The British Council has just published an e-book entitled Grand Challenges in Asia-Pacific Education. In it, chapter 7 by Roger Chao takes the title “Private sector investment: enhancing capacity and quality in Myanmar’s higher education sector”. It’s a brief analysis, but it contains some good points. The basic argument is this: “Increasing private sector investment in HE in Myanmar is the key to improving access, equity and relevance, and developing a sustainable and modern higher education sector.”

Chao notes that tertiary education is in very poor shape following decades of neglect, under-investment, fragmentation, and so on. Today, 169 institutions are distributed across 13 line ministries on a “Soviet” model of small, mono-disciplinary units. Each year, just 10% of candidates (roughly 100,000 individuals) pass the high-school matriculation exam at the first attempt, thereby gaining access to a public institution. About twice that number flow into an unregulated private sector of variable quality (tending mostly towards mediocre provision). The need for reform is “dire”.

The way forward, Chao argues, lies in creating an “official private sector” – one that is regulated and recognized. Alongside actual private institutions, there can also be privatization and commercialization of public institutions, public-private partnerships, and heightened private involvement in curriculum development, governance and funding. A recently concluded Microsoft partnership with Myanmar Computer Company to provide IT training could be one harbinger of the future.

This is all food for thought in a system that must be receptive to all sorts of new ideas and ventures if it is to overcome the deep problems and challenges it faces.