US Online University Offers 50 Scholarships to Burmese Refugees

By Saw Yan Naing 24 November 2016

The online California-based University of the People announced on Wednesday that it plans to provide 50 scholarships to Burmese applicants including refugees who live on the Thai-Burma border.

The offer was announced by Shai Reshef, president of University of the People, the world’s first non-profit, tuition-free, accredited American online university, at Mae Tao Clinic in Mae Sot, Tak Province, Thailand. More than 100 people, including migrant workers and refugees, attended the event.

The scholarship is especially aimed at students born in Burma, to facilitate tuition-free study toward American accredited degrees at the university’s virtual campus, according to a statement released by the school.

Dedicated to opening up access to higher education globally, the University of the People offers associates and bachelor’s degree programs in business administration, computer science and health science, in addition to an MBA.

Shai Reshef told The Irrawaddy on Wednesday, “I’m very happy to see the level of interest in education. They really want to study higher education. There seems to be a big demand for Myanmar people to study. They think the University of the People, offering an online degree, is a great opportunity because it is tuition-free.”

By earning such a degree, Reshef expects that students will be better able to contribute to their families, societies and their countries.

“I think if they get degree with us, they will have a world-class education. They can start their own business or they can work at international companies. So, there is no doubt that they will have better future. And they will find better jobs for themselves,” said Reshef.

Uniquely equipped, the University of the People accepts applicants to study despite transitory circumstances, like those experienced by many along the Thai-Burma border. The university’s vision includes offering opportunities for higher education to migrants, refugees, asylum seekers and displaced people. It has enrolled 1,000 refugee students from 180 countries so far.

“The hardships these people have experienced cannot be reversed, however, their futures can be transformed,” said Reshef, of the Burmese people he met.

He added that by holding an accredited American degree, the impact would extend to the social development of the graduates’ host countries as well.

“We welcome Burmese people to apply [for the scholarships]. They can visit our website and check what we offer—it is a great thing for them,” said Reshef.

Founded in 2009, the University of the People has also partnered with prestigious educational institutions such as Yale University for research and New York University and University of California-Berkeley regarding student selection. It also works with global corporations such as Hewlett-Packard for internships and Microsoft for scholarships.

Sarah Vanunu, director of public relations of the University told The Irrawaddy that there was a growing interest from among Burmese applicants.

“We have been receiving a lot of interest from Myanmar refugees. Following our work with refugees globally, we are able to announce a new, unique scholarship dedicated to Myanmar refugees in Thailand,” said Vanunu.