A significant education sector reform began in Burma when the civilian-led government assumed power in April 2016. The then-government laid out top priorities and announced increased budgets for the education sector. Between 2013 and 2018, the allotted budget for reforming the education sector rose by approximately 8.5 percent of the total government spending. They implemented a new National Education Strategic Plan (NESP) to transform the national education system and improve teaching and learning in all educational institutions. The NESP is a comprehensive, widely owned, and evidence-based roadmap intended to reform the entire education sector. However, the country’s education system has been stunted following the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 and the military coup in February 2021.
Many local professional training centers/institutions have entered the market. There are approximately 35 local private training centers offering a variety of certificate and diploma courses in business management, finance, marketing, project management, information technology, engineering, accounting, and tourism, as well as 15 private training centers that offer bachelor’s and master’s degree programs from their partner international universities. More than 40 international schools operate in Yangon and Mandalay, offering pre-elementary, elementary, secondary, and higher-education level courses to meet market demand for English language, computing, accounting, and business-related training.
Within the days of the coup, a civil disobedience movement emerged, involving more than 300,000 teachers and staff. The State Administration Council (SAC) suspended over 11,000 academic staff and approximately 125,000 teachers and professors for participating in civil disobedience activities. In June 2022, the regime Ministry of Education declared the reopening of all elementary schools and institutions, although enrollment has been limited. 5.6 million of Burma’s over 12 million students have returned to school for the new academic year. Compared to before the coup, enrollment in schools dropped by approximately 40 percent. Numerous students and families continue to oppose military-led schooling. Students are missing critical school years, are concerned about their education, and are looking for study abroad opportunities, with the number of students attempting to study internationally increasing dramatically.
Thailand and Singapore are the primary international host countries for Burmese students. Japan, Korea, and Malaysia are additional Asian destinations. The UK, U.S., and Australia are the leading educational destinations in the West.
According to the Institute of International Education Open Doors 2021 Report, 1,698 Burmese students were studying in the United States, a 25% increase over 2017 (1,351 students), corresponding to the increased student visa numbers issued to Burma students. The number of student visas approved increased more than tripled, with 1,286 approved in 2021 and 496 in 2020.
Out of the 1,698 students, 72% are enrolled in undergraduate programs, 13% in graduate programs, 1% in non-degree programs, and 12% in Optional Practical Training. The favorite states of Burmese students are California, 30%, New York, 13%, and Massachusetts, 6.2% (SEVIS Data, 2020). Burmese students’ main study areas include business management, financial management, project management, hospitality, accounting, marketing, engineering, and information technology.
Some local education agents now provide preparatory educational services to students who want to study abroad or pursue international education. These education agents offer pre-collegiate programs to assist students in developing their academic abilities to secure admission and possible financial assistance at international institutions in the U.S., the U.K., Japan, Australia, Canada, and Singapore. They also assist with visa applications, prepare students for life in a Western college setting, and assist in career planning.
Community Colleges: The community college concept is gaining popularity in Burma as students and parents realize that the idea is an effective and economical route to transfer to high-ranked four-year universities. Burma ranks 25th among international students enrolled in community colleges in the United States in 2021, accounting for 0.7% of all international students (approximately 554 students). Local education agents play an essential role in promoting the community college concept in Burma. Many U.S. community colleges have partnered with regional study abroad agents to recruit Burmese students. About 10-15 reputable education agents in Burma work with universities and colleges from various countries such as Singapore, Malaysia, Australia, Korea, Japan, the U.K., the United States, and Canada.
Four-Year Degree and Master Programs: Local education agents and counseling services have partnered with many American universities to promote U.S. graduate and postgraduate programs to Burmese students.
People in Burma realize the importance of quality education, and parents are willing to invest in their children’s education to have good career opportunities after graduation. The local learning centers actively seek partnerships with U.S. education institutes and universities for undergraduate, graduate, and postgraduate programs. According to some learning centers, Burmese students prefer to have more options and desperately wait for U.S. transactional programs.
Educational seminars given by universities from different countries offering scholarships are becoming common in Burma. While attracting students from Burma, foreign universities can also explore new partnerships to invest in Burma’s education sector. Private companies are investing in the primary and secondary school segments to meet the growing demand in the market.
Appoint a Local Representative
Education service providers/local representation play a critical role in the success of U.S. colleges and universities in the Burmese market. Students and parents feel at ease seeking advice on issues such as the school admission process and guidelines from experts, advisors, and counselors based in the country who have a broader understanding of schools and policies. Numerous U.S. colleges and universities have appointed local education providers to promote their schools and recruit Burmese students.
Exhibit at Education Fairs
In 2020 and 2021, Burma held several virtual education fairs. It is an excellent opportunity for university recruiters to meet and interact with prospective students.
EducationUSA is a U.S. Department of State network of over 400 international student advising centers in more than 170 countries. EducationUSA organizes annual education fairs each year worldwide, including in Burma. More than 35 U.S. colleges and universities participated in the most recent fairs in Yangon and Mandalay. Further information about studying in the United States is available on the EducationUSA website and from the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs at the U.S. State Department.
UIS Statistics at http://data.uis.unesco.org/
U.S. Commercial Service
U.S. Embassy, Burma