22 Jun 2016

Phillips J. Vermonte

Alumni Ambassador Dr Philips J. Vermonte is the youngest ever Executive Director of respected Jakarta-based foreign policy think tank, the Centre for Strategic and International Studies.

The international relations analyst and Australia Awards alumnus knows first hand the importance of Indonesia’s Australian alumni network in strengthening relationships between the two countries. “When an issue arises between Indonesia and Australia, and we have champions in Australia as well, the academics in Australia who know Indonesia think and advocate Indonesia's concerns, and vice versa," he said.

"I think that's the beauty of people-to-people relations and that's the beauty of education, that we learn about culture. Increasing that openness between Indonesia and Australia will help the relationship between the two countries," he said.

Dr Vermonte is also one of the founding members of the policy research network (ProREP). His expert opinion is frequently sought by national television networks and leading newspapers in the country. He is also a prolific published author of political and conflict analyses, including Small is (not) beautiful: the problems of small arms in Southeast Asia (ed. Philips J Vermonte, published by CSIS and the Japan Foundation, 2004).

In 2001, Dr Vermonte received a Master’s Degree in International Studies at the University of Adelaide under an Australia Awards scholarship. Eleven years later, he obtained his PhD in Political Science at Northern Illinois University, USA.

"I still remember the time when I got the letter from AusAID (the former Australian government aid agency) that I got the scholarship. I returned from Australia in 2001 and immediately applied to be a researcher at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies. Before I got the Australia Awards scholarship, I didn't even think of applying for that position!" he said.

Australia's democratic society and "public space" made a big impression on Dr Vermonte. "In Australia, there is a certain public space that is protected, respected and collectively agreed by the society. Certain areas such as race, ethnicity and religion are off limits (within that public space), and it is applied in a fully-functioning democracy,” he said.

Dr Vermonte called for more Indonesian alumni to register on the new Global Alumni database. "I'm sure there are many Australian graduates who are capable, but because they are not yet in the Global Alumni database they are not participating. Tangible benefits and incentives such as access to online journals should be created, and the Indonesian Government should also reciprocate by creating similar incentives to cater for graduates from Australia that know the relationship well."

He also believes that Indonesian scholars studying in Australia should be given deeper cultural training to prepare them for the experience.

"We Indonesians tend to mingle with our own. It's not bad, but I think if we're studying overseas, we have to immerse ourselves in the local culture. The mission is to adapt, not to adopt. As a Muslim, before I departed for Australia, I was thinking 'Will I find halal food in Adelaide'? We are more worried about that stuff than whether we can perform well in class. There's a cultural barrier that needs to be taken care of for future students, so they can really immerse themselves in Australia's academic culture and wider social culture," he said.

Looking to the future, Dr Vermonte said tackling disruptive technology and the digital economy was the number one priority for the Centre for Strategic and International Studies over the next five years.

He said the centre set this goal in December 2015 after a strategic planning meeting supported by the Knowledge Sector Initiative, which is funded by the Australian and Indonesian governments.

Bringing Indonesia and Australia closer together is Dr Vermonte's central mission. "I read in the Indonesia-Australia Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement that Indonesia is Australia's 11th-biggest trading partner, and 12th in terms of in terms of investment from Australia. Why? It should be number one or number two because we are so close."

Dr Vermonte is one of 12 Australian Alumni Ambassadors from eight Indo-Pacific countries recently appointed by the Australian Government who will work with Australia’s diplomatic missions in their home countries to grow Australia’s global alumni community by raising the profile of Australia’s world class education system and strengthening ties between Australia and the rest of the world.

The Australia Awards are prestigious international Scholarships and Fellowships funded by the Australian Government. They offer the next generation of global leaders an opportunity to undertake study, research and professional development in Australia, and for high-achieving Australians to do the same overseas.

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