Encountering internationalisation: higher education and social justice in Myanmar

Heslop, Lynne (2019) Encountering internationalisation: higher education and social justice in Myanmar. Doctoral thesis (EdD), University of Sussex.

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As Myanmar emerges from over half a century of military-backed authoritarian rule and international isolation, this study examines the international encounters of Myanmar’s higher education institutions (HEIs) from a social justice perspective.
Social justice and peacebuilding are central to Myanmar’s development aims and are critical areas in which higher education has important roles and influences. Universities can be forces for progressive social change, promoting equity and long-term peace through their research, teaching and contributions to society. Conversely, they can also work against social justice as institutions that entrench or exacerbate social inequalities and exclusion. This study explores the way that the internationalisation of HE relates to aspects of social justice, firstly, in the arrangements and relationships between Myanmar HEIs and their international partners; and secondly, from an ‘outward-facing’ perspective in the contribution of their international activities towards social justice, peacebuilding and development, in response to Myanmar’s conflict-affected context and social inequalities.
In-depth interviews were conducted with leaders and senior managers in four Myanmar HEIs, the Myanmar Ministry of Education and three UK HEIs. The rationales and motivations for engaging in international interactions in Myanmar were explored, and through Nancy Fraser’s theory of social justice based on parity of participation, the economic, cultural, political and peacebuilding dimensions of social justice of international interactions were analysed.
The study’s findings show that the HE sector in Myanmar has been largely neglected by international development agencies, implying that the roles, functions and purposes of HE in social justice and peacebuilding are unrecognised, unacknowledged or ignored. In their encounters with internationalisation, Myanmar HEIs are experiencing social injustice in their HE partnerships. The findings reveal stark asymmetries in the motivations and rationales for Myanmar and UK HEIs to engage in their international interactions, driven predominantly by commercial interests in UK HEIs and by academic needs, which mostly remain unmet, in Myanmar public HEIs. In the absence of international development support, the ideologies of market liberalisation and international commercialisation of HE remain unchallenged by policy-makers, are impeding ethical HE interactions, and usurping the good will of international HEIs to contribute to Myanmar HEIs and wider social justice issues in Myanmar society.
Through their activities and arrangements, some international interactions appear to be manifesting features of re-colonisation. In the Myanmar HEIs in this study, these were found to further entrench inequalities in the global circulation of knowledge production, perpetuate the epistemological subordination of Myanmar researchers, and create or maintain economic, cultural and political hegemonies in resources and power, reproducing the dependencies of Myanmar public HEIs and privileging Northern HEI partners.
Although some international collaboration in HE supporting peacebuilding was present in Myanmar HEIs, the role of HE within a wider narrative of peace and social justice was not well understood by HEIs and education policy makers. While international HE partnerships were shown to have the potential leverage and opportunities to contribute to social justice and peacebuilding, only few were engaged in research topics that lead to a deeper understanding of the causes of grievances, discrimination and injustice, and supporting activities that foster citizenship, critical thinking, social cohesion and democratic processes within and beyond the university. Although the Myanmar government recognised the importance of university students in peacebuilding, the role of HE and internationalisation were situated firmly within a human capital logic, reflecting liberal peace ideology premised on social stability through economic growth and increasing privatisation, overshadowing other vital functions of HE and internationalisation in societal transformation and long-term peace.
By critiquing international interactions through a social justice lens and by deepening the understanding of the processes that drive international HE, structural, cultural and epistemic injustices were identified and thereby make possible the dismantling of the barriers to parity of participation. In doing so, it may be feasible to develop more equitable international HE engagement in Myanmar’s low-income, conflict-affected context, steer international HE collaboration towards responding more effectively to the needs of Myanmar’s universities and contribute further to wider social justice and peacebuilding.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Schools and Departments: School of Education and Social Work > Education
Subjects: J Political Science > JZ International relations > JZ5511.2 Promotion of peace. Peaceful change
L Education > LB Theory and practice of education > LB2300 Higher education > LB2326.4 Institutions of higher education
Depositing User: Library Cataloguing
Date Deposited: 29 Oct 2019 10:02
Last Modified: 29 Oct 2019 10:02
URI: http://sro.sussex.ac.uk/id/eprint/87242

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