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Researchers from Leiden visit Indonesia on knowledge mission

A delegation from Leiden University recently embarked on a knowledge mission to various NGOs, universities and government organisations in Indonesia. New partnerships were formed and important knowledge exchanged, and researchers from Leiden gave guest lectures.

Leiden University has been working with Indonesia for decades in the fields of history, economics, health, biodiversity, human rights, Islamic studies, the environment, (de)colonialisation, water and waste, language and culture, and AI and computer science. The delegation sought to strengthen the university’s ties during the visit and signed memorandums of understanding on further cooperation with Universitas Airlangga, Universitas Gadjah Mada and Universitas Indonesia. Alongside universities in Surabaya, Yogyakarta and Jakarta, the delegation visited research and teaching organisations in Malang, Medan, Semarang, Bogor and Bandung.

‘Great challenges call for great collaboration’

One of the university’s Indonesian partners is Universitas Airlangga. The Leiden visit cannot have escaped the attention of the students and staff there, with photos of Executive Board President, Annetje Ottow, gracing all the screens in the university buildings. The delegation was welcomed by Rector Mohammed Nasih, who emphasised the importance of international cooperation. ‘Collaboration is invaluable’, he said. Ottow concurred in her speech, ‘We can only solve global problems such as pandemics and climate change by working together. Great challenges call for great collaboration.’

Group photo. Source: PKIP UNAIR

LUMC Dean Pancras Hoogendoorn, Professor Jan van Lith (Obstetrics) and Professor Wilco Peul (Neurosurgery) were appointed adjunct professors by the Indonesian university. And researchers from both universities discussed areas in which the collaboration could be improved and how they could benefit most from each other’s qualities.

Then researchers from Leiden gave guest lectures at various faculties. Ottow also gave a lecture on ‘good agency principles’ to a group of around 50 Indonesian students at the law faculty. She explained to the students how regulators ensure that organisations comply with rules. Which principles help prevent corruption is a sensitive yet important topic in Indonesia and the students were initially hesitant to ask questions. But after some encouragement an interesting exchange arouse between Ottow and the students, and many of them wanted their photos taken with Ottow afterwards.

Annetje Ottow giving her guest lecture on ‘good agency principles’

Airlangga Institute for Indian Ocean Crossroad

Universitas Airlangga and Leiden University will continue to work together to realise the Airlangga Institute for Indian Ocean Crossroad (AIIOC), an international interdisciplinary platform created with the support of the International Institute for Asian Studies (IIAS). The AIIOC will focus not only on social and political studies but also on other disciplines such as health and medicine. ‘Universitas Airlangga shares a long history with Leiden and the AIIOC will further strengthen the ties between the two universities’, said Philippe Peycam, the IIAS director. His institute will work closely with the AIIOC, starting by organising the 13th edition of the International Convention of Asia Scholars (ICAS), which will be held in Surabay in 2024. ICAS is the biggest Asian Studies conference in the world, with around 2,000 experts on Asia coming together from all over the world.

Philippe Peycan. Source: PKIP UNAIR

Universitas Gadjah Mada

During a visit to Universitas Gadjah Mada (UGM), Leiden-Delft-Erasmus Dean Wim van den Doel reflected on his last visit there. This was at the start of the Covid outbreak in 2020, just before the global lockdowns were announced. The number of student exchanges between the two universities has been decreasing ever since. The Leiden delegation wants to change this.

The universities also discussed the intention to collaborate in a consortium of Leiden-Delft-Erasmus (LDE) and five Indonesian universities. The Indonesian Ministry of Education would like to realise international university partnerships in the shape of consortiums. The consortium of the LDE and its Indonesian partners will mainly conduct research and teach in health, sustainability and urban transformations. One specific topic that this consortium may focus on is developing the new Indonesian capital. This new capital, which will emerge on Kalimantan, should be a smart, green city.

Zebrafish in the UGM zebrafish lab

Zebrafish lab

Members of the Leiden delegation visited the UGM zebrafish lab that was opened in 2019 by the then Rector, Carel Stolker. The lab, where drug research is carried out, was established with the support of Leiden University. Dozens of zebrafish now swim around there, some of which were flown in from Leiden, one of the Indonesian researchers in the lab said. Some diseases develop similarly in zebrafish as in humans, which makes them suited to scientific research.

Universitas Indonesia

In his welcome speech, Rector Ari Kuncoro from Universitas Indonesia (UI) shared fond memories of his last visit to Leiden. The view over the Witte Singel canal from where he was staying at the Royal Netherlands Institute of Southeast Asian and Caribbean Studies (KITLV) was the source of great inspiration, he said. Ottow reflected on the long-standing ties between the two universities and the importance of connections to Leiden University. ‘Connections between disciplines, with different universities and with the world.’

Improved healthcare

The LUMC works closely with the UI and several other Indonesian universities, particularly on research into infectious diseases and diseases caused by urbanisation. Professor Joris Rotmans (Internal Medicine) looks at how to improve the prevention and treatment of kidney diseases, for example. Kidney disease is relatively common in Indonesia, partly because kidney stones are prevalent and relatively many patients have been left with kidney damage after contracting infectious diseases.

The risk of kidney damage is also increased by the relatively high temperatures, which increase the risk of dehydration. A lack of water is a major cause of acute kidney damage. ‘There is much room for improvement, for instance through early screening’, said Rotmans. ‘But then you need to get a good idea of which disorders occur here and why. Then you can look at the most effective way to intervene in the disease’s progression.’

Doves are released to celebrate the 35th anniversary of the partnership

The LUMC delegation visited the UI medical campus and celebrated the 35th anniversary of the partnership between the two faculties. This involved releasing doves, planting trees and unveiling a commemorative plaque. The delegation was also given a guided tour and paid a visit to the campus’s anatomical museum. The two faculties took the opportunity to discuss how to improve their collaboration and revive the exchange programmes now the pandemic is over.

AI and Islam

The future of AI has arrived in Indonesia and is the focus of much concern, also in Islamic circles. In a guest lecture at Universitas Islam Internasional (UIII), Professor Bart Barendregt (Anthropology of Digital Diversity) explained that this is to be expected. ‘The use of AI does something to the ideas we have about the human dimension and our position within creation.’ Islamic apps confront young believers with ethical dilemmas, he said, giving the example of apps that can write Islamic prayer services and make digital avatars of those they have lost. The lecture hall was packed to the rafters and the discussion continued for an hour after the lecture.

Violence against women

During the knowledge mission, Professor Marieke Liem (Violence and Interventions) visited the National Commission on Violence Against Women, an NGO that conducts research into violence against women. ‘Violence against women is widespread yet practically invisible in Indonesia. Many women from Indonesia have recently been lured abroad only to die from violence there. Last week alone, 160 coffins with such victims arrived from abroad.’ Liem wants to gain a better understanding of this violence. ‘How prevalent is it? It’s a simple question but the answer is difficult to find. There aren’t any hard figures yet.’ During her visit to Indonesia Liem also made new contacts for her faculty, Governance and Global Affairs, and sought potential collaborative partners.

Collaboration with university libraries

Director of Leiden University Libraries (UBL) Kurt De Belder spoke to the Indonesian Director-General for Higher Education about the Lingling Wiyadharma Fellowship programme. This gives three researchers the chance to spend three months in Leiden conducting research at the UBL’s Indonesian special collections. They also discussed how the Indonesian Ministry of Education has agreed to fund an extra three fellows. ‘That’s obviously fantastic’, said De Belder. ‘This programme will enable not only these fellows but also our own researchers in Leiden to expand their networks.’ De Belder also visited the National Archives of Indonesia, which Leiden University has been collaborating with for decades. He made agreements with the archive’s director about the shape this collaboration will take in the coming years, for instance about training archivists, helping implement new digital technology, organising joint exhibitions and cooperating on world heritage.

Emotional book presentation

The Indonesian translation of the book Snouck by historian Wim van den Doel was presented at the National Library of Indonesia. This is a biography of Christiaan Snouck Hurgronje (1857-1936), an Arabist, Islamologist, Leiden professor and administrator for the Dutch government in the Dutch East Indies. A photo exhibition about Snouck Hurgronje’s life was opened afterwards, which can also be viewed online. For Van den Doel the presentation was a special moment not only because the pandemic turned the publication of the Dutch version of the book into a very low-key affair but also because over 40 of Snouck Hurgronje’s descendants were present. For some, it was an emotional event. ‘It did them good to see how an attempt has been made to write an academically rigorous biography about their ancestor and to paint a balanced picture of his life’, said Van den Doel.

Wim van den Doel at the presentation of the Indonesian translation of his book Snouck

‘Alumni are our ambassadors’

The ties with Indonesian alumni were also strengthened during the knowledge mission. At well-attended alumni dinners in Yogyakarta and Jakarta, alumni and researchers met and reminisced about their time in Leiden. ‘I see so many alumni in every city I visit. You are our ambassadors and we are most grateful to you’, said Ottow at the opening of the dinner in Jakarta, on the grounds of the Dutch Embassy and next to the Leiden University Office in Indonesia. This represents the university in Indonesia and works with our Indonesian partners, supports Leiden researchers and had played a key role in organising the knowledge mission.


The delegation also visited BRIN, the Indonesian National Research and Innovation Agency. Leiden University works with this organisation within the scope of LDE in the form of the LDE-BRIN Academy, a five-day academic programme in Jakarta on the subject of sustainable urbanisation. The first programme resulted in BRIN funding for six joint research proposals and 12 articles published by the Leiden University Press. The second edition will take place in October this year. The University also spoke with BRIN about collaboration in the area of space research, mainly focusing on space law and astrophysics. They also discussed the possibility of expanding the collaboration to include biodiversity, vaccine development and quantum physics.

Almuni have their photo taken with Pancras Hogendoorn

‘A good relationship shouldn’t be taken for granted’

The joint part of the Leiden knowledge mission concluded with a dinner at the residence of the Dutch Ambassador. One researcher from each faculty briefly recounted the highlights of the trip. ‘Fantastic what I’m hearing from you all’, said Ambassador Lambert Grijns. ‘It won’t have escaped your attention that Indonesia is flourishing and the country is developing fast. Cherish the bond that you have and keep on working hard at it because this good relationship shouldn’t be taken for granted.’

Text: Tom Janssen

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