PhD grad: from classroom whistleblower to govt adviser
20 September 2023
PhD graduate Auxentius Andry Yudhianto went from exposing classroom corruption in Jakarta to advising the government on legal reforms.
In his high school classroom in Jakarta, Indonesia's sprawling capital on the northwest coast of Java, Auxentius Andry Yudhianto uncovered a bribery scandal.
His teacher was encouraging students to pay for good grades, says Andry, who graduated this spring with his PhD in International Law from the University of Auckland’s Faculty of Law.
"I had a tendency to try to right any wrongs I came across, and my friends and I exposed the scandal. The teacher breached our trust, and I wanted him to be held accountable. That's when I realised I wanted to pursue law and formalise how I solved problems.”
The road to becoming a lawyer, however, wasn't entirely smooth. Indonesia in the '90s was under the grip of a dictatorship, corruption was rife and lawyers were seen as threats to the establishment. Parents, including Andry’s, were hesitant about their children entering the legal profession.
"There was a common belief that choosing law meant opening yourself up to a difficult life," he says.
Despite this, Andry forged ahead, and his tendency to try to right wrongs further solidified in 2004 when his dad had a heart attack and his family encountered an expensive and unregulated healthcare system
"It was a challenging time for my family, and that's what made me interested in exploring the country's healthcare sector, in particular patent law, which, on the one hand, can improve innovation, but on the other hand, can also increase the cost of medicine."
Andry’s doctoral research examines patent law under free trade agreements, Indonesia's constitutional norms and access to medicine.
He also developed a 'framework of reciprocity' derived from positive constitutionalism theory and Indonesia's founding concept Pancasila, which comprises five principles: monotheism, civilised humanity, national unity, deliberative democracy and social justice, to address tensions in the area.
"I want to support continuous reforms in the Indonesian legal system, and my focus is now on advising the Indonesian government," he says.
"Interestingly, most of the advice I give is based on New Zealand practice."
Aotearoa New Zealand's legal system, and a scholarship advertisement in a local paper, drew him to the country in 2012 to undertake his Master of Laws.
Family was a huge factor in his decision to pursue higher education. Andry’s wife, Arshella, is also a lawyer, and the two are co-founders of the law firm Indonesian Law Alliance. They have two daughters aged 17 and 12, with their eldest also showing an inclination towards law.
"A lot of people said that if you're doing your PhD, you need to set boundaries with your family because you need a lot of time to concentrate, a lot of time for your research, things like that," says Andry. "But I didn't listen. My wife also has her career, and my daughters need their dad. So I didn't put up those barriers, and it worked fine. It's possible to do your PhD and have a family life!"
During his masters, Andry explored several areas, but the subject that interested him most was international trade law, under Professor Jane Kelsey.
"She was an excellent teacher, and I asked her to be my PhD supervisor and to continue on a similar course of research,” says Andry, who was awarded a New Zealand ASEAN scholarship twice - to support both his masters and his PhD.
"This was the only way I could tap into higher education overseas, and when I read about the scholarship in one of the newspapers in Jakarta, my heart just told me to pursue it.
“I did my research on New Zealand’s legal system; its position as one of the least corrupt nations in the world as well as its consistently high rank for ease of doing business on the World Bank index encouraged me to pursue my studies in Aotearoa.”
When he arrived in the country Andry says he found the people he met receptive and friendly.
“I felt welcomed, like this was my second home. Studying in New Zealand was probably the best decision I made in my life.”
Sophie Boladeras | Media adviser
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