Yangon University Centenary a heartbeat away

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The Convocation Hall of the Yangon University. Photo: Zaw Min Lat

Chairman of the Steering Committee to Hold the Centenary of Yangon University formally opened the ceremony to announce the inauguration of the Centenary of Yangon University on 2 December this year, and delivered an address. The ceremony goes on the whole year as a milestone of history.

Mother university
A centenary is a rare occasion. For a long time, Myanmar could not hold such a grand ceremony which honours the mother university with literature, music and performing arts. The whole university, which has witnessed the footprints, felt the emotions and heard the heartbeats of students during the 100 years and it’s renowned old Thitpok tree, Adipati (Chancellor street) and Sagaing, Bagan and Judson streets are still fresh with fine memories.
Yangon College (No 1 BEHS Latha) and Ahlon Cushion School (No 1 BEHS 4, Ahlon) where Judson College was situated were the original sources of Yangon University. The British enacted the Yangon University Act on 1 December 1920, and set up the university at the present place. The British government bought the current university compound (then 400 acres of virgin land) at a price of K 800,000. During the land preparations works, the Forest Department was summoned to clear the thick vegetation of the area. The then governor general assigned the duty to set up the university to the then deputy governor general. The task included landscaping and designing. The deputy governor general chose T.O. Forster as the designer. He was sent to London for conducting his designing work. T.O. Forster brought civil engineers and architects back to Myanmar and began the construction work at the end of 1920. The compound and buildings were based on those of the two famous universities of England – Oxford University and Cambridge University. Yangon and Judson colleges were under the control of University of Calcutta. Toa Seinkho, a rich Chinese, in 1896, raised the issue of establishing a separate university in Yangon at a meeting, he convened. But the British ignored his call. On 28 November 1917, a YMBA delegation of Myanmar went to India, and demanded to set up a university in Yangon that met the nine points they had presented. In 1918, the British formed a committee to establish the university. The British government approved the bill of the university on 27 March 1919, and passed and enacted the Yangon University Act on 1 December 1920. But patriotic Myanmar students boycotted the Act in 1920.

The birth of university
Yangon University was born in December 1920, after the idea was conceived over three years ago in November 1917. It became a separate entity. As the affiliates of Yangon University, Mandalay Intermediate College was opened in 1925, medical college in 1930, teachers training college in 1931 and Mandalay agriculture college in 1938. Yangon University got only a small amount of support from the government during the pre-WWII period. It received K 10,000 in 1922 and K 120,000 in 1930. So the then deputy governor general allowed opening of gambling centres in various parts of Myanmar to raise funds for the university. The then governor general laid the cornerstone of the Convocation Hall, the most prominent building of the university on 2 December 1922. The building was completed in 1931. Then hostels and other buildings were built with the funds received from gambling taxes. But the library was donated by an Indian family. The university opened its hospital in 1928.
Foundation laying of the Arts Hall of the university was held on 28 November 1928, and it was inaugurated in 1930. Benton Hall, named after the donor Caroline A. Benton of the USA, was built in 1928 and completed in 1931. It was later named Thiri Hall. Sagaing Hall, Pinya Hall, Thaton Hall, Innwa Hall, Shwebo Hall and Dagon Hall were built in 1928. General Aung San, the father of independence, stayed at Bago Hall while he was a student of the university. Bo Aung Kyaw, who was killed during an anti-colonialist strike, lived in Dagon Hall.
In 1929-1930 Teachers Training College Hall, a hall where 120 students could stay and a house for hostel in-charge were built. Dr. U Nyo donated K 120,000 to build Yangon University Student Union. Construction began in 1929 and completed in November 1930. Yangon University Student Union was the gathering point of students who played a pivotal role in the independence struggle. It was destroyed in 1962. Thanks to its sports facilities, Yangon University was once the place that produced outstanding athletes. Trader U Chaw Khaing donated K 100,000 for the main sports stadium. It was built in 1929 and completed in 1930. The deputy governor general laid the cornerstone of Judson Church Tower. It was built by American Baptist Mission and Rockefeller family of the US. Aletawya Sayadaw Agga Maha Pandita Kosala laid the cornerstone of University Dhammayon in 1934. It was inaugurated in 1937 with a grand ceremony. University post office and other facilities were built in 1945. Associate institutions of Yangon University including Mawlamyine Intermediate College was built in 1953, Kyaukphyu collage in 1954, and Yankin collage, Hteedan collage and Magway college in 1955. Pathein Intermediate College was opened in 1958 and the Defence Services Academy in Bahtoo Tatmyo in 1955 under Yangon University. DSA was later moved to PyinOoLwin. Built by the British government during the pre-WWII period, Yangon University was the most impressive and prestigious university in Southeast Asia.

Old Thitpok Tree
During the ground clearing work to make way for university buildings officials found an old tree whose age would be 100 years or more. So, they speared the tree. Older than the 100-year old university, the old tree can be hailed as the vanguard of the university that has witnessed the grand history of the university and heard the heartbeats of the students. The activities of old students and new generation youth marking the Centenary are so encouraging. All the alumni of the former associate institutions of Yangon University are invited to take part in the Centenary together with their children and grandchildren. Translated by Tin Maung Than

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