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[ZAGREB] A recent agreement between Croatian and Indonesian universities to enhance cooperation has seen a slow start, with only a handful of student exchanges taking place so far.

In June 2013, the University of Zagreb, Croatia, hosted a meeting to identify avenues for cooperation. The forum was attended by representatives from six Croatian public universities and 21 universities in Indonesia, and was supported by the Indonesian Embassy in Zagreb.

At the end of the meeting, the president of the Croatian Rectors’ Conference and the president of the APTISI — Indonesian Association of Private Higher Education — signed a letter of intent that defined possible areas of cooperation.

These areas — chosen primarily to improve the quality of research, education and community services in both countries — include joint research opportunities, joint publications and symposiums, and curriculum development, as well as student and faculty exchanges.

But since then no specific projects have started, says Paula Pavletić, secretary-general of the Croatian Rectors’ Conference.

“In March, another meeting between the ambassador of Indonesia and the vice-rector for research and technology from the University of Zagreb took place,” she says. One topic discussed was the exchange of academic know-how.

“The agreement [to cooperate] would see a renewal of the once fruitful relationship between Croatian and Indonesian universities, when they collaborated as part of the Non-Aligned Movement [of states that follow an independent path between the capitalist and communist power blocs], mostly in the form of student exchange programmes,” says Nikola Marijan, an assistant in the Indonesian Embassy’s economic section.

The Indonesian Embassy and Indonesia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs are also involved in student exchanges and offering scholarships.

Student grants aim to spark further interest for academic collaboration between the two countries, says Anastasya Raditya Ležaić, an expert associate from research organisation the Institute for Development and International Relations in Zagreb.

But she adds: “Liaisons between Indonesian and Croatian universities should definitely be stronger.”

Experience from the Non-Aligned Movement has shown that building strong relations of mutual interest can help to produce graduates with the skills needed in modern society, she says.

The institute now plans to update its 1985 manual How to do business with Indonesia, which could benefit Croatia’s universities as well as its economy, says Raditya Ležaić.

“Economic diplomacy must assist in science diplomacy,” agrees Zdenko Franić, a senior research scientist in the Institute for Medical Research and Occupational Health in Zagreb.

Political and economic contacts should be used to bolster scientific collaboration because modern economies rely on science and technology, he says.

“Indonesia is the largest economy in South-East Asia, with a fast-growing higher education industry. Croatia can only benefit from the cooperation,” Franić tells SciDev.Net.

Unlike in Croatia, most Indonesian universities are private, so Franić says that collaboration could bring a different outlook and a myriad of new ideas to the Croatian academic system.

“Science diplomacy is extremely significant for small countries like Croatia, where its contribution to society as a whole can be immense,” he says.

Science can allow small nations to achieve a global profile, and it is crucial for them to link science to economic development, innovation and environmental protection, he adds.

“Collaborative efforts should not be left in the hands of individual scientists who are focused on funds and their own research,” Franić says. “It is up to science diplomats to help them build better bridges and networks.”

The 1st Indonesian-Hungarian Rectors’ Forum also took place in June 2013, where the participants recommended closer cooperation between Indonesian and Hungarian higher education institutions, especially in the fields of medicine, business, and engineering, as well as in humanities and social sciences.

The collaboration between Indonesian and Hungarian universities was further enhanced at the European Higher Education Fair held in October 2013 in Jakarta, Indonesia, where topics like mobility of scientists and joint programmes were discussed, and several new collaboration agreements signed.