The Irrawaddy

EU Pledges to Continue Supporting Education Despite Calls for Ties to be Cut Over Rakhine Crisis

Convocation Hall inside the University of Yangon. Photo: Myo Min Soe/ The Irrawaddy

YANGON—The European Union will continue investing in Myanmar’s education system to help bring about change and to support the country’s democratic transition, the EU ambassador to Myanmar said on Thursday.

“The European Union recognizes that education for all, without discrimination, is an indispensable prerequisite for Myanmar to succeed (in) its democratic transition,” Ambassador Kristian Schmidt said at a regional conference on cooperation in higher education held in Yangon to promote the EU’s Erasmus+ academic exchange program.

The European Union has allocated more than 240 million euros to support the Myanmar government in its effort to reform the education sector, the ambassador said in his speech.

In early November, the London-based weekly Times Higher Education reported that international universities were being pressured to cut ties with Myanmar universities due to the recent crisis in Rakhine State, where militant attacks and a subsequent military clearance operation led to the displacement of more than 600,000 Rohingya Muslims to neighboring Bangladesh.

Myanmar academics and educators responded to the news with appeals that cutting international ties would worsen the situation in Myanmar while bigotry and prejudice would not go away.

“We are going ahead with the mutual understanding that investing in education is the only way to achieve structural change, better living conditions and ultimately a sustainable democracy in this country,” Schmidt stressed at the conference.

The Danish diplomat also emphasized that Myanmar needs its own human resources to improve its economic fortunes and the EU is planning to provide support to ensure Myanmar children even in the most remote and undeveloped areas of the country had access to good schools and the opportunity to learn a profession.

Ambassador Kristian Schmidt of the European Union to Myanmar/ Photo: Supplied by Delegation of the European Union to Myanmar)

Myanmar Education Minister U Myo Thein Gyi, who was present at the conference, said that his ministry had been investing in youth to help them build sustainable futures and to create life-long opportunities for continuous professional development, adding that internationalization had to be enhanced in the country’s higher education sector.

“Our country needs human resources with a solid work ethic … who take responsibility and accountability for the work they do and who are globally collaborative and competitive,” the minister said.

In an interview with The Irrawaddy, Professor Dr. Aung Kyaw, pro-rector of the University of Yangon, Myanmar’s oldest university and at one time one of the most prestigious institutions of higher learning in Asia until the 1962 coup by Gen. Ne Win, expressed his personal opinion that cutting educational ties won’t resolve any problems.

“Education is a national issue, not individual. [People in] the country have been facing different kinds of challenges due to a lack of education. There won’t be such challenges if they are all well-educated,” the professor said.

Yangon University was closed for undergraduate study for 26 years, reopening only under the administration of the previous U Thein Sein government in 2013.