Indonesian policy switch cuts off funding for Papuan students in NZ

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Papuan students in NZ
Papuan students with the Papuan provincial Governor Lukas Enembe in Palmerston North during his visit to New Zealand in 2019. Image: APR File

By Matthew Scott of Newsroom

International students in New Zealand are appealing to the Indonesian government in response to funding being pulled for the autonomous Melanesian provinces to send students abroad.

Students from West Papua study all over the world — but with recent funding policy changes to autonomous West Papuan scholarship funds by the Indonesian government, 125 may soon be packing their bags for home.

Following the announced removal of the 10 percent of education funds previously allocated to provincial governments in Indonesian Melanesia, 42 students in New Zealand and 84 students in the United States have been ordered home — with things still up in the air for others studying in Australia, Canada, Germany, Japan and Russia.

In a public statement, the International Alliance of Papuan Student Associations Overseas (IAPSAO) slammed the move, claiming it fails to honour the human right to education and incapacitates the development of indigenous human resources for the conflicted region of Indonesia.

“We view that the termination and diversion of 10 percent of the education fund managed by the Papua provincial government is an assassination of human resource investment for the future of Papua through education,” said student association Oceania chapter President Yan Piterson Wenda.

Now the association is calling for a meeting with Indonesian President Joko Widodo to discuss the change.

Laurens Ikinia, a postgraduate communications student at Auckland University of Technology, is originally from the central highlands of Papua province — an area gripped by conflict between the West Papua Liberation Army and the security forces of the central Indonesian government.

Thousands displaced
The armed conflict, exacerbated by increased activity by Indonesia’s military last year, has displaced tens of thousands of people.

The Melanesian provinces of Indonesia, Papua and West Papua, have long had deep grievances with Indonesian rule — grievances stemming not just from claims of human rights abuses and military control, but also frustrations around self-determination.

Papuan student Laurens Ikinia
Laurens Ikinia … a successful Papuan communications student in Aotearoa New Zealand, but he is on the list for recall. Image: APR Facebook

Papua Governor Lukas Enembe has been credited with pushing forward the scholarship funds for students in Papua and West Papua to go abroad and study, partly in an attempt to invest in the human capital of the disputed regions.

So after studying in New Zealand for six years under this scholarship system, Ikinia was shocked to see his name on a list.

The education fund will no longer support Ikinia — putting his progress towards a Masters of Communication in doubt, along with the academic futures of 125 others.

And to add insult to injury, the government is claiming that the students on the list are being cut off due to poor progress — an assertion Ikinia refutes.

“The reason the government is using to repatriate us is baseless,” he said. “Most of the students on the list are in the second and third years of their respective programmes.”

No proof of a lack of performance
A further statement by the student association said it found no proof of a lack of performance after investigating each student mentioned.

Ikinia said all of the other Papuan students shared his dismay, and wondered what their forced return means for the autonomy of their homeland.

“If we are to return it means that the special autonomy means nothing to us,” he said.

“The central government of Indonesia just transfers funds to the provincial government without giving the authority to manage the budget.”

This news came after chief executive of Education New Zealand Grant McPherson had issued a statement doubling down on the importance of international students to New Zealand, after filing a submission to the Productivity Commission to take this into account when changing immigration policy settings.

“International students coming to New Zealand support the achievement of the government’s broader goals and objectives, as well as contributing to New Zealand’s economic development,” McPherson said.

The submission also outlined benefits international students deliver for New Zealand, such as regional development, research output and helping relationships with other countries.

A human rights issue for students
But at 55 times the size of New Zealand, Indonesia will likely not be considering this as they cut the lifeline to these students. And for the students themselves, it could go so far as to be an issue of human rights.

The association’s first statement called out the move as overstepping on the students’ right to education, claiming international law accepted by the Indonesian government legally obligates it to respect, protect and promote the right to education.

The association questioned calling these students back based on a lack of academic progress, and wondered what motive lies behind the use of incorrect data.

Ikinia certainly does not seem to fit the category of a student who is not making progress.

Since his arrival in New Zealand he has completed an English language certification, graduated with a Bachelor’s in Contemporary International Studies and is close to completing his Master’s at AUT.

Now it seems graduation may be ripped away from him due to the seemingly arbitrary workings of the bureaucratic machine in Jakarta.

Matthew Scott is a Newsroom journalist. This article was first published by Newsroom and is republished with permission.

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