Infinite Scope of International Relations

    The auditorium of Bina Nusantara University’s Anggrek campus were decked to the gills as lecturers and other eminent academics from the university welcomed a new member into their ranks.

    Led by Professor Harjanto and Bina Nusantara chief executive Bernard Gunawan, the academics congratulated newly elevated professor Tirta Nugraha Mursitama, the chairman of the School of Social and Political Sciences’ International Relations Department, for attaining the academic pinnacle. Tirta affirmed his place as the man of the hour with his speech on the Indonesian “state and market in the global era: [Using] business diplomacy to face the Asean Economic Community in 2015.”

    Aside from laying out the thoughts behind his versatile, out-of-the-box approach to international relations during his three-year tenure as head of the program — a far cry from the hidebound, pedantic approach to the study in Indonesia and elsewhere — the 40-year-old Tirta gave the audience a strong sense of why the Bina Nusantara, better known as Binus, named him its youngest professor ever.

    Breaking new ground in teaching international relations

    Tirta intends to give his charges the skills and know-how they need to compete in the Asean Economic Community by emphasizing various aspects of international relations, among them multinational business and trade, as well as long-held skills like government-to-government diplomacy and security issues.

    “As a private university, Binus University’s international relations department is geared to give our graduates the skills to be viable in the market,” he tells The Peak.

    “This is difference between state universities like the University of Indonesia and Gadjah Mada University, which prepare their graduates to work for the Foreign Ministry. Like international relations studies around the world, we still have 70 credits’ worth of required courses like introduction to international relations and methodology of international relations.

    “But the game changer is in the 60 credits of electives, which include more intensive study of foreign languages other than English, such as Chinese, Japanese, Spanish or Arabic, as well as Southeast Asian languages. If coupled with courses for skills like diplomacy or negotiation, they can be useful if the graduates go on to work for foreign companies, NGOs or to lobby government offices both in Indonesia and elsewhere,” Tirta says.

    “We also set out to use the momentum from people-to-people diplomacy to offset the fact that many of our students might not be inclined to go to the Foreign Ministry, so we work closely with media outlets like Reuters or Kompas TV, as well as companies like Sinar Mas, Toyota Astra and Microsoft, among other companies, to prepare them to work there. We even cooperate with the IAEA” — International Atomic Energy Agency — “to study the use of nuclear energy or safety procedures, making us, along with Gadjah Mada, the only Indonesian universities to study the field.

    “Other institutions include UN agencies or the Asean Secretariat, as well as online startups like BliBli and Tokopedia. We forge these various cooperations to give our students a glance at the opportunities open to them or the international relations field’s versatility.

    “But we also seek to encourage our students to live and work in other Southeast Asian countries, as that will be a true indicator of how competitive they are; two of them have already done internships in China and Taiwan. Indonesia might be [Southeast Asia’s] biggest market, but it’s by no means the only place where they can live and work. Here, our entrepreneurial program for business in international relations can do wonders for our graduates, as they will be encouraged to go into the food or travel businesses throughout Asean.”

    Proving the program’s soundness

    True to his position as the first head of Binus’s nascent international relations program since September 2012, Tirta brought a sense of innovation to the field.

    “The curriculum and programs for our international relations program is perhaps one of the most comprehensive of its kind among state and private universities in Indonesia, as it’s bolstered by our facilities, made exactingly according to international standards, and based on a solid work ethic,” Tirta says.

    “Our ‘Journal of Asean Studies’ is the only one from Indonesia to be listed in the Directory of Open Journals, while our Conference on Business and International Relations and Diplomacy has been a fixture over the past four years.”

    (Photo courtesy of Bina Nusantara University)

    Tirta, himself a graduate of the international relations program at the University of Indonesia, says he has his work cut out for him at Binus.

    “As a new program, the international relations department still has to convince students and parents of the quality and prospects of the program. It’s also unproven, as we have no graduates of note yet,” he says.

    “Convincing the market is also a challenge. But with the strides that our students have made in the program, I’m certain we can change their minds.

    “Most of all, I’m determined to undo the preconception that private universities are inferior to their state counterparts. Their lecturers and programs are certified by [the Education Ministry’s] Directorate General of Higher Education and we both have accreditation.

    “Private university professors even have more stringent requirements to get there than their state counterparts. We have to go through the Commission for Private Universities before our appointment is confirmed by the directorate general, whereas state university professors are directly referred by their respective universities.

    “We also have to work twice as hard to draw students, unlike universities like the University of Indonesia or Gadjah Mada, which have no problem getting student applications. But while this makes them complacent in their comfort zone, their counterparts in private universities, myself included, have to be more innovative and versatile in making our programs, while also maintaining our high quality,” says Tirta, who also chairs the Indonesian Association of International Relations Studies.

    “The incentives one gets in private universities also stimulate competitiveness and innovation, which contrasts with the static, seniority-based system in state schools. The former’s methods also make it more able to adapt, while the latter’s system is slow to change with the times.”

    For now, Tirta is set to expand his curriculum even further.

    “Among the plans in the works are interdisciplinary international studies, such as China studies with experts on the country, as well as fields like the socioeconomic and political effects of CSR by multinational companies. We are currently in talks with energy giant Freeport on that field,” Tirta says.

    “We will also initiate a ‘Three Plus One’ program, namely three years of classes and a year of either an internship, community service or student exchange.”

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