RANGOON — The Burmese government announced it will be offering scholarships for outstanding students who want study under- and postgraduate courses at international universities. It will reportedly be the first time in five decades that the government offers support for Burmese students to study abroad.
Called the President’s Scholarship Awards, the program will offer students aged between 16 and 20 years and with matriculation exam scores of 500 and above a chance to study undergraduate courses, an announcement by the Ministry of Education said on Tuesday.
The full-page announcement in state-run media said people of all ages are invited to apply for international postgraduate studies. Those with an honor’s degree and postgraduate diploma can apply for a master’s degree scholarship, and those who have a master’s degree can apply for a doctorate degree. The deadline for applications is Aug. 31.
“Among applicants, the first selection list will be announced in the state-run newspaper and then the required testing processes will take place step by step. After that the committee formed together with international experts will choose the finalists,” the announcement said.
Those who receive a scholarship are obliged to work in government jobs after their return for twice the duration of their scholarship, or repay triple the amount they received for their scholarship, it added.
Several Education Ministry officials contacted by The Irrawaddy were unable to specify how many scholarship places would be offered and how much money would be made available for the program.
President Thein Sein personally planned the scholarship program and announced it in his monthly radio address in February. “Future generations can have long-lasting educational opportunities, and also study subjects that will benefit the development of the country,” he said.
Tin Hlaing, a member of the Rangoon University Renovation and Upgrading Committee, which is tasked with reforming the institution, said the new program was a historic as it had been more than 50 years since the government lasts provided a scholarship to study abroad that is open to all Burmese students.
“Since 1963, there has been no such scholarship offered by the government,” he said, adding that scholarships to study abroad had since only been offered to Burmese citizens by foreign governments and universities.
The former junta offered occasional support for government officials and officers wanting to study abroad.
The Burma Army seized power in 1962 and consecutive military governments grew increasingly xenophobic, isolating the country and stifling its social and economic development. President Thein Sein’s nominally civilian government took over from the junta in 2011 and introduced sweeping political and social reforms.
Tin Hlaing said Burma would need to send thousands of students abroad in order to boost education levels among the population and strengthen higher education institutions.
“We need to send at least 1,000 scholars,” he said. “I would like to see 5,000 scholars [sent abroad] every year, but since [the scholarship program] just started the numbers will probably be small. Next year, I expect it to increase.”
Tin Hlaing said he understood that the government required those who receive a scholarship to perform government jobs for some time, adding, however, that the government should respect the exact conditions set out in the scholarship agreement.