Myanmar, also known by its colonial-era name of Burma, went from being one of the wealthiest countries in South-East Asia to an economic backwater under junta rule as international sanctions bit hard.
However, the ascent to power of the National League for Democracy has ushered in a new era and, with the door open to foreign investment, the country is now ready to catch up following decades of neglect and underdevelopment.
Edinburgh Napier University is ready to play its part. February saw the launch of our civil engineering degree programme in partnership with California Unitec college in Yangon, formerly Rangoon.
Students in Myanmar will be able to study for an Edinburgh Napier degree with the support of our academic staff, before making their own contribution to the development of their country’s infrastructure.
In time, these BEng (Honours) graduates will have a role in helping Myanmar catch up with other Asian countries, upgrading its roads, railways, airports and port facilities and developing new houses and offices.
The university’s first collaborative degree programme in Myanmar will also re-establish historical links between the country and Scotland.
Burma was colonised by the British following a number of wars in the 19th century and following full occupation was initially administered as a province of British India. Many of the buildings in Rangoon were built for Scottish companies, and Scottish architects were responsible for the design of many of these key buildings.
Edinburgh architect John Begg spent 20 years working for the British government in India and Burma in the early 1900s before returning to private practice in Edinburgh. He later became the head of the architectural section of the Edinburgh College of Art and president of the Royal Incorporation of Architects in Scotland.
Many of the building designs blended both Eastern and Western architecture styles, as the Scottish architects and the large number of Scottish companies operating out of the city left their mark on Yangon.
The downtown area bears a striking resemblance to similar buildings built in Glasgow around the early part of the 20th century. Many Scottish companies were active in Rangoon at this time including Burmah Oil, Bulloch Brothers & Co, J & F Graham and the Irrawaddy Flotilla Company.
However, the new ties between Myanmar – which was granted independence in 1948 - and Scotland are only possible because of the historic and economic transformation which the Asian country has undergone since reforms were introduced in 2011.
The National League for Democracy (NLD), under the leadership of Aung San Suu Kyi, took office on 30 March 2016 after a landslide victory in the November 2015 election.
She herself acts as the State Counsellor with Htin Kyaw as President because the military generals wrote into the new constitution that the president was not permitted to have a spouse or children born outside the country.
This is the first civilian government to hold power in Burma for more than 50 years although it is really a hybrid government as the unelected military will have 25 per cent of the seats in parliament and hold an effective veto over any constitutional change as this would require more than a 75 per cent majority.
Although investment is needed in a number of key areas, such as infrastructure, education, manufacturing, finance and energy, there is a limited skilled workforce within the 54 million population. Factories, warehousing and other business premises are also needed as well as hotels and other services to support the growing tourism market.
From this month, Edinburgh Napier’s Yangon-based students will begin equipping themselves with the skills and knowledge required to play a positive role in their country’s future development.
The university already has a number of successful degree programmes running in Asia, mainly China, Hong Kong, India and Singapore. There is an increasing demand for transnational higher education with degrees taught in English in overseas locations, and Edinburgh Napier has well established Global Online and Transnational Education strategies.
The Global Online model allows students to study for an Edinburgh Napier degree at their home location supported online by Edinburgh-based academic staff. In the Transnational Education model, Edinburgh Napier programmes are delivered at a partner institution or organisation, with academic input from both local staff and Edinburgh Napier academic staff, so-called “flying faculty”, leading to the award of an Edinburgh Napier degree.
California Unitec currently offer a two-year UK Pearson Education BTEC HND in Civil Engineering. Edinburgh Napier staff will travel to Yangon to teach the final two years of the degree, allowing students to graduate with an Edinburgh Napier University BEng (Honours) degree in Civil Engineering.
This piece first appeared in The Scotsman newspaper. You can view the article here