RANGOON — Undergraduate students arriving at the recently reopened Mandalay University have complained that living facilities at the campus are inadequate and underfunded, as they are being offered poor food and are forced to stay in dirty hostels with little in the way of amenities.
When Mandalay University opened last month, after having been shut down for decades by Burma’s government, more than 1,000 undergraduate students began their studies. About 300 students reside permanently on the campus, but many have since found that little was done to prepare for their arrival.
“The food provided at the hostels is so poor and so little that we are afraid it will not be sufficient for our nutrition. Rooms are untidy and lack enough bathroom and toilets. We are restricted in usage of electricity as well,” said a first-year botany student, who only gave her name as Yamin.
Another student said he had to live on Mandalay University campus because his family lived far from the city, but he now faced an unpleasant stay there.
“We thought that the hostels on the campus will be the best way to live and study. As the government has announced the university will reopen and provide good education, we thought that we will be provided good facilities too. But now, our expectation to enjoy campus life is being ruined,” said the student, who asked his name be withheld.
A lecturer of the Student Affairs Office at Mandalay University said a lack of government funding forced the university to charge the students about $1 for the two daily meals they are being served.
“We do not receive any budget from the government or the ministry. We have to collect charges from the students,” said the woman. “The students are only complaining and reporting to journalists without knowing the difficulties we are facing.”
Girl students said they have been forced to move out of Shwebo Hostel, which is being turned into a boys’ hostel, and are being forced to stay in the new Inya hostel that is still being renovated and lacks finished toilets and bathrooms.
“The hostel is still under renovation, so how can we stay there safely? There is a written notice warning us to walk slowly as the ceiling underneath might collapse. How can we live with that kind of condition?” said one undergraduate student.
The girl students said they were planning to collect signatures for a petition to demand that university authorities let them stay at Shwebo Hostel until Inya Hostel is completed.
However, they said they were facing pressure from lecturers who warned them not to submit any complaints.
“The teachers said we might face difficulties when we search for a job after graduation if we file complaints during our student time. So most of us afraid to sign a petition and gave up. We were even warned not to talk to the media,” said one student.
“We don’t know what to do now, but have no choice and have to live in this unsafe hostel,” she added.
Apart from the difficult living conditions on the campus, students also complained that the new academic programs were identical to the modules and syllabus at the long-distance university programs that were used before Mandalay University reopened.
“When all students met with a professor of the university last week, we asked about this, but he didn’t give an answer and left the room,” said an undergraduate student. “We just want to know what will be our future if we are given the same education as with the other [long-distance] universities.”
For decades under Burma’s former military government, Rangoon and Mandalay universities remained closed as the campuses were seen as hotbeds of dissent. Long-distance university courses were used to continue higher education, but the quality of education at Burma’s universities, once-renowned throughout Asia, fell sharply.
Last year, the Universities Education Council, comprising teachers and professors throughout Burma, decided to reopen the old Rangoon and Mandalay universities. The institutions now operate Center of Excellence programs, which can only be accessed by students who have obtained more than 490 marks during their matriculation exams.