Myanmar’s scramble for IT specialists
New university on a mission to produce qualified it engineers.
MYANMAR’S University of Information Technology (UIT) is young but it does not play a secondary role judged by the mission to produce much-needed highly-qualified IT engineers for the country.
In an effort to produce more IT professionals, the Thein Sein government opened UIT in Yangon and the Myanmar Institute of Information Technology in Mandalay. Established in 2012, UIT is now grooming more than 700 students.
“Most of the universities could not teach IT practically due to limited capacity, limited number of computers and lack of electricity,” Saw Sanda Aye, the university’s rector, said during an exclusive interview. “We are fully aware that the industry itself makes complaints on the graduates’ capability.
“In the past, only a few IT graduates managed to do well in their workplaces without any further on-job training. Given the better political climate, lots of IT companies have entered Myanmar. But their main concern is human resources, as it is really difficult to find skilled personnel. UIT aims to close the gaps.”
UIT offers bachelor degrees in computer science and technology. Courses cover software engineering, knowledge engineering, high performance computing, business information systems, communication and networking, embedded systems, and computer systems. Students need to complete nine semesters and four months of internship.
It also offers diploma courses on web engineering and network engineering. More than 30 students have completed the courses. A master’s degree course is being planned and a doctoral degree course was launched last year. At the university, courses and curriculum are designed and modified by its lecturers who have intensive training.
Obtaining a bachelor’s degree from this university is not easy. To start with, a student must earn at least 450 points from a total of 600 for the Grade 11 examination. Then, the university will pick only the top 200. For this academic year, the lowest score admitted was 483. They are trained for basic computer knowledge in the first two years and choose their majors in the third year.
The university is now equipped with six computer rooms, with a total of 240 computers and specialised labs. A loan is available for laptop purchases through the support of the Myanmar ICT Development Corp.
Saw Sanda Aye said a practical approach was promoted at UIT. Occupational internship is thus mandatory, with help from the Myanmar Computer Federation and foreign companies. So far, the federation’s members are pleased with the students’ overall performance and enthusiasm and graduates can easily find lucrative jobs.
For academic excellence, UIT has established links with 11 foreign universities –Duisburg Essen University in Germany; Suan Sunandha Rajabhat University in Thailand; International University of Japan, the Japan Advanced Institute of Science and Technology; the Nagaoka University of Technology; Aoyama Gakuin University; the University of the Ryukyus; Saitama University; the Malaysia University of Science and
Technology; the University of Malaya; and the CISCO Network Academy.
These collaborations cover exchanges of research and occupational training. Some lecturers are now in Japan for software development training.
The rector aims to extend the collaboration to cover student exchanges in the near future, even if UIT may need to change the starting date of its academic year from December currently.
At present, A total of 27 universities under the Ministry of Science and Technology offer IT courses, aside from similar courses conducted by Yangon University and Yangon Technological University.
Saw Sanda Aye recalled the scrambling for resources as lecturers are re-allocated.
“We need a lot of skilful instructors to realise what we want to be. Now we do not have the right to choose the instructors who we want. So we need to train all the new instructors. All rarely have free time, loaded with their own studies, meetings, and teaching.”
UIT has a total of 70 instructors including the rector and only 58 can be active lecturing. The rector said UIT needs 15-20 more lecturers to cope with extra work.
The limited budget is another challenge, resulting in a delay in the construction of a new building. In the past two fiscal years, UIT was allocated 5.2 billion kyats (Bt150.7 million) while the construction cost is estimated at 14 billion.
“If someone wants to donate us a new lab now, we do not have enough space for that,” Saw Sanda Aye said.
Despite the constraints, she realises the significance of the job. Myanmar needs more IT professionals as the country is part of the Asean Economic Community.
“If we do not prepare well for AEC, which leads to mobility of skills and capital, we will be left behind. We need to produce skilful IT professionals who can compete with foreign engineers. Otherwise, if Asian engineers come here due to the AEC’s free flow of labour, our citizens can only work under them.
“Only a few people can take top roles in each company. Our graduates are expected to take high-level positions in big companies.”
She said Myanmar’s IT industry as a whole would be significantly improved over the next three years as foreign direct investment spurred demand for skilled labour. She recalled the days when skilled labour had to find jobs abroad. In the past few years, thanks to the opening of the economy, most have returned as employees of international companies. The liberalisation in the telecom industry also plays a large part in creating job opportunities for Myanmar migrant engineers.
“The more human resources we can produce, the more the industry will grow,” she concluded.