As Myanmar shifts away from agriculture and towards a more
services-based economy, its graduates should be integral to the
transition. But instead they find themselves frequently unemployable,
products of an ineffective and underfunded system. Three times as many
medical graduates who qualify each year are thought to be unemployed,
and this pattern repeats itself across sectors.
Responsibility for the sector lies with 13 government ministries, each
of which is at liberty to follow its own agenda. Teaching is by rote,
with little opportunity for students to gain either practical skills or
the capacity for critical thinking. Research is considered extremely low
priority by the government and, until recently, has been actively
discouraged—only around US$25,000 was spent on research in 2009-10.
Libraries and laboratories are under-resourced, and employers are unable
to shape courses to meet the requirements of industry. Decisions on
everything from budgets to course content are made centrally, with the
constitution prohibiting greater autonomy for individual institutions.
Just about 10% of the population pursue higher education, the majority
of them women, as Burmese men often take earlier employment rather than
continue to study. However, a preference for men in professional roles
still prevails, leaving female graduates at a further disadvantage in
Although universities are spread evenly throughout the country, this
reflects a desire to prevent high concentrations of students in one
place rather than equity of access. Building new institutions, rather
than supporting existing ones, has long been government habit.
Since the onset of democracy in Myanmar in 2011, education has been
central to the country’s political reform process. Speaking to
parliament that year, the president, Thein Sein, pledged to improve
teaching, nurture talent and increase engagement between educational
institutions and the private sector. The largest development initiative
currently under way in the country, the Comprehensive Education Sector
Review, aims to provide a full assessment of the state of education.
However, given that a national election looms in 2015, politics
threatens to hinder rather than hasten reform, as political parties
compete to position themselves as the saviour of the sector, at the
expense of genuine progress.
As Myanmar opens up to international engagement, the opportunity for an
overhaul of the system is greater than ever before. Higher education
reform is both a government priority and a political football. But, as
Myanmar changes direction, its students are a resource it cannot afford
Guerrero, C. Higher education case studies - Myanmar. Economist Intelligence Unit, London, UK (2014) 16 pp.
Higher education case studies - Myanmar