.

Understanding the philosophical roots of the discipline, Indonesian IR scholars who are active in disclosing "international" should pay more attention to devising IR studies in their academic programs.

Reflecting the case of setting nationalistic standards for national qualifications as mentioned above, Indonesian academics bring together more local nuances with official objectives usually associated with the "state," "corporations," "institutes" and "organisations."

However, there are at least two potential problems with regard to combining two ways of discussing IR to Indonesian minds.

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