MANDALAY – For the first time under the current government, students from Mandalay’s Yadanabon University have opened a protest camp on the university’s campus calling on the government to increase the national education budget.
The protest began on Monday, led by the Yadanabon University Student Union, and was joined by dozens of students from universities in nearby towns on Wednesday.
The student protest was sparked by the Defense Ministry’s Jan. 16 request that Parliament increase its budget, which is already higher than the education and health budgets combined.
“The education budget was increased a bit after the student protests back in 2015, but it is still lower than the defense budget. Why?” said Ko Kyaw Thura Ye Kyaw, president of the student union.
“The education budget is very important for the country, so we are here to urge the government to increase it,” Ko Kyaw Thura Ye Kyaw said.
Apart from a general increase in education spending, the student protesters called for hostels to be built on campus and support in acquiring educational materials.
“There’s no hostel for students at our university. Students coming from distant places have to rent rooms nearby. This costs us a lot and offers no security at all,” the student leader said.
The teachers unions at Yadanabon University and Mandalay University condemned the protest.
“Our country has many security issues, including the conflict in Rakhine State, so they should not be protesting like this,” said Daw Pa Pa Sein, a member of the Yadanabon University Teachers Union’s central committee, at a press conference at the university on Tuesday.
“We also seek an increase in the education budget. But staging a protest on the campus is not the solution. It is disrupting classes,” Daw Pa Pa Sein said.
However, the Central Association of University Teachers Unions issued a statement condemning the stance of the teachers at the two Mandalay universities.
“Blaming the protesting students instead of offering guidance is a violation of the teachers’ duty. We urge the government and the responsible authorities to negotiate with the protesting students peacefully,” the statement reads.
Speaking to media on Tuesday, Yadanabon University rector Dr. Maung Maung Naing described the protesters as acting illegally by using loudspeakers and encouraging other students to join them.
“We invited representatives of the Ministry of Education to talk with them. However, they were not satisfied with this and continued the protest. If they don’t stop, we will have to handle the situation according to the law,” Dr. Maung Maung Naing said.
The protesting students claimed university authorities unfairly accused them of being rebel students who threaten the peace and stability of the campus. They said they broke off talks with the ministry representatives after the university forcibly collected signatures from other students condemning the protest.
“Forcing [students] to sign a condemnation of our protest amid the discussion is dishonest and only drives us to continue the protest, while barring us from roundtable discussions,” said Kyaw Thura Ye Kyaw.
“We are going to stay right here inside the university compound until we can discuss the issue of the education budget with Union-level officials. If the government or the authorities want to arrest us, we will act peacefully,” he said.