IIE Issues Myanmar Higher Education Report

NEW YORK, April 12, 2013—The Institute of International Education has published a new briefing paper, Investing in the Future: Rebuilding Higher Education in Myanmar, based on the historic  U.S. higher education delegation to Myanmar in February 2013.The IIE-led delegation visited universities, organizations, and government entities in Yangon, Mandalay, and Naypyidaw, as part of a broader Myanmar higher education initiative which seeks to help the country rebuild its higher education capacity. The report includes observations on the current higher education system in Myanmar and the context in which it operates, an analysis of needs facing the sector, and recommendations to support partnerships and academic exchanges.

The new report is intended to provide policy makers, foundations, private sector corporations, and higher education professionals with an overview of potential areas for engagement, and facilitate the timely implementation of much-needed higher education capacity building activities that will be critical for the next phase of Myanmar’s economic development. The U.S. higher education community has expressed strong interest in developing institutional partnerships, helping to build capacity, and beginning to exchange students and faculty. The IIE Myanmar Education Initiative and this new report are intended to help guide these efforts.

The report was released and discussed at a bi-national conference call co-hosted by IIE and the EducationUSA advising network on April 12 to discuss higher education cooperation between the U.S. and Myanmar. IIE President and CEO Allan E. Goodman moderated the discussion, and representatives of 50 U.S. colleges and universities called in to take part. Speakers included U Than Swe, Ambassador of the Union of the Republic of Myanmar in the U.S.; Meghann Curtis, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Academic Programs, Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, U.S. Department of State; Adrienne Nutzmann, Public Affairs Officer, U.S. Embassy in Rangoon; Daniel Obst, Deputy Vice President, International Partnerships, Institute of International Education; Chris McCord, Dean, College of Arts and Sciences, Northern Illinois University, and Greg Beck, Deputy Assistant Administrator of Asia, USAID.

During the call, educators and government representatives discussed some practical ways to engage faculty, connect with Myanmar universities, and begin to bring U.S. students to the country. Representatives of EducationUSA, the U.S. Embassy and the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs provided guidance and discussed new Fulbright Scholar opportunities to enable U.S. faculty members to go to Myanmar, and several universities discussed their current plans to visit the country. IIE discussed preliminary plans for a new initiative to train university administers to help them develop international relations offices so they can better engage with higher education in other countries.

The IIE delegation in February was the largest delegation of U.S. universities to travel to Myanmar. It included representatives from 10 U.S. higher education institutions, the U.S. Embassy in Rangoon, and the U.S. Department of State. The delegation visited nine universities and engaged in in-depth discussions with several government ministries, including the Ministry of Education, Ministry of Science & Technology and Ministry of Health. As the first step to building deeper academic engagement, the delegation members gave lectures and workshops for hundreds of faculty and staff members at the universities they visited. As immediate follow-up to these productive visits, members of the delegation have announced concrete university-led initiatives which will benefit citizens, students and faculty from both countries.

Key findings of the report include:

  • Key contextual issues need to be taken into account when considering international educational cooperation, including the political context; the lack of social capital; the current lack of capacity to build international ties; the educational context; and the centralization/decentralization of bureaucracy and higher education.
  • In his inaugural address, President Thein Sein’s pledge to improve education and seek foreign expertise to lift standards to international levels, the government increased its education budget from $340 million to $740 million and has begun to implement wide-ranging reforms. The Myanmar government has made reform of the entire higher education system a priority, recognizing the important role of human capital to the country’s economic development goals.
  • There is a very high level of enthusiasm and energy among university administrators, faculty and students to address Myanmar’s pressing needs in higher education. However, the challenges and needs currently exceed the capacity of the political and economic system to respond effectively.
  • The needs of higher education in Myanmar are extensive, from physical infrastructure and information technology, to the academic curriculum, the upgrading of the quality of faculty, reform higher education administration and governance, and international engagement.
  • Despite the many challenges, small-scale interactions with higher education institutions in Myanmar will help not only to address a number of immediate needs, but also to create the partnerships that can lay the groundwork for larger engagements.

Recommendations for short- to mid-term goals include: 

  • Expanding person-to-person networks through faculty and staff exchanges;
  • Helping inform the vision of Myanmar higher education through cooperation in curriculum development and basic research methods, as well as exposure to modern teaching methodologies and organizational/administrative issues;
  • Assisting in infrastructure development, especially related to libraries and science facilities;
  • Enhancing English language capacity of academic staff to teach effectively in English;
  • Better coordination of resources and current efforts, to avoid redundancy, maximize leveraging from individual initiatives and provide the greatest possible benefit from those limited resources.


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