Mandalay taps British expertise for higher education

MANDALAY, Myanmar’s second largest city, is expected to become the country’s northern economic hub over the next two years. Yet, skills and talent in the city still lags behind Yangon and many cities in ASEAN. The brain drain and skills shortage are dragging its economic growth.

But Ko Ye Tun Min, founder of the Mandalay International University (MIU), a private institution, sees plenty of opportunities for the city’s education sector to grow. In fact, he is already investing in that potential.

The MIU has entered into a partnership with Europa, a UK-based language school, to develop human capital in Mandalay, offering teacher development programmes, legal studies and pre-medicine courses.

The MIU partnership with Europa will enable students to undertake educational programmes at the Europa campus in Bournemouth. Options include English courses, teacher development courses, legal studies, pre-medicine foundation courses and English for business. The programmes usually last for a month.

Ko Ye Tun Min said that now is the right time to introduce Europa to the market as Myanmar is opening up and students in the country are keen to acquire exposure to overseas education programmes and broaden their skills and employability.

“We are taking 10 school owners here to the UK in December. It’s important to train the teachers because they have a lot of influence, not just on students but also on parents,” he told The Myanmar Times.

“We want to provide a platform through Europa where students can share the experience of British culture prior to pursuing their degrees abroad and mitigate any potential cultural shock. Additionally, we hope with the partnership with Europa we are able to learn and receive support in developing our own curriculum.”

Investing in the future

Ko Ye Tun Min founded MIU in June 2016 with an initial capital base of $200,000. The institution offers English language programmes, MBA and PhD (Management Science) degrees by partnering with Shinawatra University from Bangkok. Its students include business professionals, managers, business owners and graduates pursuing further studies.

“I chose to partner with Europa because it is a British organisation. The UK, US, Australian, and Canadian education industries are leading players in the world and have attracted many students,” he said.

“I met Europa in a business matching session in April last year jointly organised by the UK Department of Trade [DIT] and British Chamber of Commerce Myanmar. I attended the meeting as a representative of education on behalf of the Mandalay Region Chamber of Commerce and Industry,” he said. The DIT focuses on collaborations in four sectors: education, energy, infrastructure as well as financial services.

But Ko Ye Tun Min isn’t stopping there. In total, he expects to invest up to $800,000 to restructure and build up the Mandalay education sector to its best potential, targeting tertiary education and vocational training.

Education sector reform

Myanmar is one of the few countries which doesn’t have a regulated or institutionalised private sector for higher education. Hence, the market holds enormous potential for growth and development.

Ko Ye Tun Min believes the key to harnessing that potential lies in reforming the education system by cooperating with the private sector.

“The private sector will take a big part in our education reform. Without a robust private sector for higher education, how can human capital be improved and how can we compete with our neighbours? For example, alongside national and public universities in Japan, there are also many private universities,” he remarked.

Support from the government is weak in this sector because politicians and officials have multiple responsibilities. In addition, Myanmar also loses talent every year when students who go abroad to study in universities such as those in Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore and Hong Kong choose not to return. While the number of those who come back after their studies is now increasing, the country still suffers from a brain drain.

Under former president U Thein Sein, private universities also needed to integrate their curriculum with a well-recognised university from overseas or send their students to those universities to study, according Ko Ye Tun Min. As such, growth and development of a local private education sector is sluggish. The situation in Mandalay is partly constrained by the lack of land available for building university campuses.

But Ko Ye Tun Min is betting that things will soon change for the better. The way he sees it, “there are a lot of opportunities because ours is a nascent sector,” he said.

For example, English proficiency and business skills, such as management skills, are the two major areas which Myanmar should develop.

“Our decades-long isolation means that the population is not proficient in English. And that’s not the end of the story. We also need a lot of training in other aspects, such as business management, professional training and other types of human capital development. We need to have vocational schools which focus on engineering, IT and research,” the MIU founder observed.

“After we have put in place effective and sound regulation, there will be a big market for the higher education sector. Eventually, we would also develop strong academic institutions,” he added.

Source: Myanmar Times

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