University celebrates 50-year partnership with Indonesia

KINGSTON, R.I. – May 13, 2022 –The University of Rhode Island and the Republic of Indonesia celebrate this month the 50th anniversary of extensive collaborations in education, marine affairs and policy, environmental protection and oceanography.

Indonesian dignitaries will join URI President Marc B. Parlange and other University officials, students and faculty for a two-day celebration of the partnership that began in 1972.

On Wednesday, May 18, at 10 a.m. in the Robert J. Higgins, Welcome Center, Parlange, Indonesian dignitaries and URI officials will discuss the partnership’s history and its lengthy record of accomplishments. On Thursday, May 19, from 9 a.m. to 10:30 a.m., graduates of the Natural Resources and Environment Program will be honored during a certificate ceremony at the Beaupre Center for Chemical and Forensic Sciences, Room 100.

In 1972, with support from the U.S. government, the University partnered with the Republic of Indonesia to help the country gain sovereignty over its seas at the Third United Nations Conference on the Law of the Sea. Through that initial collaboration, Indonesia, as the world’s largest archipelagic nation, with assistance provided by URI in marine affairs and oceanography, successfully gained UN recognition for full sovereignty over its interior waters and sea lanes. 

Since the partnership began URI:

  • Helped Indonesia design the framework for the country’s first national Marine Protected Area, with URI professors helping to write the legislation passed into law and signed by the Indonesian president, which is now the model for Marine Protected Areas across Indonesia. 
  • Helped Indonesia design, create and launch its national Sea Grant Program, which the country calls Mitra Bahari (Sea Partners), based on the U.S. Sea Grant program of which URI was a founding institution, bringing Indonesian government, universities, non-governmental organizations and civil society into active collaboration nationally.
  • Helped Indonesians to earn advanced degrees, who went on to be the national founders of the Indonesian national Ministry of Marine Affairs and Fisheries; Indonesia’s first Ocean Engineering Degree Program, established at Indonesia’s top Engineering Institution, the Bandung Institute of Technology; and Indonesia’s first Environmental and Natural Resource Economics Degree Program, established at Indonesia’s top environmental university, the Bogor Agricultural Institute.

“This partnership has been an exciting and rewarding opportunity for URI and the Republic of Indonesia, offering invaluable opportunities for research, learning, and teaching that have yielded tangible, real-world solutions to pressing local and global issues,” Parlange said. “I am grateful to everyone who has made this relationship possible, including champions at the national and local governmental levels. I am confident that the vast and rich ocean resources that we have in common with the Republic of Indonesia will continue to fuel important work in the Blue Economy for another 50 years, and I look forward to expanding on the successes of this collaboration.”

Brook Williams Ross, URI director of Education & Business Partnerships, Asia, says there are plenty of reasons to celebrate.

“At least 165 students have had the opportunity to go to Indonesia, and to use that as their classroom. They’re being exposed to issues around the globe.”

The University has responded in kind, hosting dozens of graduate and doctoral candidates from Indonesia over the decades, with several now in key government leadership positions.

“In the last 10 years that I’ve been leading programs and setting up these partnerships, we’ve had many URI students in Indonesia, for programs lasting between two weeks and one year,” said Ross. “We’ve also had URI professors and faculty members in Indonesia doing research, leading seminars, participating in conferences, helping implement grants or doing trainings for the governments or students. If we can understand how small island nations and coastal communities are dealing with the impact of climate change and fisheries management, we can utilize some of that knowledge here for the benefit of our environment, economy, and communities.”

John Kirby, dean of URI’s College of the Environment and Life Sciences, has also spent years working with the partnership.

“When I came here, I was interested in how we could build some meaningful cross-college, international relationships working in places where everyone isn’t flocking to, as they were to China. I wanted a place where our expertise would be of great use, and where we could do the kind of development work that helps lift people up.”

He said the College has numerous experts in such fields as marine ecosystems, fisheries, and invasive species. Kirby said the University’s expertise in policy and governance, and community action are also central pieces in the success of the partnership.

“The thing about Indonesia is that it’s a very large country. It has a large, diverse population,” Kirby said. “So I thought, “Well, this is a place I think we could do some good and it would be great for our students and our faculty who want to work there.

“Today, we’re doing exactly what we set out to do, and that was to create opportunities for people to come to the United States and learn with the greatest educational system in the world and to have opportunities for our students and staff to go work on interesting problems in Indonesia.”

Ross said the relationship between the two nations has many benefits. “These relationships, this history that we have, has developed into mutual respect and friendship. This is well beyond the original vision. We are creating roots and relationships across the nation.”

This release was written by Hugh Markey.