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Burma: first gov scholarships in 50 years announced

The launch of new Burmese government-funded scholarships for its outstanding students to study at overseas universities for the academic year 2014-15 has been met with mixed reviews as a result of the strict conditions and criteria that may ultimately limit its applicant numbers.

In a national radio address Burmese President Thein Sein comments that scholarship winners can "study subjects that will benefit the development of the country." Photo: President's Office website.

“Future generations can have long-lasting educational opportunities, and also study subjects that will benefit the development of the country”

The President’s Scholarship Awards, the first Burmese government-funded scholarships of their kind for five decades, require successful students to sign a contract tying them into government jobs upon their return for twice the duration of their scholarship, or be forced to repay triple the funding they received.

The President’s Scholarship Awards require students to sign a contract tying them into government jobs for twice the duration of their scholarship upon their return

The criteria also excludes married men and women and applicants must be Myanmar citizens and born of parents who are also both citizens.

Further stipulations for funding say undergraduate candidates must be aged between 16 to 20 years old and have achieved at least 500 marks on their matriculation exams or equivalent, or GCE “A” Levels, while postgraduate and doctorate studies candidates can be any age.

Academics in the country have publicly criticised the scheme’s application criteria saying they are impractical.

Speaking to The Myanmar Times, U Tin Maung Than, a research coordinator at the Myanmar Development Resource Institute said: “If I had to arrange [the programme], I would set a policy that gives me a broad spectrum of choice. I would not limit the potential candidates.” 

“Look at how many medical doctors who are full citizens have left. In my opinion, the level of citizenship of their parents is not a valid concern,” said Maung Than.

In a radio address earlier this year, President Thein Sein spoke about his plans for the scholarship programme. “Future generations can have long-lasting educational opportunities, and also study subjects that will benefit the development of the country,” he said.

The application window officially opened on July 29 and the deadline for applications is August 31, after which the first selection list will be announced in the state-run newspaper.  Then the required testing processes will take place.

“After that the committee formed together with international experts will choose the finalists,” the announcement said.

An official from the Minister for Education’s Office told the Myanmar Times that scholarships could be awarded to study any subject and will cover the entire cost of a recipient’s tuition fees, as well as accommodation, travel and food expenses.

Following the collapse of the military junta in 2011, Burma’s higher education system has entered a major transition phase. 

Other efforts to increase international partnerships and engagement include workshops between Burmese universities and Burma and US government officials.

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