Time to accelerate educational reforms for further growth

Dumrong Leenanuruksa and Graham H McDowell

We were most interested to learn that a new university will be established in Nay Pyi Taw to provide tertiary education in Myanmar. It has been forecast that the new university will be established within five years.

Our interest in the project arises because for some time we have been urging the establishment of a comprehensive university to provide education to personnel who will serve the agricultural and related industries. In short, we have advocated the amalgamation of the Yezin Agricultural University, the University of Veterinary Science, Yezin, the University for Forestry at Yezin and other institutions providing education for those who will serve the Agricultural and related industries. Whilst our specific interest has been in the education of personnel who will serve animal production industries, we remain of the view that the creation of comprehensive universities will best serve the needs of Myanmar in educating professionals who will contribute to the development of the nation in the future.

Given that there are a number of existing universities near Nay Pyi Taw we believe it would be appropriate to amalgamate these universities such that the existing institutions constitute faculties (or schools) in the new university each contributing to teaching and research in the relevant disciplines. Teaching and research in the arts and sciences would then be the responsibility of new faculties/schools which also should contribute to teaching and research in the other faculties. Oversight of the new university should be vested in a single ministry with the university being given autonomy, as occurs in most western countries.

The creation of a single comprehensive university in Nay Pyi Taw will be the most efficient way to meet the educational needs of the youth of the region surrounding the capital and also others from all over Myanmar. Students of the new comprehensive university will benefit from being able to incorporate subjects offered by a range of faculties or schools into their study programmes. As a result, well-rounded graduates will be available to contribute to future developments in Myanmar.

This would be consistent with the views expressed by State Counsellor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi at forums in London and Myanmar in May and June 2013 respectively, where the future of Myanmar’s higher education was discussed. As noted by Jamil Salmi, an international expert on global tertiary education, at the forum in Myanmar held in June 2013, "the current situation offers a unique opportunity to undertake courageous reforms that often are not possible in other countries because of vested interests and entrenched positions that block meaningful change".

Among those who are likely to oppose the changes suggested above are the alumni of the universities which currently are independent entities in Nay Pyi Taw. Understandably, these graduates of the current institutions are very proud of the institutions at which they were educated and there is every reason for them to feel this way. However, in the longer term, pride should not prevent developments which will provide benefits to the country and the future graduates of the proposed new comprehensive university. The former graduates can be recognised as alumni of the new university as has occurred in other parts of the world where amalgamations of pre-existing institutions have occurred.

Support for the development of the proposed new comprehensive university would be available from the United Kingdom, Australia and Thailand where changes similar to those proposed have occurred successfully over the relatively recent past and there are signs that assistance would be provided for the reforms of the nation’s higher education system. It is also likely that funding for the proposed development could be secured from organisations such as the World Bank and/or the Asian Development Bank.

Congratulations are offered to the Union Government on the decision to create a new university in Nay Pyi Taw. We urge Minister Dr. Myo Thein Gyi to undertake courageous reforms necessary to create a truly comprehensive and autonomous university in Nay Pyi Taw.

Dumrong Leeanauruksa is a former vice president of Maejo University, Chiang Mai, Thailand,and Graham McDowell is a former deputy vice chancellor of La Trobe University, Melbourne, Australia.