Commemoration of Centennial: Bringing the University Back into Excellence (Part 1)

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Professor Chaw Chaw Sein (PhD), University of Yangon

 

THE University of Yangon, established in 1920, was once the most outstanding university in Myanmar and has been recognized all over Southeast Asia for its high standards of graduate education. Known as Rangoon University in the days of the independence period, the University is also known for its historic political movements led by students such as the independence movement, the U Thant (former United Nations Secretary-General) movement, 1962 coup and democracy movement that led to the 1988 uprising. However, under military administration, it was closed for undergraduate programmes from 1995 to 2012 due to political reasons. It was only after Myanmar’s historic transition in 2011 with a semi-civilian government installed that the reopening of University became a wish of stakeholders in Myanmar. The new government introduced series of reforms and efforts for reopening the University of Yangon were considered. From the side of Parliament, the proposal of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi to upgrade the University was passed in November 2012. The University has been under reform since then and many stakeholders paid thoughtful attention to it becoming a Flagship University of Myanmar with autonomy.

 

Reform period

 

The reform period has been in place for eight-years and opportunities as well as challenges have emerged. Many opportunities have risen by bringing back to the University its momentum in collaboration with regional and international universities. Many faculty members and students have been joining overseas scholarship programmes, receiving training on teaching and research and attending leadership and management programmes offered by external partner universities and external institutions. Some academic freedoms are granted but withProfessor Chaw Chaw Sein (PhD), University of Yangon out financial and administrative autonomy. The challenge for achieving autonomy during Myanmar’s transition has several important characteristics such as the centralized culture that has been embedded for many years. The freedom for the formation of student unions as well as teacher associations has seen different opinions expressed about the future University structure as has the involvement of strong alumni who wish to see the golden image of their university restored.

 

A public university

 

The University of Yangon is a public university and all the University leaderships, teachers and admin staff are civil servants. So, the reform process is a top-down reform process and several actors play important roles in this process. Key actors who play important roles in this process are State Counsellor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, the Ministry of Education, the National Education Policy Commission (NEPC), the Parliament, student unions, teacher association, University alumni and various external actors such as foreign funding agencies and universities. Various enthusiastic efforts by Daw Aung San Suu Kyi to revitalize and upgrade the University can be considered as a key actor. At the first Pyithu Hluttaw fifth regular meeting, the proposal to renovate and upgrade the University of Yangon was submitted by Daw Aung San Suu Kyi as a member of Parliament. Together with the proposal and wish of many, it became necessary to implement major renovations and to improve its educational quality to reach the international standard. After the proposal was accepted and approved, the Committee on Revitalization and Upgrading the University of Yangon was established in December 2012. The Committee, chaired by Daw Aung San Suu Kyi was formed with four sub-committees in order to implement programmes for revitalizing and upgrading the university. They are (1) the sub-committee for Fund Raising, (2) the sub-committee for Management and Allocation of Fund, (3) the sub-committee for Renovation and (4) the sub-committee for Promotion of Educational Quality. These sub-committees continuously discuss the follow-up activities in order to transform the University of Yangon into an excellent academic institution, where people can have access to a world-class education. Several meetings were held at I-12 building of the Parliament to implement the revitalization process.

 

In this context, external actors such as the Australian government, AusAID, the UK government, the British Council and the Central European University came to support the University’s reform. As mentioned above, to support the work of the Revitalization Committee, two overseas study tours were conducted at the direct request of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi in her capacity as chair of the Revitalization of University of Yangon. In May 2013, Dr Myo Myint, Deputy Minister of Education headed the study tour to UK. Another study tour to Australia was led by Dr Soe Yin former Rector of University of Yangon and Member of Parliament in October 2013. These study tours were to learn about the well-developed university system in the UK and Australia. To support the reform process, SWOT (Strength, Weakness, Opportunities and Threat) analysis was conducted with the support of Australian Aid. The SWOT analysis was implemented by faculty members of UY in collaboration with education experts from Australia. The report highlights the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities as well as threats of the University. It analyzed the needs for autonomy such as autonomy over academic programme - degrees, curricula, assessments, autonomy over research programmes and publications, autonomy over budgets, autonomy to select its own staff and students based on ability, autonomy to identify, develop and participate international collaborations and the immediate need of a Master Plan for the University. These programmes were initiated by Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and have been supported by external actors since her tenure as a member of Parliament.

 

The key actor The key actor from the government is the Ministry of Education. From 2011-2014, Dr Mya Aye, former Rector of Mandalay University was appointed as Minister for Education. After his death in 2014, Dr Khin San Yee, former Rector of Yangon Economic University, was appointed as Minister. The Ministry also supports the programmes initiated by Daw Aung San Suu Kyi concerning budget allocation. For the infrastructural development of the University, the priority is given for the renovation of the Bago Hall (men’s hostel) where national hero General Aung San stayed during his student life. The Ministry has decentralized in the area of international cooperation to some extent, giving the University the ability to sign MoUs with foreign universities, allowing the faculties to participate in international seminars abroad, and awarding President’s scholarships to the students. All these efforts support the University to become centre of excellence among other universities in Myanmar.

 

(To be continued)