Instant e-libraries for Myanmar universities

Buddhist festival, Yangon, March 2014 Myanmar is emerging from decades of political isolation

Universities in Myanmar have been given e-libraries with hundreds of thousands of digital books and academic journals to help them catch up after decades of isolation under military rule.

The University of Yangon and University of Mandalay have switched on these instant library collections, which represent another sign of how the country - also known as Burma - is opening up to outside influences.

Students and staff can search databases and download books and articles onto computers in the library. The next aim is to give students access in their own rooms and using their own laptops.

After years of being cut off from the academic mainstream, the online libraries are reconnecting Myanmar's universities with current and uncensored scholarship.

It can take decades or even centuries to build a university library collection. But this library for the 21st Century is available as quickly as the new fibre-optic connections will allow.

In Myanmar, it means leaping forward to a collection of 130,000 digital texts.

Students return

Oleksandr Shtokvych, of the Open Society Foundations, which supported the project, says it would not have been practical or affordable to wait for a traditional library of printed volumes. There was an immediate need for up-to-date materials.

Palm leaf manuscripts wrapped in silk in the old university library Palm-leaf manuscripts wrapped in silk in the old university library

"The libraries were depositories of ancient materials, more like museum exhibits," he says.

Mouldering books in the library were still stuck with the ideas of 50 or 60 years ago, he says, making it difficult for academics to maintain international standards. They were also constrained by having to comply with a controlling state.

It was symptomatic of a decaying university system.

What made the need for improvement even more urgent was the return of the first undergraduates to the University of Yangon campus for over two decades.

Dr Kyaw Naing- Pro-Rector of the University of Yangon Dr Kyaw Naing, University of Yangon pro-rector, sees the e-libraries as a way of raising standards

Universities had been seen as centres of resistance to military rule and heavily restricted. Yangon's university had been one of the most prestigious in South East Asia, but had been caught in a cycle of protests, repression and shutdowns.

'Destroyed'

Opposition politician Aung San Suu Kyi had warned that the country's "university system has almost been destroyed by half a century of military rule".

"Campus life ceased to exist several decades ago," she said.

But as part of Myanmar's reforms in recent years, universities have been given greater freedoms, and young students have now returned to rejuvenate neglected campuses.

This wave of young recruits, the first undergraduates here after missing a generation, were selected as the "brightest and best" from their year group and have arrived with high expectations.

Susanna Lob, of Electronic Information for Libraries (EIFL), a non-profit organisation that worked with the universities in creating the e-libraries, says: "Online resources were the obvious way to go."

As well as giving instant access to such a wide range of resources, a digital library allows unlimited numbers of students to use the same book or journal at the same time.

Yangon university Students are able to search an online library with 130,000 titles

The new students are hungry to learn and speak good English, she says, and the e-library will give them the range of materials they would expect from a modern university. As well as books, there are magazines, newspaper collections and research archives.

Global connections

EIFL negotiated with publishers to reduce the cost of the online library, with the titles provided worth $1.5m (£900,000).

Prof Kyaw Naing, pro-rector of the University of Yangon, says the e-library marks an important step forward.

He describes the frustration of previously being unable to access international academic journals and says that it will help to raise the quality of learning.

Oleksandr Shtokvych Oleksandr Shtokvych wants the libraries to help to encourage critical thinking and open debate

Higher education is a globalised, networked world and being excluded from it undermines academic credibility.

"We can't go back, we want to go forward," says Prof Naing.

Chief librarian, Daw Hlaing Hlaing Gyi, says how delighted she is to see the library "busier than ever".

There have been other international library links. More than 5,000 law reports, statutes and textbooks have been donated by Oxford University's Bodleian Law Library to help the law department at Yangon.

Oxford is also providing training in university administration.

Partnerships of US universities and businesses, including Johns Hopkins University, the University of Washington and Microsoft, have plans to bring teaching and training to Myanmar.

It's also seen as an emerging market. In February, 30 US universities were in Yangon, the official name for Rangoon, trying to recruit students.

The University of Manchester, in another project funded by the Open Society Foundations, is providing online learning materials for a network of universities in Myanmar.

The Open Society Foundations was set up by the investor George Soros - and most of its work has been in supporting the transition of former Communist countries to democracy.

And alongside the process of opening up Myanmar's universities to the rest of the academic world, there is also a political dimension.

The online library will open up a channel of information to young people, providing them with competing ideas and arguments from outside their once tightly controlled borders.

Once this idea of open debate and information has been released, it becomes much harder to return to censorship.

"We want to develop critical thinking," says Mr Shtokvych.

"Once the genie is out of the bottle, you cannot chase it back."

More on This Story

More Business stories

RSS

BBC Business Live

  1.  
    MARKET UPDATE 11:35:

    European stock markets are seeing a bit of a sell off ahead of this afternoon's US jobs report.

    • The FTSE is 1.3% lower at 6641.30
    • The Dax is down 2% at 9214.15
    • The Cac-40 has lost 1.4% to 4187.08
     
  2.  
    RBS PROFITS 11:18:

    The list of investigations RBS is facing runs like this: Mortgage backed securities, Libor, Foreign exchange manipulation, Credit default swaps, shareholder litigation, card protection plans, interest rate hedging, interest rate hedging and Madoff. It is not an exhaustive list.

     
  3.  
    RBS PROFITS 11:03:

    We recall RBS was bounced into an early release of interims last week because, when the numbers arrived, they proved surprisingly better than the market was expecting. Today's reiteration of the results wasn't therefore expected to have anything surprising in. But there's this: "It is not possible to estimate reliably what effect the outcome of these investigations [forex, Libor etc], any regulatory findings and any related developments may have on the Group, including the timing and amount of fines or settlements, which may be material." So, that's all clear then.

     
  4.  
    WILLIAM HILL 10:47:

    The betting giant gives detail on that record-breaking World Cup. Across the tournament as a whole, wagering was £208m, up 80% on the 2010 outcome. Gross win margin was down (18.4% versus 27.9%).

     
  5.  
    RUSSIA SANCTIONS 10:27:
    Veg stall in Poland

    More on the impact sanctions between the European Union and Russia will have. Poland's deputy prime minister says these will knock 0.6 percentage points off his country's economic growth this year. This week Russia announced a ban on most fruit and vegetable imports from Poland. "Currently, our exports to Russia have fallen by 7% and by 26-29% to Ukraine," he says.

     
  6.  
    IAG PROFITS 10:08:

    ONe more from IAG has also ordered eight Airbus A350-900s and eight Airbus A330-200s for its Iberia Airline's long haul fleet. The aircraft will be delivered between 2015 and 2020, it said.

     
  7.  
    MANUFACTURING OUTPUT Via Email

    David Richardson, head of manufacturing at Lloyds Bank Commercial Banking, notes: "The overall performance of the manufacturing sector so far this year has been positive. The country's makers have offered a robust source of job creation and export activity, in the face of a strengthening sterling."

     
  8.  
    MANUFACTURING OUTPUT 09:45:
    Chart showing manufacturing output over the last year

    The UK manufacturing industry continued to grow in July but did so at its slowest pace for a year, says analysts Markit. Its purchasing manager's index fell to 55.4 from 57.2 in June. That's still well above the 50-mark, which separates growth from contraction but suggests the industry could be slowing in preparation for higher interest rates.

     
  9.  
    IAG PROFITS 09:25:
    Iberia aeroplanes are parked at Madrid's Barajas T4 airport terminal

    Splitting out the figures British Airways made an operating profit of 327m euros (£260m) compared with an operating loss of 95m euros for Iberia Airlines for the first six months of this year.

     
  10.  
    MARKET UPDATE 09:07:

    European markets are lower ahead of a US jobs report due out later today, which is expected to show 230,000 jobs were added to the economy last month, a decline from the previous month's 280,000. The biggest riser on the FTSE 100 is British Airways and Iberia Airlines owner IAG - up 2.3% to 338.40p - after it swung back into profit in the first half of this year.

    • The FTSE 100 is lower by 0.72% to 6681.69
    • The Dax is down 0.81% to 9330.89
    • The Cac-40 has fallen 0.72% to 4215.46
     
  11.  
    RBS PROFITS 08:52:
    A woman walking past the headquarters of the Royal Bank of Scotland

    Royal Bank of Scotland has released its profits for the first half of 2014 in what can only be described as a quirk of officialdom. The bank was originally planning to publish its results today, but having discovered how good they were got really excited and released them a week early. So it appears there is nothing new to see here.

     
  12.  
    WILLIAM HILL 08:34:
    Betting slip

    William Hill - the high street and online betting chain says "record-breaking World Cup wagering drives second quarter operating profit growth" - but pre-tax profit was down 15% at £222m.

     
  13.  
    IAG SHARES 08:21:

    IAG shares are off to a strong start on the back of the results announcement. They're up 4%.

     
  14.  
    RENTOKIL INITIAL RESULTS 08:19:
    Horrible moth

    Rentokil is a whopping player in the pest control business. "Revenue growth was particularly strong in our Pest Control category," it reveals, "reflecting good growth... supported by improved organic performance and a number of pest control acquisitions." Growth through acquisitions; not scary. Improved organic performance? Does that mean there are more moths, rats, wasps and such for it to kill?

     
  15.  
    HEADLINES
  16.  
    IAG PROFITS 08:05:
    A British Airways Airbus A380

    Spanish cousin Iberia is becoming less of a drag on IAG's overall performance it seems. IAG says Iberia's restructuring continues to have "a positive impact". Last week Iberia agreed a deal with unions "on collective redundancies for pilots and ground staff" that could see a further 1,427 jobs axed. IAG says: "This will create new opportunities for Iberia to enhance its profitability further in the next two or three years."

     
  17.  
    RUSSIA SANCTIONS 07:51:
    Russia adidas shirt

    European companies say sanctions against Russia are already taking their toll, reports the Financial Times. Adidas shares dropped 15% after its profit warning yesterday - it's closing stores in Russia. Also seeing an impact are Volkswagen and Siemens.

     
  18.  
    DIRECT LINE RESULTS 07:41:
    Dog

    Direct Line is the largest motor insurance group in the country. It reports an 8% rise in six month profits to £225.1m. Brands include Churchill, Privilege and the Green Flag roadside recovery service.

     
  19.  
    IAG PROFITS 07:28: BBC Radio 4

    IAG boss Willie Walsh tells Today the airline group is "doing very well" and is on course to deliver its full year guidance. The conversation quickly turns to safety. British Airways and Iberia have been avoiding Ukrainian airspace since March, he says. "We don't look at the cost at all. It's simply a case that we look at whether it is safe to fly over an area or not," he adds. "We don't fly over Libya or Syria." But the airline judges that it is now safe to fly over Iraq.

     
  20.  
    IAG PROFITS

    British Airways and Iberia Airlines owner International Airlines Croup has swung into profit. It has reported pre-tax profits of 155m euros (£123m) for the last six months, compared with a loss of 177m euros a year earlier.

     
  21.  
    RENTOKIL INITIAL RESULTS 07:10:

    Office services business Rentokil Initial said its half year profits rose 38.9% to £66.8m.

     
  22.  
    US ECONOMY 06:59: Radio 5 live

    More from Terry Savage on the US economy. She says the US Federal Reserve policy of quantitative easing "has created all of this money... and all that money has not gone into, so far at least, good paying jobs or homebuilding. It's gone into the stock market and... made the rich a lot richer."

     
  23.  
    PORTUGAL BANK 06:47: BBC Radio 4
    Woman outside BES

    Bill Blain from Mint Partners tells Today Portugal's government has a tough decision to make on BES: "Does it bail it out as 'too big to fail', or does it stand back and let the bank sort itself out? Many want the debt holders to pay the cost of this."

     
  24.  
    TOUGH MUDDER 06:36:
    Man leaping

    The Today programme likes a natter with a company boss of a Friday morning. Today's is Will Dean from Tough Mudder. People pay him £100 to spend time on an obstacle course - jumping, swimming, crawling through mud and so forth. Why? "It's not a race its a challenge. It's about team work over 12 miles. Its a set of individual challenges to test you mentally and physically." Fine.

     
  25.  
    PORTUGAL BANK 06:28: BBC Radio 4

    Shares in Banco Espirito Santo lost 42% yesterday after the bank announced a loss of 3.6bn euros (£2.8bn). Bill Blain from chief strategist at Mint Partners tells Today this is "Deeply concerning for all bankers looking at Europe. It's [Europe] had 450bn of new capital to sort out the relationship between sovereign debt and the banks. What the Banco results show shows is the bank remained a piggy bank for the family".

     
  26.  
    US ECONOMY 06:15: Radio 5 live

    The US releases jobs data later today - GDP figures earlier this week showed the US economy growing strongly. Expectations are that another 230,000 jobs could have been added to the US economy in July and that the unemployment rate may - we'd stress the may here though - have fallen below 6%.

     
  27.  
    US ECONOMY 06:07: Radio 5 live

    US financial expert and businesswoman Terry Savage tells Wake Up to Money the US economic recovery is still difficult to read: "It's kind of a glass half full/half empty kind of thing. Different parts of the economy have picked up, particularly consumer spending on autos and other big items," she says. "It's not what we would call a booming economy . It's just so much better than what we have had for the last few years."

     
  28.  
    06:01: Rebecca Marston Business reporter, BBC News

    In a short while we'll have results from William Hill and British Airways owner IAG trading updates. And we'll have an eye on everything else that's going on. bizlive@bbc.co.uk @bbcbusiness.

     
  29.  
    06:00: Matthew West Business Reporter

    Morning folks. So what's happened overnight? Well the World Trade Organisation has failed to agree a global customs deal.... again. But manufacturing in China grew at its fastest pace in more than two years in July, according to the latest figures.

     

Features

From BBC Capital

Programmes

  • A woman sits on a bed in a scene from Gustav Deutsch's latest film about Edward Hopper's paintingsTalking Movies Watch

    How film-maker Gustav Deutsch brought Edward Hopper’s paintings to life

BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.