For Burma’s Future Business Leaders, an MBA Is Essential

By Yen Saning 24 December 2013

RANGOON — Those hoping to be the managers of Burma’s brave new economy are signing up to a raft of new private courses offering an MBA, or Master of Business Administration, according to educators and students.

In the West, the MBA and similar post-graduate programs have long been the go-to qualifications for would-be high fliers. But as Burma’s government undertakes economic and political reforms to open the country up to foreign investment, managers still lack formal qualification.

“In Burma, people mostly work using experience, but they lack the theory,” said Aye Aye Mar, principal of the Business Institute Yangon. “When the country opens up, we can’t work as we used to before, we have to follow the global trend.”

The Business Institute Yangon is one of a handful of private institutions that have begun offering MBA courses in Burma in recent years, as people increasingly stay in country to get the qualification rather than study abroad.

“Both theory and experience is required in the workplace,” added Aye Aye Mar. “People need to read and study sample [business] cases. [Managers] can make better decision where they have completed master’s-level business studies.”

These private institutions in Burma have tied up with universities in Thailand, France, UK and the United States, who provide valuable accreditation to the degrees.

Many study for their MBAs while working a job, so courses are structured so that teaching is at weekends and in the evenings.

Su Myat Mon, who is studying for an MBA and is also overseas director at SR Worldwide Education, said she preferred to stay in Burma, and stay in her job, to study.

“I have wanted a [recognized] management degree, an MBA, for a long time, either at a local or overseas [institution]. But I prefer to take a recognized degree in Myanmar rather than overseas,” she said.

The Yangon Institute of Economics’ Department of Management Studies, a public institution, has for years been offering an MBA program, but its intake is small and admission is highly competitive, with students required to take a graduate management admission test, or GMAT. The course is full-time and takes three years to complete, but course fees are negligibly cheap.

Although entry requirements are far lower, MBA programs at private institutions in Burma can cost from US$10,000 and last on average one-and-a-half years.

Khin Hnin Soe, the principal of another private institution, Myanmar Metropolitan College, said having an MBA is becoming a necessity for Burmese wanting to get ahead in business.

“A lot of people, including top businessmen, attend MBA programs nowadays. Young adults who have graduated are also starting to join MBA programs,” she said. “The demand for master’s degrees has increased in the [business] industry and upgrading is needed for those already in the workplace.”

Aung Si Lin, the executive director of construction firm Maw Shan Thway Company Ltd, with already 20 years of experience in sales and marketing, is studying for an MBA at Myanmar Metropolitan College (MMC). He wants to eventually move into teaching to pass on his skills.

“What MMC offers is an online MBA and assignment-based tasks on weekends. We don’t have much pressure,” he said. “We have to give up a lot of time if we study overseas, where the costs is quite high.”

Although local courses are now available, many still go to study abroad, as those who can afford it have increasingly done as the standard of teaching at Burma’s educational institutions has been left behind other countries.

A student who attended a master’s program in E-business Management at the International University of Japan said studying abroad offered the chance to gain life experience.

“I choose this program because it is one year program and I haven’t taken GMAT exam,” the student said, adding that she is now a deputy manager working in Burma’s banking industry.

The program she attended in Japan would have cost more than $21,000, had she not had a scholarship, and many students are looking to local courses as a cheaper option.

“An MBA is not only a degree, it’s important for your whole life,” said Su Myat Mon. “Everybody who is interested should attend. Where you get your degree doesn’t matter, it all depends on your hard work.”