Much of Oxford’s aid to Burma focuses on our developing relationship with the University of Yangon.
Established in 1848, the University of Yangon was modelled on the University of Oxford and grew to be one of Asia’s most prestigious universities. Throughout the 1940s and 1950s, it was widely regarded as one of the best universities in Asia and attracted students and staff from around the world.
Yangon was a hub for Burma’s independence movement with notable alumni including General Aung San, the nation’s independence leader (and Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s father), as well as U Thant, who served as Secretary General of the United Nations from 1961 to 1971.
After Burma’s independence, and the reform of the education system, Yangon bloomed as a bastion of academic freedom. Education – including at the tertiary level – was made free, new courses were established, and collaborations with American and Soviet universities launched.
However, the University suffered heavily under the military rule that was enforced in the 1960s. Yangon was put under government control, taking away the autonomy that had allowed it to flourish. Funding decreased, the language of instruction was changed to Burmese – a radical change since Yangon had taught in English since its foundation in the nineteenth century – and students were not provide with adequate resources.
Yangon’s position as a centre of student activism attracted the ire of Burma’s military authorities, and troops were sent to the campus in 1962 and 1974 to break up student protests. Throughout the 1960s, 70s and 80s, departments were split off from the main institution and Yangon was gradually degraded. Then, in 1988, all undergraduate students were removed from the university and the institution was shut for some time. In the years that followed, Yangon was systematically deprived of funding, depleted of trained teachers, and the University’s libraries and labs were neglected.
The situation at Yangon only began to change in with the dissolution of the military junta in 2011. Since then, Yangon has regained a measure of autonomy, has received some investment for much needed repairs and equipment, and has rejoined the international academic community, launching collaborations with Oxford and other international institutions. In 2013, Yangon welcomed undergraduates back to the university for the first time since the 1980s.
Professor Nick Rawlins, Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Development and External Affairs, paid Oxford’s first official visit to Yangon in May 2013. That visit was followed up by another visit in July 2014, at which Oxford and Yangon signed a landmark memorandum, pledging to collaborate with each other to develop higher education standards in Burma.
Oxford’s partnership with Yangon will help our Burmese peers develop new approaches to education and research that will effect much-needed change across the whole higher education sector in Burma, providing a blueprint for effective higher education reform.
Students establish contact
Oxford student delegations visited Burma in 2013, 2014 and 2015. In the summer of 2013 and Oxford University Student Union delegation toured the country, meeting with students and young business people. This was followed by delegations of student English language tutors, organised by St Hugh’s College, who were based at the University of Yangon in 2014 and 2015, providing additional tuition in English with support from Oxford University Press’s leading English teaching course books and Burmese telecommunications provide Ooredoo Myanmar.
Establishing contact between British and Burmese students is a key component of Oxford’s programme of aid to Burmese higher education. Creating opportunities for contact with foreign students is vital to broadening the horizons of Burmese students, letting them learn about different people’s perspectives through first-hand experience.