Since Myanmar’s political transition in 2011, Australia has assisted in many areas of Myanmar’s socio-economic development. The education sector, in particular, has been a high priority in that development. Due to a special and direct request from Daw Aung San Suu Kyi as a Member of Parliament in 2013, Australia began assisting in the revitalizing of the University of Yangon (UY), with the aim to develop a flagship University. The assistance from Australia came in the form of providing study tour programmes to introduce the Australian higher education system, sending Australian educational experts to UY for SWOT analysis, and holding a policy dialogue on education in collaboration with the British Council in 2013. The Australian Government, through the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT), sponsored these programmes.
One remarkable memory involved the Australian Volunteers for International Development (AVID), one of the Australia overseas aid programmes. Under this programme, the UY received seven volunteers including a curriculum development officer, clinical psychologist, librarian advisor, academic teaching and research mentors, EFL teachers’ trainers since 2014. Before hosting them, the Heads of hosting departments discussed in detail with AVID the needs of teachers and students in order to implement effective teaching and learning.
In the area of university-to-university collaboration, a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between UY and Australia National University (ANU) was signed in 2003 and was revised again in 2013, setting out an agenda for collaboration and partnership. This is the only MoU that UY has with an Australian institution, and it is already being put into good use. Under the Australian-funded Government Partnerships for Development programme, the ANU has a vibrant project with the UY that is designed to build capacity in specific areas such as demography and law, along with university and research management and a number of interactions between the institutions has taken place. Specific capacities were built in the areas of law and demography through a combination of short courses.
To enhance academic research skills, research seminars, academic twinning, and visiting professor arrangements have been conducted since MoU was signed. To strengthen research capacity within UY, the ANU provide support through three distinct streams. The first component is supporting the development of a joint research strategy between the ANU and UY serving the development of academic linkages between the two universities. In this context, the ANU- Myanmar Research Centre has played a key role in holding the “ANU Myanmar Update Conference”. Myanmar scholars from UY participated in the “ANU Myanmar Update” held in 2015, 2017 and 2019 respectively. By joining this event, Myanmar scholars have improved their research capacity, skills, and knowledge and strengthened networks. This led to two joint research publications with ANU. Two books namely, “Conflict in Myanmar” and “Myanmar transformed?” were published in 2016 and 2018 in which scholars from IR Department participated as joint researchers. The second component of the activity is fostering the qualitative and quantitative social research skills of UY academics, enabling their involvement in the design, implementation and analysis of national socio-economic surveys. Under the “Social Science Research Methodology Training” given by ANU, fifty faculty members from UY were sent to ANU for two weeks in May 2015. The third component involves collaboration between the ANU college of Law and the UY Law Faculty. The fruitful cooperation cannot happen without kind support of Australia DFAT.
Besides these collaborations, the UY hosted senior research fellows and received Australian students who were awarded under the New Colombo Plan. The benefit of hosting a research fellow from ANU was the improvement of staff’s research capacity. During the fellow’s stay, research collaboration with International Relations faculty members was conducted in the areas of “election” and “peace process”.
Student exchange programmes are one of the channels to strengthen people-to-people connectivity and to better understand countries’ politics, history, language and culture. Under the student exchange programme, UY hosted two undergraduate students who won New Colombo Plan scholarships to study International Relations and Political Science subjects in 2016-2017 and 2018-2019 academic years. The benefits of hosting Australian students were that they established inter-student networks and shared the history, culture, economy, and political development of their countries of origin while exchanging ideas on their education systems. The local students also improved their English skills and expanded their networking skills from interacting with the inbound students.
Another exciting programme is the study tour of Australian students to UY. Since 2016, the Department of IR has hosted a package of students from ANU and Monarch University. We have many activities together such as the UN Security Council Simulation exercise, and developing position papers on climate change which support Myanmar’s draft Internationally Supported Climate Crisis Resilience Plan. Moreover, under the programme of Myanmar President Scholar Award, a political science student from UY was sent to ANU for three years and she was awarded a BA degree in International Security Studies in 2018. Two young assistant lecturers from the IR department achieved Master degrees in International Relations from ANU in 2017 and 2019 and they are now contributing the UY by serving as lecturers at the Department. It cannot be denied that all these collaborations contribute for the revitalization of UY.
This article would like to conclude by highlighting memories of Australian partnership in development and in revitalizing the UY, memories that are particularly important as we will celebrate UY’s centennial milestone in 2020. With sixty-eight years of Myanmar-Australia diplomatic relations, the author wishes Myanmar-Australia cooperation will continue to strengthen and support UY to regain its former status as a leading higher education institution in the region, and beyond.