British Council to Hold Conference on Higher Education in Naypyidaw

By Mark Inkey 28 June 2013

The British Council is holding an educational conference entitled “Empowering Higher Education” in Naypidaw this weekend.

Attending will be Burmese members of Parliament, officials from the British Council and representatives from UNESCO, AusAid and the Asian Development Bank.

It is a follow-up to a fact-finding tour of British universities that the British Council organized for four Burmese government officials in May. The delegates were Dr. Myo Myint, Dr. Mya Oo, Dr. Aung Kyaw Myat and Dr. Mya Oo.

Aung San Suu Kyi, who chairs two parliamentary committees tasked with drafting new laws on Burmese higher education and revitalizing Rangoon University, had asked the British Council to support her work.

The British Council organized visits to English and Scottish universities and meetings with staff and student representatives for the delegates.

The culmination of the tour was a policy dialogue meeting on May 9 at the University of London, where Suu Kyi gave the keynote speech by video link.

In her speech, the Burmese opposition leader stressed the need for academic freedom.

“We want to make our academic institutions independent. We want to make them vital and we want to modernize them to be in keeping with the developments of the times. We have to learn from everybody because we have fallen so far behind,” she said.

She also called for students to be given more freedom to enjoy campus life again. She said: “Our young people have not known campus life for decades. The focus of the military government was on maintaining discipline, not on providing education.”

After the meeting, Dr Myo Myint said training better academics and teachers and focusing back on the education parts of the discussion would initially be more important than site and residential campus matters. Widening access would also be critical, in light of the discussions around inclusiveness and the equity of education, he added.

The trip led to five major joint recommendations.

These were: to stay optimistic; to build strong friendships between the UK and Burma; to invest in English-language learning and the development of libraries; to strengthen student unions and the intellectual and civic identity of universities; and to build reciprocity with foreign universities.