One of the things I particularly value in our NECHE members– and those institutions seeking to become members — is the incredible diversity of our group. And a trip like the one I’m now taking to the other side of the globe brings that diversity into full focus. After my formal staff visit to Fulbright University, I headed from Vietnam to Jakarta, Indonesia where I was treated to a day with the faculty, staff, and students of Sampoerna University–or SU as it’s colloquially known.
So you don’t all rush off to Wikipedia to refresh your grade school learnings about Indonesia, here are a few fascinating facts: Indonesia is a huge country made up of 17,000 islands, with a population of just under 300 million. It is the world’s fourth most populous country and the world’s most populous Muslim-majority country. Jakarta is currently Indonesia’s capital, but as one of the fastest-sinking capital cities in the world, a new planned capital city will be built on the island of Borneo.
My Sampoerna host for the day was Dr. Lauren Clarke, Vice-Rector for International Relations. Dr. Clarke and I share a UPenn graduate background and she is intimately familiar with NECHE, both as a UMass Amherst alum and in her previous professional work with four NECHE institutions. (Yep, it definitely is a small world.) This past November 2021, SU was found by the Commission to be eligible to apply for candidacy with NECHE, and the community is deep into self-study mode preparing for a team visit in May 2023.
Sampoerna University’s origin story is both unique and extraordinary. It began as a philanthropic enterprise, as its benefactor, Mr. Putera Sampoerna, wished to provide young Indonesian students from less-than-privileged backgrounds the kind of quality education he had received in the United States. Through the generosity of his family foundation, he established both Sampoerna Academy (SA), a network of K-12 international schools in Indonesia’s three largest cities, and Sampoerna University. The two organizations, SA and SU, share a campus in Central Jakarta and it was a delight to see hundreds of small children running around the attractive courtyard while older students milled about the local Starbucks.
Since its founding in 2013, SU has evolved from an institution where almost all students pay little or no tuition (with operational funds coming from the foundation) into a self-sustaining social enterprise model. Although the level of financial support from the Foundation has decreased significantly for the University in recent years, 70% of SU students still receive substantial financial aid, and tuition is kept low: just $7,500 a year for the first two years. This reflects Mr. Sampoerna’s original commitment to making high-quality university education attainable for Indonesia’s rapidly growing middle class.
Sampoerna University’s President, Dr. Marshall Schott, and I had a chance to meet last winter at the Commission’s annual meeting and it is evident that his vision for SU is ambitious, and his commitment to executing it quite powerful. On this visit, I had the opportunity to meet with his accomplished senior team, all of whom had names so long they were impossible for me to even try to pronounce, but they were gracious enough to share their much shorter nicknames which I hope weren’t created just for me.
SU awards bachelor’s degrees in nine major fields of study, including a strong focus on science and technology, including mechanical engineering, industrial engineering, computer science, information systems, and visual communications & design.
Its two business programs, Management and Accounting, attract over a third of all SU students, but all students are exposed to a heavy dose of liberal arts through their general education core. The campus features state-of-the-art classrooms, well equipped to provide education through hybrid modalities, and its extensive lab space is among the best in Indonesia, all funded by a grant from the foundation.
Sampoerna University would appear to be well on its way to becoming the first Indonesian university to receive U.S. accreditation. That’s something the entire SU team is excited and proud to contemplate. And NECHE is honored to be a part of the journey.