Myanmar has historically been a reference in South East Asia in terms of education. After Burma (Myanmar) achieved independence in 1948 its schools were regarded as among the best in Asia. However, during the period of isolation from the 60s to 2000, educational standards fell. How can Myanmar aspire again to be the “first Asian Tiger” when it comes to education?
Myanmar today has very big demands in terms of education, both for public universities and for private providers like us. We are short of human talent; the industry’s demands for skilled people and human talent are growing and right now that need is being fulfilled by a large number of qualified expatriates.
Within this context, a new education bill is due to be passed, perhaps by next year, and we have been one of the prime contributors in drafting the law since the previous government started working on it. The current administration is now updating and improving it. Once it is enacted, the autonomous universities will be able to be duly recognized and the public ones will have to adapt themselves to the new environment. Thanks to it, we will have a national quality assurance agency, as well as a committee or a commission, taking care of the education industry; everybody will have to pass through the required accreditation, and only then will they be allowed to conduct programs. Therefore, we expect that there is going to be a big move and shift with the upcoming bill when only the legitimate providers will be able to provide the syllabus.
At STI University, we have been working very hard at all levels to equip ourselves with much more advanced knowledge and technical expertise in order to get private university status from the government as soon as the new regulation is enacted. Until then, we are working with our partner universities to provide official and internationally recognized degrees.
The National Education Law of 2014, with the amendments introduced in 2015, regulates education in Myanmar. The main aims of this reform are to encourage critical thinking, to ensure the transmission of cultural heritage and to enhance the economic development of Myanmar. Do you think that this law is advancing in the right direction?
That is the umbrella law under which the private education law and the higher education law will be enacted. We do think that the draft is advancing in a positive direction. However, it is important to bear in mind that we are changing drastically from nothing, from zero, to a very regulated system, which means that we will still have to look at the regulators as they need to be very knowledgeable and able to supervise and oversee the market.
The law was enacted and the amendments introduced while the National League for Democracy was still setting up its government. What are the priority areas of action that the current government should address?
The most challenging area would be to have well-trained people at the Ministries. We are not very worried in this sense because we have the very good success story from the telecommunications sector of our mobile operator, which is MPT. Today they have become a very aggressive corporation, and they are transforming into a business entity working with international consultants. They are flexible enough to follow the market and global trends. I am sure the government’s people and the respective personnel will engage with their counterparts across the region in order for them to be on the same page. There are a lot of committees and the National Education Policy Commission, a new body created to oversee the entire industry in Myanmar.
Most of the universities establish partnerships with international institutions, especially in the UK or Singapore, aiming to achieve name recognition. Instead of or in addition to partnering with international institutions, what can the local universities do to take the leadership of the higher education in Myanmar?
Today we have to work with international universities, such as the Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok, in order to provide legitimate degrees. Once the new bill is passed, we will get institutional accreditation in line with international accreditation. At this moment we are working with our qualifications from NARIC, a national agency in the United Kingdom for the qualification mapping and recognition. They control our qualification according to the UK universities at any level. This project will be completed by early 2018 and we will have widening recognition from universities across the UK, as well as with all of the partner universities, and of NARIC: our students will be recognized by all of them.
STI Myanmar University also has an international partner, the University of Bedfordshire, the main educational institution in Luton. How do you cooperate with this entity and what is the history behind this partnership?
We work with Open University, as well as the University of Bedfordshire because they do the clerical mapping of occupations, and if they find that we provide satisfactory clerical and learning outcomes, programs and objectives to what they are delivering in the UK, then our students will have a progression agreement to their final year. So, this is the agreement that we are working on. All of our students progress into our partner universities for their final years.
Many students choose universities that give them the opportunity to study in foreign universities and ultimately develop their careers in those countries. What can Myanmar universities do to retain the talent in the country? And how does STI University encourage their students to work for the future of Myanmar?
There is a very low percentage of people going overseas for their higher education because it is very expensive. However, nowadays our graduates have decent jobs here in Myanmar. Our graduates’ employment rate is high, usually in big companies, in which they work even in management positions. There is a very competitive working environment and we provide both skills and internships to our students.
We want to see the new generations having the opportunities that we have had. I come from MIT and the NTU, and we want our students to go through the same stages. Despite being private, we do not believe in making quick money with education; our strong belief is to be ambitious in making our students passionate and hard working.
To achieve this, we have our own program and a very systematic curriculum development process where we work with international academics, as well as the industry players. We map them together and deliver the programs, like the MSC in nutrition and dietetics, and MSC in public health, where we don’t have any providers in the city, even in the entire country. Even the public universities are not able to produce these. As part of the RCM dietetic framework, we have placed our students in teaching hospitals in Bangkok, so they go there for 70% of the requirements of their internship and the rotation.
We work also in collaboration with the private enterprises in Myanmar. As an example, for the engineering students we have a relationship with the Myanmar Engineering Society and the Myanmar Construction Society, so all the members are linked with us to employ our students after their second year. Most of our students have already got an internship with very big construction projects, like Star Cities.
STI Myanmar University was created in 2006 and you currently have three campuses in Yangon with four faculties in total. In addition to them, you were planning to open a new center in Mandalay. What is the situation of this project?
It was opened in January 2017. It has been an enormous investment of capital and resources to provide the best facilities for our students. We have established new state-of-the-art facilities for engineering studies and we have a simulated construction project at our campus, a simulation that is based on a real world project.
HBR core values are technology, innovation and, of course, education. What are the main innovations that you are implementing in terms of education?
We are very proud that our ingenious students have very innovative architectural models that they have created themselves. We have created diverse teams with people from other countries so our students can benefit from diversity, for them to acquire different perspectives. During the year our students have to elaborate case studies or mini projects and compete among each other. They present their ideas both to professors and other students, which is a challenge for them as it is their first experience with hands-on projects. We are really proud of the models of our students and perhaps in the future we will showcase their innovative ideas.
After all the stages, what is your vision for the future of the university?
We are ready to take on every unexpected challenge because we cannot foresee what Myanmar is going to be five years from now. Our vision for the next three years is to see a new university campus in Yangon with state-of-the-art facilities, our own research center and proper accommodation for the students. Once the new law is passed and we get the license, our competition will be international, including universities in the US or the UK, and we have to get ready for it.
We have a long-term vision and our idea is to develop stable educational programs that ensure meeting the market requirement for the next 10 to 20 years, which means intensive research. In this regard, we have several programs in the pipeline like bio-market engineering, bio-market science, public health in the undergraduate like food and nutrition.
HBR readers include the top decision makers and business leaders around the world. What is the final message that you would like to transmit to them?
We have faced many challenges, including regulatory framework and competition issues, but our vision is to go global, not to compete just in Myanmar, but also in a global market. We are ready to contribute to the future of Myanmar by increasing the level of competition in the education industry.