Myanmar junta ‘suspends thousands of lecturers’

Military takes action after plan to reopen campuses is thwarted

May 14, 2021
Yangon, Myanmar - December 02 2012  a military jeep on street of Yangon Myanmar and a Pagoda in the background
Source: iStock

Thousands of university staff in Myanmar have been suspended by the country’s ruling junta, according to reports.

There have been multiple reports of the mass barring of professors and lecturers from teaching positions in Myanmar since a military coup in February and the occupation of campuses in March. 

Myanmar’s local media have reported on specific cases, such as the dismissal of 35 instructors from Sittwe University due to their “joining the civil disobedience movement”.

But a report by Reuters this week, stating that 11,000 academics and university staff have been suspended, is the highest toll yet. This would represent a significant proportion of the 26,000 higher education instructors in the country, according to 2018 World Bank data.

The junta’s original plan was to reopen campuses for final-year bachelor’s and postgraduate students on 5 May; but this was met by resistance from both students and faculty. The junta responded by dismissing those deemed to be uncooperative.

“I think what we have seen in recent days indeed represents an escalation of pressures on Myanmar’s HE community,” Daniel Munier, senior advocacy officer at Scholars at Risk, told Times Higher Education. SAR, based at New York University, is a global network that tracks academic freedom.

“The military’s efforts to force faculty, staff, and students back to campus do nothing to advance research and learning. Rather they are flagrant attacks on academic freedom and institutional autonomy intended to assert control and promote a false sense of normalcy,” Mr Munier said.

The Higher Education Department, now controlled by the military, said after the Reuters report that it would replace what it called the “striking” staff, according to The Irrawaddy, a Thai-based news source. The Irrawaddy reported that non-academic staff, such as security guards and cleaners, had also been dismissed.

“Myanmar’s HE community is incredibly strong and resilient – as seen in previous military crackdowns, but it would be a major mistake to downplay the disastrous impact the military’s actions have already had on the sector and society more generally,” Mr Munier said.

“Sustained military control over Myanmar’s universities risks reversing many years of progress and holding the country back from effectively engaging in and contributing to the very global and interconnected HE community we have today.”

SAR, which appealed to the United Nations Human Rights Council in March, continues to call on global governments to demand an end to the coup and the military’s assault on universities.

It is also urging higher education networks to offer opportunities or temporary refuge for Burmese scholars and students in exile.

“Universities may still find ways to support colleagues in Myanmar, including by offering remote fellowships and making digital resources available for scholars or students who have been dismissed from their position,” Mr Munier said. “Any university with connections to scholars or students on the ground in Myanmar should reach out, if safe to do so, and offer moral support at this critical moment.” 

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