U Aung Thu: Propelling China- Myanmar Education Cooperation

By Liu Jianglin, Sun Qi

 

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Dr. U Aung Thu, Myanmar’s Minister of Agriculture, Livestock and Irrigation.

 

In August 2016, with a theme of “Promoting Education · Sharing Dream”, the 9th China-ASEAN Education Cooperation Week was held in China, heralding the first five-year project of education exchange between China and ASEAN countries, which covers basic education, higher education, vocational education, student exchange as well as think tank cooperation.

The year 2016 marks the 25th anniversary of China-ASEAN dialogue relations and the “China-ASEAN  Year of Education Exchange”. Over the years, communication between universities in China and ASEAN countries has expanded mutual educational and cultural exchanges, narrowed cultural gaps among young people, promoted education development and enhanced understanding across the region.

Dr. U Aung Thu, former Rector of the University of Yangon and now Minister of Agriculture, Livestock and Irrigation in Myanmar, has played an important role in enhancing communication between universities in China and Myanmar. The oldest and most prestigious university in Myanmar, the University of Yangon has produced a large number of prominent figures, including General Aung San, the leader of Myanmar’s independence movement, U Thant, the first Asian UN Secretary General, Min Thu Wun, a famous writer and father of present Myanmar President Htin Kyaw and Zawgyi, a famous poet.

Despite majoring in mathematics, Dr. U Aung Thu became an expert in agriculture after graduating from university. After assuming office as Rector of the University of Yangon in 2014, Dr. U Aung Thu promoted strategic cooperation between his university and China’s Yunnan Normal University, as well as Beijing Foreign Studies University. He believes globalization is necessary for the development of a world-class university. Increased contact between Myanmar and China has accelerated their exchanges in the fields of culture, economics and education, deepening their friendship. Against the backdrop of a high-tech, digital era, education is also globalizing.

“Despite being in two different countries, the University of Yangon and Yunnan Normal University are extremely close,” Dr. U Aung Thu said. “Both schools boast a glorious history and a once enjoyed high reputation across the world.”

In June 2014, Dr. U Aung Thu led a delegation on a visit to Yunnan Normal University. It was the first time he came to China. The delegation and their counterparts at Yunnan Normal University signed a strategic cooperation agreement, according to which the two schools would set up an innovation center for new energy development and spatial information technology development. They agreed to cooperate in fields of renewable energy, remote sensing, geographic information technology, crop breeding, language and culture.

“Despite being in two different countries, the University of Yangon and Yunnan Normal University are extremely close,” Dr. U Aung Thu said. “Both schools boast a glorious history and once enjoyed high reputation across the world. We hope these two universities, on the basis of complementary advantages, will enhance cooperation. This will improve their comprehensive strength and education quality, thus helping both become top level universities in Asia.”

In addition, Dr. U Aung Thu encouraged Beijing Foreign Studies University and the University of Yangon to sign a memorandum of understanding on cooperation, which aims to accelerate communication between the two schools. The University of Yangon and Yunnan Minzu University also reached an agreement that promoted cooperation between the two schools. This cooperation included student and teacher exchanges, language and culture training and academic research.

 

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January 14, 2015: Yan Guohua (second from right), Vice president of Beijing’s Foreign Studies University, and Dr. U Aung Thu (second from left), Rector of Myanmar’s University of Yangon, sign a memorandum of understanding on cooperation between the two schools.

 

Dr. U Aung Thu exhibits the demeanor of a scholar. During his visit to Yunnan Normal University, he was invited to deliver a lecture on rice planting. He used graphics to vividly demonstrate the steps required to increase rice output. During a question and answer period, he was asked why he turned to rice planting from mathematics.

“University is an institution for research, which should first meet the demands of the nation,” he said. “As a president of university, I must prioritize national interest and promote my country’s development and progress.” His response won a positive reaction from the audience.

Although Dr. U Aung Thu held this position for only 14 months, he effectively propelled Myanmar’s international exchange in higher education. In October 2004, the ministries of education of both China and Myanmar signed a memorandum of understanding on cooperation, which had an initial validity of five years and would be automatically extended. Since 2015, the number of Myanmar students who have won scholarship opportunities from the Chinese government has reached around 40 per year, compared to eight in 2014. In addition, China’s Ministry of Education has set up a special scholarship for China-Myanmar exchange. During the 2015/2016 school year, 100 Myanmar students have received a one-time scholarship provided by the Chinese government.

In November 2015, when he attended the 18th China-ASEAN Leaders’ Meeting, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang declared that over the course of the next three years, China would increase scholarships for ASEAN countries by 1,000. Therefore, China’s Ministry of Education has established a project for “China-ASEAN Exchange Scholarship”. Beginning in the 2016/2017 school year, China will provide an additional 330 governmental scholarships each year to ASEAN countries, 20 of which will go to Myanmar, benefiting visiting scholars, undergraduates, postgraduates and doctoral students.

According to Chinese Ministry of Education statistics, there were 4,733 Myanmar students studying in China in 2015, of whom 249 enjoyed scholarships provided by the Chinese government and 4,484 paid their own tuition.

What’s more, on April 3, 2014, the China Pavilion was opened at the University of Yangon, serving as a window for Myanmar’s younger generation to learn more about China and Chinese culture. Covering an area of 150 square meters, the pavilion houses 5,000 books in 1,000 varieties in Chinese, English or Myanmar language and is equipped with computers—all provided by the Information Office of China’s State Council. The pavilion symbolizes the blossoming of China-Myanmar friendship.

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