Aung San Suu Kyi inspires University of Oxford to help Myanmar

University academics answer an appeal for help from country's inspirational leader

February 18, 2016
Aung San Suu Kyi speaking to Andrew Hamilton, University of Oxford
Source: Frank Noon Photography
Aung San Suu Kyi with Andrew Hamilton, former vice-chancellor of the University of Oxford

Aung San Suu Kyi was given an honorary doctorate in civil law by the University of Oxford in 1993. Yet it was only in 2012, after many years of house arrest in Myanmar, that she was able to come and receive the award in person.

Her acceptance speech recalled “very precious memories” of her student days and said that she would “like to see university life restored to Burma in all its glory. And I would be so grateful if my old university, the University of Oxford, could help to bring this about once again.”

“Others had been keen to be involved before,” said Ed Nash, Oxford’s international strategy officer, “but the train really got moving then.” Today, he goes on, Myanmar is “the country where we have the largest ‘development’ role” and where Oxford was “doing more than any other university in the world”, through “a unique partnership which will deliver unique benefits”.

Given the spectacular victory of Ms Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy in last November’s general election, there is obviously huge potential in such a partnership, but what has been achieved so far and where is it going now?

Initial collaborations focused on the University of Yangon, Myanmar’s premier institution of higher education (although long closed to undergraduates after the student protests of 1996), with a view to exerting influence outwards from there.

About 12 senior staff from the institution, including the second in command, the chief librarian and the heads of the departments of Burmese, chemistry, history, law and zoology, came to Oxford for a two-week visit in 2014 to discuss strategic planning, student support, curricula and research. The Oxford team is led by Nick Rawlins, pro-vice-chancellor (development and external affairs).  

Many projects in the disciplines just mentioned have been developed. Oxford zoologists have joined forces with their Burmese counterparts in efforts to track the rare clouded leopard in the country’s forests. Like initiatives by the department of earth sciences to revive geology within Myanmar, this also functions as a way of building local skills.

There is now a programme in modern Burmese studies at St Antony’s College, headed since 2013 by Matthew Walton, the first Daw Aung San Suu Kyi senior research fellow. The following year, Khin Mar Mar Kyi was appointed Daw Aung San Suu Kyi gender research fellow in Burmese studies at Lady Margaret Hall’s International Gender Studies Centre.

Yet perhaps the most developed programme is taking place in the crucial discipline of law.

When Timothy Endicott, then dean of the law faculty, visited the University of Yangon in 2013, he found that the library there was lacking in the crucial British law reports. He therefore appealed to the Bodleian Libraries to see if they had duplicates. It turned out that they did have complete spare sets, recalls law librarian Ruth Bird, so they set about filling “about 300 boxes with 5,000 reports” and securing funding for the shipment. Another 3,600 books in areas such as forestry have been donated by the Radcliffe Science Library.

Andrew Burrows, professor of the law of England, has long been interested in Myanmar and therefore grabbed the opportunity to spend a week teaching tort and contract law at the universities of Yangon, East Yangon and Dagon.

A major issue was a tradition of rote learning, with students “reciting the laws of contract as if they were a hymn, without understanding or being able to apply them”. This led Professor Burrows to adopt a style of “interactive teaching”, with lots of questions and hypothetical examples, which after a slow start generated much enthusiasm.

Yet his experiences in Myanmar also made him realise how many of its legal provisions date back to the 1872 Contract Act drafted by the British. The system is theoretically based on precedent and court proceedings were indeed published in English up until 1965 – although these are available in Oxford but very hard to find in Myanmar itself. The result of all this, explains Professor Burrows, is that “no one quite knows what the law of contract in Myanmar is” and that the country is effectively operating “a legal system without legal textbooks”.

His colleague Adrian Briggs, professor of private international law (which focuses on conflicts between different legal systems), taught in Myanmar in 2014 and went back a year later.  There were no textbooks available in his field either, which, as the country opens up, risks leaving the Burmese “seriously underarmed in dealing with foreign lawyers”. He therefore decided to produce his own, now freely available online as Private International Law in Myanmar.

In numbers

300 boxes were required to transfer 5,000 law reports from the Bodleian Libraries to Myanmar

Campus news

Northumbria University
A university has announced a major investment in its use of solar energy in a bid to reduce its carbon emissions. Northumbria University has installed new solar panels on the roof of its Sport Central facility in a move that aims to save the institution 40 tonnes of carbon dioxide per year and £9,000 in electricity charges. The panels should generate so much power that they will also provide the university with an income of about £8,500 per year by selling surplus electricity back to the National Grid.

Keele University
A teaching and research exchange aims to forge cooperation between Serbia and Albania, two nations with a history of conflict. Aleksandar Radu, lecturer in chemistry at Keele University, has won funding for an exchange between Keele and the University of Belgrade, in Serbia, and the University of Tirana, in Albania. He hopes that the scheme – in which senior and junior staff will flow between the UK and the Balkans to work on joint research – will “demonstrate the ability of science to bring people together even when [the] political situation works against them”.

University of Warwick
A laser scan of 30 miles of Coventry roads will be used to test “driverless pods” in a simulator. WMG at the University of Warwick will work with RDM Group – the UK’s only designer and manufacturer of driverless pods – in a project called INnovative Testing of Autonomous Control Techniques (INTACT). The project, funded by Innovate UK, will enable Coventry-based automotive innovation experts RDM to test its vehicles on one of the world’s most adaptable and advanced driving simulators at WMG.

Cardiff Metropolitan University
Cardiff Metropolitan University is to build a new media and communications school in partnership with a Chinese television company. The joint venture with Phoenix Education, a subsidiary of Phoenix Satellite Television Holdings, is the first of its kind involving a private firm and a Welsh university. The new centre is expected to house a media centre, teaching space and accommodation for up to 2,000 students. Phoenix already has four media colleges in China.

Teesside University
A university has placed the student learning experience at the heart of its new five-year plan. “Teesside 2020”, which aims to grow student numbers at Teesside University, also places emphasis on the importance of growing the institution’s research and innovation portfolio, as well as strengthening its ties with business and industry. The university hopes to improve the student experience by delivering an innovative curriculum, working with employers to develop graduate skills and creating a stimulating learning environment.

Bucks New University
A university is offering a new course to train charity shop managers on how to run their operations more effectively. Bucks New University has developed the six-month course, known as the Retail Academy for the Voluntary Sector, to improve leadership skills, volunteer management and merchandising. Lesley Bridges, principal lecturer in advanced and continuing professional development, said that the course had been created to help organisations “respond effectively to the challenges faced in the charitable sector”.

University of Roehampton
Award-winning poet David Harsent is one of three academics chosen as judges for this year’s Man Booker Prize. The professor of creative writing at the University of Roehampton, who won the TS Eliot Prize for Poetry in 2015, is joined on the judging panel by critic Jon Day, lecturer in English at King’s College London, and Abdulrazak Gurnah, the Booker Prize-shortlisted novelist and professor of English and postcolonial literatures at the University of Kent.

University of Winchester
Labour politician Tristram Hunt has argued at a university’s newly established Centre for English Identity and Politics that patriotism and socialism are crucial to the future of England. The MP spoke on 4 February at the University of Winchester, which set up the centre last year and recruited John Denham, the former Labour secretary of state for universities, as a professor of English identity and politics. Mr Hunt’s speech is part of a series of events at the centre looking at the forces shaping English identity.


Print headline: Suu Kyi moves Oxford to reach out to Myanmar

Please login or register to read this article.

Register to continue

Get a month's unlimited access to THE content online. Just register and complete your career summary.

Registration is free and only takes a moment. Once registered you can read a total of 3 articles each month, plus:

  • Sign up for the editor's highlights
  • Receive World University Rankings news first
  • Get job alerts, shortlist jobs and save job searches
  • Participate in reader discussions and post comments

Related universities

Have your say

Log in or register to post comments

Most commented