Family & Education

Aung San Suu Kyi seeks UK help for Burma's universities

Aung San Suu Kyi
Image caption "Campus life ceased to exist several decades ago," says Aung San Suu Kyi

Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi is calling on the UK to help rebuild Burma's universities, which she says were "destroyed' by military rule.

The Burmese opposition leader is using a video message to address a gathering of university leaders in London.

"The focus of the military government was on maintaining discipline, not on providing education," she says.

Burma's university system needs to be "put back on the map" of international higher education, Ms Suu Kyi says.

"Now the standard of our university education has fallen so low that graduates have nothing except a photograph of their graduation ceremony to show for the years they spent at university," she says.

Threats to the regime

Ms Suu Kyi chairs a parliamentary committee drafting laws to reform higher education in Burma.

She says that Burmese higher education has suffered badly from decades of political unrest, with academics and students seen as threats to the regime.

"Our university system has almost been destroyed by half a century of military rule. Campus life ceased to exist several decades ago," she says.

Ms Suu Kyi says that her country needs to develop a modern, independent university system where academic freedom is guaranteed.

She says: "Academic freedom, which to you seems natural, is for us a distant dream." Campus life needs to be regenerated to encourage young people to meet and share ideas.

"To try to destroy campus life in order to keep our young people quiescent is to destroy the future of our country," Ms Suu Kyi says.

She has been speaking at the end of a study tour of UK institutions by senior Burmese representatives, organised by the British Council.

Emphasised long links

While Burma's universities have been isolated, globalisation and international competition in higher education have accelerated.

There are now efforts to reconnect Burma's universities with other countries. Already this year a delegation of United States universities has visited Burma and announced a series of partnerships.

But Ms Suu Kyi has emphasised the long links between Burma and the UK.

"At one time the education system in Burma was very closely linked to the education system in Britain. In fact, we could say that modern education was introduced to Burma by the British government. Now we have to learn all over again.

"We have to learn not only from you but from other countries in the world who have managed to change their education systems to deal with the demands of modern times."

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