The Irrawaddy

Myanmar Academics Urge Continued University Collaboration

Burma’s State Counselor attended a meeting on renovating and upgrading the facilities of Rangoon University on Friday.Dec 23 , 2016 (Photos: Pyay Kyaw / The Irrawaddy)

Myanmar academics urged international universities to continue collaborating with local universities in order to strengthen educational development.

Since 2013, universities in the UK, United States, Australia and elsewhere have established partnerships with once prominent universities in Yangon and Mandalay to help improve Myanmar’s education system.

Last week, the London-based Times Higher Education reported that international universities were being pressured to cut ties with Myanmar universities due to the recent crisis in Rakhine State in which a militant attack and subsequent military clearance operations led to the displacement of some 600,000 Rohingya Muslims to neighboring Bangladesh.

U Thein Naing, an ethnic language curriculum consultant and curriculum expert, said: “No sanctions on educational institutions should be imposed. We need assistance for the development of education in this young democracy.”

He said that he had seen talks of sanctioning the universities online but that Myanmar scholars and university communities were opposed.

Yangon University was closed for 26 years and reopened four years ago when then US President Barack Obama requested delivering a talk there in November 2012.

“We have many challenges facing Myanmar’s educational development; in terms of both quality and quantity, as it has to redevelop from the beginning,” U Thein Naing said, adding, “These educational challenges are the same for the development of peace and human resources.”

The sanctions, if imposed, would impact public education [at the university level], which is under the control of the Ministry of Education, said U Kyaw Moe Tun, the founder of the Parami Institute of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

“If universities from around the world pull out for their reputations due to the political pressures, our public universities will face difficulties,” he said, “but bigotry and prejudice will not go away with sanctions.”

Six decades of military rule has had a negative impact and awareness through education could help combat issues the country faces currently, advocates say.

Myanmar academics question why those who advocate cutting ties want to deny a quality education to young people, just as they were denied under military rule.

“We have no right to deny young people the opportunity to liberate themselves from the mentality and the mindset of the oppressed,” said Dr. Khin Mar Mar Kyi, the inaugural Daw Aung San Suu Kyi gender research fellow at the University of Oxford and the first senior Burmese female academic at the institution.

“Denying education for our youth, you join the military,” she wrote on her Facebook page, criticizing those who advocated for cutting ties.

She said the “expert” academics who recommend denying the right to a quality education are like the military who denied young people education for decades.

“The recent history of Burma has already proven that sanctions against the military did not work. Now they think collective sanctions for education institutions will work. How so?” she asked.