Education, Higher

   Before the establishment of Rangoon (Yangon) University (RU) by the British colonial authorities in 1920, students could only pursue higher education at Rangoon College and Judson College (the latter being a Baptist missionary institution) and sit for examinations conferring degrees from the University of Calcutta. The establishment of an autonomous, degree-granting institution in Rangoon had long been advocated by local leaders. It constituted a turning point in Burma's modern political as well as educational history, since RU students were in the forefront of political activism during the late 1930s when the movement for full independence began to take shape. At that time, RU had a coeducational student body of around 1,700 and four faculties: University College, Judson College, Teachers' Training College, and Medical College. There were also postgraduate (M.A.) courses in law and engineering. In 1925, the University of Mandalay was established. It was widely believed that a major drawback of the colonial university system was its elitism and emphasis on the liberal arts, which were primarily designed to train civil servants, while practical subjects were generally neglected. Plans by Burmese activists to establish a "national university" teaching a Burmese curriculum were never realized.
   During the parliamentary era (1948-1962), university students remained politically active, including supporters of the Communist Party of Burma, and academic freedom and the autonomy of universities were generally respected. Many students were educated at universities in the West and Japan, and foreign scholars lectured at RU and other institutions. During the Burma Socialist Programme Party era (1962-1988), the regime cut international educational ties and exercised tight control over students and faculties, substantially reorganizing the universities. In contrast to the colonial era, university admissions policy channeled the brightest students into practical fields; those who scored highest on the entrance examination could enter the Institute of Medicine or Rangoon (Yangon) Institute of Technology. Those with lower grades studied economics or education; the lowest scorers could only attend what was known after 1964 as Rangoon Arts and Sciences University, which offered liberal arts courses. The number of students grew from 19,855 to 97,757 between 1961 and 1978, but deteriorating economic conditions meant that they had poor job prospects after graduation, regardless of their major. Some graduates became trishaw drivers. Economic discontent contributed greatly to the student activism that brought about the mass demonstrations of 1988.
   Until 1965, Rangoon University taught most of its courses in English, but the "New University Education Law" decreed by the Revolutionary Council created a curriculum in which the Burmese language predominated. By the early 1980s, however, the authorities had recognized the negative impact this had on higher education; even the state-run Working People's Daily newspaper stated in an article on July 4, 1982 that "over-zealous and short-sighted people in power demonstrated their false sense of patriotism by deemphasizing the teaching of English in the basic education system . . . the importance of English as the key to the realm of higher learning was ignored."
   After the State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC) seized power in September 1988, it sought to prevent a replay of Democracy Summer by keeping campuses closed most of the time until 2001. Over the longer term, its strategy has been to keep campuses in central Rangoon (Yangon) largely inoperative and to establish new institutions, such as Dagon University and the Institute of Economics at Ywathargyi, which are located so far from the city center that students have little opportunity to mingle with the urban population. In addition, the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) has established a number of distance education or correspondence courses, which keep students away from campuses and apparently have quite large enrollments. Both strategies have been implemented at the cost of educational quality, not to mention comfort and affordability for the students.
   A special feature of post-1988 higher education is the importance of special universities for members of the Tatmadaw and their families, which are much better funded and equipped than those for civilians. These include not only the old Defence Services Academy, but also the Defence Services Institute of Medicine, the Defence Services Institute of Nursing, the Defence Services Technological Academy, and the Defence Services Technical Colleges. In addition, elite-track technical courses are offered by the Maritime University, under the Ministry of Transportation, and by the Aerospace Engineering University, under the Ministry of Science and Technology, both established in 2002.
   According to official statistics, Burma in 1994-1995 had six universities and 62 other institutions of higher education, including teacher training colleges. Altogether they enrolled 313,477 students (universities: 62,098). In addition, a growing number of Burmese students, including both prodemocracy and ethnic minority exiles and nonpolitical students from wealthy or well-connected families, study abroad.

Historical Dictionary of Burma (Myanmar). . 2014.

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