Suu Kyi and Vice-Chancellor in education talks

Oxford’s Vice-Chancellor Andrew Hamilton has held talks with Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi over a project designed to improve higher education in the country.

The pair also addressed a group of invited guests at the British Council in Central London, where Suu Kyi said she was “here to try to get help for the education projects we are trying to implement in Burma.”

These include a number of schemes aimed at improving the quality of Burmese universities, including a bespoke training programme for dons and a partnership between Oxford’s Law Faculty and law professors in Burma.

The Vice-Chancellor also promised to “explore opportunities” for further links between Burma and Oxford’s medical research centres on the Burmese-Thai border.

Oxford is particularly keen to help the University of Rangoon, which Suu Kyi, chairperson of the National League for Democracy, described as once having been a “famous institution for good teaching”.

“University education for us must start with Rangoon University,” she said. “We were the best university in our part of the world and many, many students produced by our university went on to not only be of great credit to our country but also in other parts of the world.”

“Rangoon University could become an example for other universities in Burma. To that end, last year after I had been in Oxford I tabled a motion in the legislature to form a committee for the renovation and reinvigoration of Rangoon University.”

“Now we would like practical help,” she added.

Suu Kyi studied PPE at St Hugh’s and graduated in 1967. Her party won Burma’s 1990 general election, but she subsequently spent over twenty years under house arrest.

Last year, she accepted an honorary civil law doctorate from the University. At the acceptance ceremony, she said that memories of “reading on the lawn at St Hugh’s” during her student days sustained her through her imprisonment.

Oxford’s Vice-Chancellor echoed Suu Kyi’s remarks, claiming she “threw down a challenge” to the University when she visited last year.

“It was a challenge to partner with you and your colleagues in Burma to play a role in the rejuvenation of Burmese universities – the strengthening and the revitalising of academic and student life in Burma,” he said.

“This is a challenge that we in Oxford have thought very carefully about over these past months and we are working to explore the most effective ways in which the University can partner with you and your colleagues in Burma to strengthen the critical parts of university life there.”

In attendance at the speech were some Oxford students who visited Burma this summer at Suu Kyi’s invitation, to observe a series of civic projects involving young people. Hamilton paid tribute to them, claiming that they had a “very successful series of meetings with their peers there”.

He also raised the issue of conservation, claiming to be “very keen” that links between the two countries developed. He said the Oxford Wildlife Conservation Research Unit, or WildCRU, “has a history of training Burmese conservation professionals and providing scholarship funds to support that.”

“We are very keen for conservation links with Burma to expand and develop,” he added.

Suu Kyi recently announced she plans to run for President of Burma in 2015. Her party boycotted the previous presidential election in 2010, but she is now a member of the Burmese Parliament.