Leadership and management in Myanmar higher education

Alison Johns, Chief Executive, Leadership Foundation working with higher education leaders in Myanmar in March 2017

Andy Shenstone director of consultancy at the Leadership Foundation reports on the British Council led project supporting higher education leaders in Myanmar. Which is part of a fundamental change programme that affects the entirety of  higher education in the South East Asian nation.

Higher education in Myanmar, like many of the country’s public services, is planning major reform under the new government. It’s seen as a high priority in a nation that, in higher education terms, languishes in the bottom group of “countries with a high incidence of pre-modern un-development” (Marginson). In preparation for this higher education revolution, the Leadership Foundation was recently commissioned by the British Council in Myanmar to produce a comprehensive needs analysis for higher education leadership training.

The new government has recently published a five-year National Education Sector Plan (2016-2021) which sets out a transformational agenda, priorities and approaches to education reform, including higher education.

Developing a more autonomous sector is a key feature of the government’s vision for sectoral reform. It encompasses consolidation of higher education policy under a single ministry, establishing autonomous national HEIs and regional HEIs with a faculty system, industry links, joint research programmes and opening up opportunities for private investment.

These plans would result in Myanmar’s higher education system undergoing a transformation that will create a wide range of significant demands upon, and challenges for, leaders in universities and ministry officials.

This is where the Leadership Foundation comes in. Working closely with the British Council we recently completed a comprehensive leadership training needs analysis. This focusses on the need to build leadership capacity and capability in a context of change that is both system-wide and institutional. Evidence gathering involved in-country consultation with ministry officials and 67 university leaders and a comprehensive survey of leaders in a further 60 Myanmar universities.

Our work has:

  • Ascertained the prioritised training and development requirements of the university leaders and key officials, requirements that fully reflected the policy context and objectives for system-wide reform.
  • Devised recommendations for a programme of work that would significantly contribute towards meeting these needs.
  • Set out an action plan for implementing the recommendations.

The leadership challenges are many and varied. At a system-level, transformation requires funding, quality assurance, institutional accountability, information management, planning and reporting. At the institutional level, there must be quality systems to drive improvement in research, teaching and assessment along with institutional strategy development, KPIs and delivery including ‘business’ planning.

Staff in the institutions need training and development in teaching and research skills, while managers need support with leading and managing change; motivational skills; stakeholder management with potential international partners; analysis and critical thinking; effective decision making; and communications skills.

It may seem like a challenging task but, in Myanmar, strong values underpin a spirit of cautious optimism and appetite for external engagement. An underlying ethos of service, combined with personal resilience, energy and enthusiasm, and a strong intellectual drive, augur well for the future of higher education in the country. It promises to be an exciting time of transformation in which UK higher education can play a crucially supportive role.

Andy Shenstone is the director of consultancy and business development, the Leadership Foundation has led or participated in projects in over 30 countries in Asia, Africa, North and South America, Europe and the Middle East. www.lfhe.ac.uk/international