Australian Universities Court Burmese Students

By San Yamin Aung 28 July 2014

RANGOON — Higher education officials from Australia in the coming years hope to draw more Burmese students to study in their country, the world’s third most popular international destination for college-goers, with the land down under holding its first education exhibition in Burma over the weekend.

The Australian Education Exhibition was held at the Sule Shangri-La hotel in Rangoon on Sunday, with 23 leading universities and colleges from all parts of Australia taking part.

The program included information seminars on Australia’s education system, the country’s student visa application process and the Australian government’s Australia Awards scholarship program.

Mark Wood, trade commissioner and counselor from the Australian Embassy in Rangoon, told The Irrawaddy that Australia attracts almost 500,000 students from around the world every year, including around 500 students from Burma.

“Compared to other countries like Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia and Indonesia, it is quite small at the moment. It’s similar to Vietnam like 10 or 15 years ago. Vietnam is now Australia’s fourth largest source of students. Thailand is sixth largest. Burma is about 46th,” he said.

He added that the reason Burma lagged many other countries in the region might be the financial costs associated with attending university abroad, as well as the difficult relations between Burma and Western countries in the past.

“Burma is now emerging into the region and Australia is very keen to help with development of the Burmese education system,” Wood said.

He said the Australia government is providing scholarships, in addition to the various scholarships offered by the universities themselves. Canberra will grant scholarships to 40 Burmese students this year and 50 next year, according to the embassy official.

“It’s been a very positive response. A lot of people are coming to the exhibition, more than I expected. It’s been young people who are just finishing high school or are in their final year of high school with their parents coming to ask us questions,” Wood said.

He said he expected the exhibition would increase awareness in Burma about Australia’s education system, and would in turn offer Australian universities a chance to understand more about Burma.

“We expect that in the next five or 10 years, the number Burmese students coming to Australia will increase to that same degree as Vietnam and Thailand,” he said.

Victoria Robinson, international manager from the University of Wollongong in Australia, said most students who visited to the exhibition were asking about studies in engineering, followed by business.

“Generally students are interested to come to Australia but I think the hardest thing is money. That probably stops people,” said C. Todd Palioca, vice president for Asia Pacific at the International College of Management in Sydney.

Having recently passed his matriculation exam, Wai Yan agreed that finding a way to finance an education abroad was a primary concern for many Burmese, but the 18-year-old said he had nonetheless set his sights on school beyond Burma.

“I want to study photography abroad. I finished the matriculation exam here and am now preparing to take the International English Language Testing System (IELTS) exam,” said Wai Yan, who visited the exhibition.