Memories of Sayagyi Dr. Aung Gyi – Part Three
A lot of changes took place after we moved to Gyogone. First of all the [the 17-man] Revolutionary Council under General Ne Win came to power in Burma in 1962. Soon after that, the Faculty of Engineering [University of Rangoon] became an independent Institute, called Burma Institute of Technology (B.I.T), with its own Rector [U Yone Moe], under the Directorate of Higher Education, Ministry of Education. BIT was changed into Rangoon Institute of Technology (RIT) after about a year. The reason was that the Ministry of Education planned to open more Institutes of Technology in other parts of the country at a later date. RIT had its own Administrative Council and Senate, chaired by the Rector to give policy directions related to respective administrative and academic matters. However higher Administrative Council and Senate, chaired by the Minister of Education were also established which had final say on administrative and academic matters of all the Institutes under the Ministry of Education.
The entrance requirement for students to RIT was also changed. I think the total number of students admitted to RIT every year after matriculation was about 500. The top 500 students were admitted from among the applicants, based upon the marks that they scored in the matriculation examination. The same criteria was used to assign the students to different disciplines at RIT. The students now needed to study at least 6 years at the Institute before they received their degrees. In addition to the Engineering Departments, the Institute had Departments of Physics, Chemistry, Mathematics, English, and Burmese, as the students needed to study these subjects for two years, before they started getting into their respective engineering subjects. These Non- Engineering Departments were under the administration of the Rangoon Arts and Sciences University (RASU, formerly known as Rangoon University). The grading system and passing grade for the students were also changed. Percentage marking system was changed to 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 system. The top grade the students could score was 5 and the poorest score that they could make was 1. The passing grade for each subject was 2 and the average passing grade for all the subjects combined was 2.5. The medium of teaching became Burmese officially, except for the foreign teachers.
As for the teaching staff, RIT had a number of Russian teachers in Civil, Mechanical, Mining, Chemical, and Textile engineering and Architecture Departments for a number of years. I do not remember their names now and I do not also remember when their services were eventually stopped. They were qualified and highly specialized in their respective subjects. Their English was not that good, but they tried their best to teach their specialized subjects. Most of the Heads of Departments were quite satisfied with their teaching. However the students might have had difficulty in understanding their English. RIT also had a Colombo Plan supported English teacher called Mr Heathcote who taught Photogrammetry in Civil Engineering Department. Civil Engineering Department also had teachers in Sanitary Engineering funded by WHO on a short term basis. One was Professor McSweeney, another two was Mr Reyes? and a Professor from Japan whose name I forgot. Back in 1958 a specialized course in Sanitary Engineering was tried in the Civil Engineering Department. Due to lack of interest and enrollment by the students it was dropped. There was also a visiting German engineer who came to set up the Structural Laboratory in early 1970s. These were all the foreign teachers that I remember now. Anyway I assessed that the infusion of teachings by the foreigners was found to be beneficial not only to the students but also to the national teaching staff.
In order to upgrade the teaching and improve the engineering education, the teaching staff were sent abroad to different countries according to the international aid that was received at that time. I was sent to University of Alberta in Edmonton, Canada under Colombo Plan in 1963 to study for my Ph.D. I came back to Rangoon after getting my Ph.D in late 1965. Because of this policy, not only me, but also a good percentage of the teaching staff at RIT ended up having post graduate degrees. During this period, Agricultural Engineering and Automobile Engineering disciplines were branched out under Mechanical Engineering Department; Petroleum Engineering discipline under Mining Engineering Department was also formed, and two separate streams called Power and Electrical Communications [later renamed Electronics Engineering] were established under Electrical Engineering Department.
In the late 1960s the total number of students was about 4000 and the total number of teaching staff was about 200. Therefore the student /teaching staff ratio was as before about 20:1. The laboratory and workshop facilities were stretched to the limits by this time as additional and up to date equipment could not be acquired due to shortage of funds. Although RIT had a full time librarian, there was hardly any increase in number of books or journals in the library, due to again shortage of funds. A lot of important things happened in RIT during this time from engineering education point of view. One was the admission of a few bright students from Government Technical Institutes. I am not sure now; but I think they joined RIT in 4th year. I also do not remember how many of them were admitted every year and when this program got started. Another important thing was the opening of Master level post graduate courses at RIT. I do not remember which year the post graduate courses were opened and in which Departments they were opened. The requirement to do final year thesis by the students also had an impact in engineering education. The students were encouraged to find the information and knowledge on their own from the books or from other sources so that they could write a thesis. This would help them in their engineering activities in future after graduation. The opening of the University Computer Centre (UCC) at Thamaing campus also had an impact on engineering education. Professor of mathematics Dr Chit Swe, Saya U Soe Paing, U Myo Min and U Ko Ko Lay were the initiators, who worked very hard to establish the Centre. I was one of the committee members, during the deliberations and the process of establishing this Centre. It was set up under the aid of UNESCO/UNDP. The committee was chaired by Dr Nyi Nyi who was the Deputy Minister of Education at that time. A lot of RIT students and graduates became interested and involved in the activities of UCC. The computer knowledge and the usage definitely complemented the engineering education that they already had.
U Yone Moe was the Rector of BIT/ RIT from 1962 to 1971. He was the Chief Engineer at Railways before he became the Rector. He was a Mechanical Engineer. He was a very nice person and tried his best under different constraints to improve the engineering education during his tenure. He also wanted to have a happy environment for the students. He tried to build a swimming pool for the students with the help of student volunteers. He was responsible for the building of track and field facilities, a small soccer field in front of G Hall, and a timber building to play badminton. He also managed to have movies in RIT assembly hall which had a movie projector. The admission ticket cost was about K1. The proceeds from the movies were then disbursed for extra-curricular activities of the students. I followed the same tradition when I became the Rector. The extra-curricular activities of the students were in full swing as before. The sport competitions between institutes were even more intensified than before. U Yone Moe was an open-minded person and relied heavily on the advice of the Heads of the Engineering Departments for his decisions. He retired in 1971. I became the Rector in 1971 after his retirement.
There were a few regrets that I had when I became the Rector. I wanted to teach, but I could not do it anymore due to other duties. I wanted to establish twinning arrangements with a reputable oversea Engineering University. I could not do it due to a lot of constraints. I wanted to have ample separate research funds for the teachers who were interested in research. I could not do it due to nonavailability of funds. The teaching staff at RIT therefore could do hardly any research. Within this context I would like to mention that there was annual Research Congress in the 1960s where the teachers from different Institutes presented their papers based upon the research that they had done. The Congress faded away in the late 1960s. I wanted to upgrade the laboratories and workshop , and the library. I wanted to send more teaching staff abroad for further studies. I could not do them because of shortage of funds. The only thing I could do was the establishment of Engineering Cooperatives with the involvement of the teaching staff and some new RIT graduates. This was done so that a few graduates could be employed before they could get the jobs that they wanted. I left Rangoon to join Unesco abroad in 1977 and U Khin Aung Kyi became the Rector after me.