Without Special Autonomy Fund, I Would Never Have the Opportunity to Study Abroad

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PAPUADAILY – A native Papuan girl feels lucky to be one of the first dozen Papuan youth to pursue undergraduate studies in Australia at the expense of the Papuan local government funded by the Autonomy Special Fund. Her name is Asna Kristina Krebu or Tina. She was the daughter of the elementary school teachers in Dosay Village, West Sentani District, Jayapura Regency.

“Without the special autonomy fund, I would never have had that opportunity because I grew up in a family where both my parents were only elementary school teachers. At first, I thought that the opportunity to study abroad is impossible, because of the high cost of studying abroad,” said Tina.

She majored in international studies at the University of Canberra and received a bachelor’s degree from the university in 2011. During her study, Tina was also looking for other experience such as part time job in which she worked as a waitress at the National Gallery of Australia cafe, the national art museum.

The special autonomy fund referred by Tina is the central government’s grant assistance to the provincial governments of Papua and West Papua who have special autonomy status. Now, twenty years since the implementation of this special autonomy fund (Otonomi Khusus or Otsus), the law has undergone another revision which is Law Number 2 of 2021. The budget allocation for Otsus Papua and West Papua is set at IDR 8.5 trillion in the 2022 Draft State Revenue and Expenditure Budget (RAPBN).

The priority areas of the special autonomy fund are education, health, and people’s economic empowerment. Recently, the central government has also made allocations of a profit sharing for the natural resources, among others, for the development and improvement of the welfare of indigenous Papuans and strengthening customary institutions. In its implementation in the field of education, the special funds are used, among other things, to finance the tuition of Papuan youth to study abroad such as Tina.

“This is a very extraordinary opportunity when I can study abroad with this special autonomy fund,” Tina admitted.

Tina took part in the scholarship selection in 2007 when the then regent of Jayapura, Abel Melkias Suwae, pioneered sending students abroad. Due to insufficient English skills, Tina and other participants were enrolled in an intensive course in Bali. Even though they have been trained for months, not all participants managed to pass the minimum score required for study abroad so they were sent to universities in Java. Meanwhile, around 13 people who met the requirements, including Tina, were sent abroad in 2009 as the first batch.

There are many direct benefits of studying abroad according to Tina. First, she got a better understanding on the cultural differences between Papua in particular and Indonesia in general and Australia.

 

“By understanding the culture there, we can think more positively in accepting diversity in our country, because in Australia there are also many people from other countries with different backgrounds.”, she explained.

Based on the 2020 population census, the population of Papua is 4.3 million people. Only 2.3 million of them are considered as the indigenous Papuans or OAP. The rest are residents of other provinces of Indonesia, as well as their descendants.

“To respect each other’s diversity, such as differences in religion or differences of opinion, we don’t have to see it as a problem. When we have different opinions with others, for example in the world of work or in the environment where we live, we can therefore find solutions”, Tina said.

Unfortunately, not all scholarship recipients from this special fund succeed in completing their studies. Some of them have gone home without completing their studies, and some have even settled in Australia after graduating from college. That is where, according to Tina, lies the weak point of granting special autonomy fund scholarships, which lack supervision and evaluation.

Scholarship recipients who fail to complete their studies are not held liable, for example in the form of a refund. Likewise, those who decide not to return to Indonesia.┬áTina’s assessment was also confirmed by Petrus K Farneubun, a lecturer at Cenderawasih University. He said that the provision of this scholarship is very positive for improving human resources, but it needs to be accompanied by accountability.

“So far, we don’t know when they are finished whether they will return. Some are in government, but some are said to have jobs that do not match their skills,” he explained.

 

As long as there is no valid data regarding the number of students sent, the fields taken and how many returned to Papua, the results of the special autonomy fund scholarship scheme cannot be measured conclusively, despite the government commitment to support quality of human resources by providing the equal opportunity for education or studying abroad to OAP.

The secretary of the Jayapura District Education Office, Ronald Yaroserai, did not deny that there were weaknesses in the scheme at an early stage, considering that the district was the first to send students directly abroad without going through the center.

“Indeed, this program is an evaluation for subsequent programs. That’s why when they were first sent there, there wasn’t a very strong bond between those who had to complete their education and then return to serve the region. Even then, certain articles in the contract were not very binding,” said the former Papuan teacher who also college graduates in Australia.

Ronald further explained that the student sending program is no longer handled directly by the district/city government, but at the provincial and central levels. However, it is believed that sending students abroad is very useful to boost the quality of human resources in Papua. Another opinion also comes from one of the natives Papuan, Petrus K Farneubun, who is currently completing his doctoral studies in the Netherlands.

He believes that in order to make the special autonomy scholarship scheme effective, the government needs to make an analysis regarding the fields or knowledge that are really needed in Papua. Thus, the graduates can be absorbed in local employment, especially in a way they can contribute to the development of Papua.

Thus, the government efforts and commitment to enhance the quality of human resources in Papua through special autonomy funds must also be strengthened with the clear mechanism on how the graduates must be able to show their commitment to go back to Papua, and contribute to the better development in their home.

Moreover, it also needs the updated data on the numbers of those who completed the studies, and those who do not. So, all stakeholders could measure the extent to which this special autonomy funds are needed and important for Papuan.