History of University Engineering Education in Burma/Myanmar
by U Ohn Khine (M 70)
Implementation to improve Engineering Education
To improve the university education as a whole, including engineering, the government laid down plans for the enhancement of engineering education. The Burmese government approached Technical Co-operation Administration (TCA) of the United States of America (USA) in the 50’s to get aid for the development of engineering education.
At the same time, efforts were made to offer more engineering disciplines at the faculty, to have more local qualified teachers, to have more buildings to accommodate the increasing number of students, and to get up to date and complete machinery and equipment for the test laboratories. Most of the teaching staff at that time were British and contract lecturers from India.
After Burma gained independence, Professor Davies who was Dean and other foreign teaching staffs left the Faculty in 1950. U Ba Hli, Principal of Insein Government Technical Institute (GTI), was appointed as the first local Dean of the Faculty. U Ba Hli, a far-sighted educator, did a lot to develop the engineering education during his tenure as Dean from 1950 to 1958.
The program to increase the teaching staff at the Faculty of Engineering started in 1952. Under the twinning program with TCA, two visiting professors from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) arrived in 1952. They were later followed by others. At the same time, to have more qualified local teaching staff, outstanding students from the 2nd year engineering class were selected and sent to MIT, Lehigh University, etc., for further studies to attain Masters degrees. Those selected were to be appointed as assistant lecturers when they came back.
Furthermore those who graduated from the Faculty with flying colors were also appointed as teachers. There were instances of appointing some locals who had graduated from foreign universities.
Requirement of teaching staff at the Faculty during 1952 to 1959 was fulfilled by the visiting professors and lecturers from UK and USA under TCA program and by hiring Indian nationals from India on contract basis as teaching staff.
Nurturing of Local Teaching Staff with Post-graduate Degrees
When the Rangoon University Engineering Department opened, there were very few teaching staff and the department had to be run with British and Indian teachers. This situation continued up till the Second World War, when the department had to close down.
When the department reopened after the war in 1947, the situation at first was the same as in pre-war era. After the Independence, teaching staff from UK and India, including Dean Prof. D. Pindri Davies went back in 1950.
U Ba Hli, Principal of Insein GTI, became Dean of the Faculty of Engineering in 1950. As he was a far–sighted person, he laid down plans to improve the quality of engineering education. One of the plans was a twinning program under TCA to get more teaching staff. He contacted UK universities and MIT to get help for the recruitment of qualified teaching staff. At the same time, some outstanding students were sent abroad for further studies with the aim of appointing them as teaching staff upon their return. Dean U Ba Hli jointly acted as Professor of Civil Engineering and taught Sanitary Engineering.
Sayagyi U Ba Hli played a major part in the offering of more engineering disciplines besides the existing civil, electrical and mechanical engineering. From the 1953-54 academic year, Mining, Chemical, Metallurgy and Textile engineering courses could be offered. Architecture was offered later. Sending student scholars to UK and USA was also a part of U Ba Hli’s plans to recruit qualified teaching staff. We had to acknowledge and record these efforts of our Sayagyi to develop and improve the engineering education system in Burma.
According to the photo in the 1951-52 academic year RUESU Annual Magazine, there were about 200 students from 1st to 4th year. There were 63, 55, 44 and 34 students in the 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th year respectively. Number of teaching staff including Dean was 11. (Appendix 2 F), with 5 Indian and 6 (including Workshop Superintendent) local staff members. The ratio of student to staff was 18:1 at that time. In 1952-53 academic year, the number of students was 163 and teaching staff was 12. Among the teaching staff, five were local staff. There was a workshop superintendent, four Indian lecturers, and two visiting professors from MIT. The student teacher ratio was 13.6 :1. It can be seen that there were not enough teachers. The ratio of local to foreign teachers was nearly one.
Ko Aung Gyi, a second year student was awarded a scholarship in June 1953, and went to MIT in September 1953 to get graduate as well as post graduate studies in Civil Engineering. Ko Kyit In (later named U Min Wun) was also sent to MIT with Ko Aung Gyi to study Civil Engineering. Ko Maung Maung Than was sent to Lowell University to study Textile Engineering. They were allowed to work one year after graduation so as to have exposure and experience, before coming back and joining the Faculty as Assistant Lecturers. U Freddie Ba Hli, son of Dean U Ba Hli was in MIT for his doctorate in Electrical Engineering when Ko Aung Gyi and other scholars arrived there. Because of his generous help, the newcomers could study at MIT without any inconveniences. Ko Khin Aung Kyi (Chemical), Ko Sein Hlaing (Electrical) were sent to MIT also. The other scholars who studied later at MIT were Ko Percy Lau, Ko Win Htein, Ko Kyaw Min, Ko Kyaw Thein, Ko Aung Kywe and Ko Sein Hla.
U Win Htein, U Kyaw Min both architects were part-time lecturers at Architecture department of RIT. U Kyaw Thein worked as an engineer at Construction Corporation after obtaining the masters degree and later transferred to Civil Engineering department at RIT as a lecturer. U Sein Hla joined CC and later became Registrar of RIT during the time when U Yone Moe was Rector.
Two visiting professors from MIT, Mr. Daniel D.Streeter Jr., S.B., S.M., (MIT) for Mechanical Engineering department and Dr. Murray P. Horwood, Director, MIT Education Project, Professor of Sanitary Engineering, arrived in 1952-53 to help solve the shortage of teachers at the Faculty. Dean U Ba Hli put his utmost efforts to achieve Education Project aids and resulted in the arrival of two visiting professors. More visiting professors and lecturers came in the following years.
At the same time graduates from the Faculty were also recruited as teaching staff. U Sein Hlaing was the first to be appointed. As there were plans to offer more engineering disciplines in the near future, some outstanding students sent to MIT and Lehigh University for further studies. The aim was to appoint these scholars as teaching staff at the Faculty when they come back, thus fulfilling the requirement of local teaching staffs.
Ko Aung Khin a mechanical engineering student was sent to Lehigh in 1951. Ko Aung Gyi and Ko Kyit In both civil engineering students were sent to MIT and Ko Maung Maung Than was sent to Lowell University in 1952.
The standard of engineering education at that time was quite high and was recognized by MIT.
Following is an excerpt from Dr. Aung Gyi’s article
I am describing all these things to point out the fact that the standard of engineering education in Burma at that time was quite good. None of us had to go through the entrance examination to get into MIT. They trusted our grades and our education standard. Maybe the visiting Professor Horwood from MIT was quite impressed with the Faculty of Engineering and put a good word for us to the MIT admission authorities.
Ko Thit, a second year student was also sent to Lehigh University in US to study Metallurgy Engineering. U Tin Swe, assistant lecturer at the Faculty was sent to Michigan University for a masters degree in electrical engineering.
Mining, Chemical, Metallurgy, Textile Engineering and Architecture departments were opened at the Faculty in 1953, 1954 and 1955. The number of engineering students increased substantially during these years. There were more than 400 first year engineering students in 1955-56 academic year. Due to these increase in students, it was inevitable to have more teaching staffs. To solve this, teaching staff from India were hired on contract basis. Visiting professors and lecturers from US and UK were called in to help solve this shortage. Even those who obtained degrees from abroad on their own were also appointed.
According to the photos of the 1956-57 annual magazine, there were 29 teaching staff at the Faculty. Among them 14 were Indian nationals, and 6 locals who obtained their degrees from abroad. They were U Ba Than (Mechanical), U Kyaw Tun (Electrical), U Soon Sein (Mining), U Percy Lau (Civil), and U Ngwe Thein (Geology). U Than Tin (Metallurgy) and U Win Kyaing (Mining) were appointed after 1958.
Visiting lecturers from UK and US at that time were Mr. R.D.Neale (B.E., M.I.e.E. (Men), A.I.E.E., M.N.Z.I.E., Senior lecturer Electrical ), Mr. Redpath ( B.Sc. (Engg) (London). A.M.I.Mech.E. Senior lecturer in Mechanical), Mr. G.H. Calder (B.S. M.B.A. Harvard, D.C.S., D.B.A. India) Visiting professor in Business administration. Mr. Skelton (Mech) and Mr. Johnson (Architect) also joined as visiting lecturers later.
U Aung Khin, U Sein Hlaing and U Tin Swe came back in 1956 and were appointed as assistant lecturers. U Aung Gyi, U Min Wun (U Kyit In), U Khin Aung Kyi, U Maung Maung Than and U Thit came back in 1957 and joined the Faculty as assistant lecturers. All of them except U Thit were promoted to lecturers in 1958.
A considerable number of B.Sc.(Engg.) graduates were appointed as assistant lecturers starting from the end of 1959.. State scholars under Colombo Plan were also sent abroad for further studies up till 1964. U Ba Than (Mech) to UK, U Thit (Met) to Australia, U San Hla Aung (Civil) to MIT, U Tin Hlaing (Mech) to US, U Mung Maung Win (Chem) to US, U Allen Htay (Civil) to US, U Soe Paing (Elec) to US and Daw Julie Han (Tex) to US. U Aung Gyi went to Alberta University, Canada, for his doctorate in Civil Engineering.
When the new Burma Institute of Technology was opened at Gyogone campus in 1961, visiting professors and lecturers from USSR came and helped the teaching at most of the departments lasting about two to three years.
There were a total of 55 teaching staff at the Faculty according to the list published by the Education department in September 1964. (Appendix 2-G)
With the support of Sayagyi U Ba Than and Saya U Thaw Kaung, Chief Librarian of the Rangoon University Central Library, Saya U Soe Paing compiled materials. Most articles and correspondences from the early periods were in English. Based on Saya U Soe Paing’s work, the editorial team headed by Saya U Aung Hla Tun, former Editor-in-chief of RIT Annual Magazines and also a National Literary Award winner, wrote the book in Myanmar/Burmese.
U Ohn Khine and I prepared the companion CD for the book. It included photos (too many to be incorporated into the book), bio of Sayas and sayamas, articles for the SPZPs, and excerpts from my Updates.
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