Developing International Relations Offices in Myanmar

In September, IIE announced that it is launching a new course designed to train Ministry officials and university representatives in Myanmar on how to create and manage an effective international education office. The new course, “Connecting to the World: International Relations for Higher Education Institutions,” will be an “essential step to enable universities in Myanmar to connect with institutions in the United States and other countries so that they can build institutional capacity and prepare their students to meet current workforce needs and support rapid economic development.” This project is part of a broader IIE Myanmar higher education initiative which seeks to help the country rebuild its higher education capacity.

The need for this course was identified during an IIE-led higher education delegation earlier this year. The delegation was made up of 10 U.S. universities and was led by IIE’s President Allan Goodman, together with Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Academic Programs Meghann Curtis and representatives from the U.S. Embassy. On that trip, we visited universities and government Ministries in Yangon, Mandalay, and Nay Pyi Taw.

Last week, my colleague Clare Banks (Assistant Director of IIE’s Center for International Partnerships) and I went back to Myanmar to lay the groundwork for launching our new training course. We met with university presidents, department chairs and other key administrators and faculty members from 14 universities, including all 9 Yangon-based universities under the Ministry of Education, as well as institutions such as the National University of Arts and Culture, University of Co-operatives, Myanmar Institute of Theology, Yangon Technological University and Yangon University of Computer Studies. We also discussed the course objectives with officials from the Ministries of Education, Science and Technology, and Health in Nay Pyi Taw, Myanmar’s capital.

All the government and university officials confirmed their interest in this course and were extremely supportive to help facilitate the process. Most universities do not currently have international education offices and even fewer would have staff trained in managing such offices. Based on our discussions last week, we expect to identify up to 40 higher education institutions to participate in the course. Each institution will designate one or two mid-level faculty or staff members to participate in the course and serve as “International Relations Officers”.

The Ministry of Health, for example, already appointed International Relations Officers for all the 14 universities that belong to that Ministry. The Ministry of Science and Technology plans to nominate the six universities that serve as Centers of Excellence, as well as approximately four additional institutions. And the Ministry of Education is eager to appoint at least one institution from each of the 14 states in Myanmar. As the Director General of the Ministry of Health said, this course will help provide Myanmar higher education institutions with a “systematic way of dealing with international partners.”

We also learned last week that universities are quickly gaining more autonomy in decision making. According to the government officials we spoke to, universities in Myanmar are now authorized to sign Memoranda of Understanding (as long as they don’t include financial or ‘political’ references) directly with foreign universities – greatly simplifying the complex and lengthy approval process previously associated with establishing cooperation.  And all institutions and Ministry officials confirmed their desire to partner with U.S. institutions to build capacity in areas such as quality assurance, teaching methodologies, curriculum design, and faculty development. Many of these needs were also cited in IIE’s recent report, Investing in the Future: Rebuilding Higher Education in Myanmar. Other helpful reports discussing the current challenges and needs in Myanmar have been published by the British Council and Asia Society.

The course will kick-off with an opening workshop on November 26th at the American Center in Yangon. After that, participants will complete 20 asynchronous lessons, such as pre-recorded lectures, video clips, and course readings. Internet connectivity is still a challenge in many parts of Myanmar, so IIE will provide participants with all the training materials in DVD format as well as in print. For those who are able to access the internet, participants will access lectures and materials and complete assignments on the online platform developed by Knowledge Platform, a next generation learning solutions platform company. IIE’s Myanmar-based project coordinator will facilitate follow-up with the participants and institutions.

We are currently identifying qualified and enthusiastic professionals from the international higher education community to serve as mentors and to provide ongoing feedback and assessment for participants. IIE is partnering with the Association of International Education Administrators (AIEA) to identify these mentors. We welcome interest from higher education professionals from any country who have significant experience in any/all of the following areas: managing an international office, strategic planning, university administration, or campus internationalization. Interested candidates should contact Jennifer Crystle for an application. Additional questions about mentorship should be directed to Clare Banks.

Lessons will cover topics such as cross-cultural skills, the organizational structure of an international office, determining resources needed to run an international office, hosting international delegations, facilitating faculty and student exchange, and developing Memoranda of Understanding and contracts.

IIE is working with Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, Northern Arizona University, and the Monterrey Institute of International Studies, as well as Knowledge Platform and AIEA to develop and deliver the course. The initiative is funded in part by a grant to IIE from the Henry Luce Foundation.