Straits Times: Student exchange stints help S'pore-Indonesia ties

YOGYAKARTA - Final-year English Literature undergraduate Muhammad Eric, 22, hopes to do a master's degree in the subject in Singapore.

So when President Tony Tan Keng Yam visited Gadjah Mada University (UGM) yesterday, Mr Eric took the chance to ask how Indonesian students are viewed in Singapore.

"We welcome foreign students to study, particularly in areas where our universities have particular strengths. And we also encourage our students to spend time abroad," Dr Tan replied.

These stints help deepen understanding between both countries, he added.

A former academic who has also been Education Minister, Dr Tan added that UGM, Indonesia's oldest public university - which works together with the National University of Singapore on exchange and research programmes - has played a tremendous role in the country's development.

UGM rector Professor Pratikno told reporters that collaboration with NUS will focus on research in areas like food, energy, disaster mitigation and biodiversity, Antara news agency reported.

UGM will set up a Centre for Indonesia Knowledge and Resource, to better house and share research on the country, its rector added.

On the second-last day of a state visit which seeks to take people-to-people ties between Singapore and Indonesia a notch higher, Dr Tan also visited a humanitarian project by Singapore- based Mercy Relief in Magelang, Central Java, and the ninth-century Buddhist temple complex of Borobudur.

At a community health centre in Dukun, an area badly hit by the eruption of Mount Merapi in 2010, Dr Tan was briefed on Mercy Relief's efforts to provide supplies, improve medical services and re-construct the water supply system for some 4,700 villagers.

Heavy rain cut short Dr Tan's visit to Borobudur, a Unesco World Heritage site that attracts some 2.5 million visitors a year.

Dr Tan noted that while it was a Buddhist temple, the majority of visitors to the site are Muslims.

"This is a symbol of the tolerance of religions and faiths which Indonesia, as a moderate Muslim country, exemplifies to the whole world," he told reporters.

Dr Tan was later hosted to dinner by Sultan Hamengkubuwono X, the Governor of the Yogyakarta Special Region, at his palace.

He returns to Singapore today.