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Twenty-five years after the ’88 uprising, the university where the democracy movement once took its root is about to open again.
During the massive student uprisings that erupted in 1988, Ne Win’s military dictatorship sought to liquidate the democratic movement by shutting down the university for years – until now. The university will reopen as normal this year and take in undergraduates for the first time since 1996.
Rangoon University has been at the centre of civil discontent throughout its history. When Barack Obama delivered a well-received speech at the university one year ago, he stood in the same place where the nationalist movement calling for the end to British rule once began. It was also here that Aung Sang and UN Secretary General U Thant received their degrees.
Young Burmese can once again dream of studying at the historic college, but the option is not open for everyone. Fifteen elite students have been accepted to each of the 19 departments. In total, only around 300 students have been offered a place.
One of the incoming students is Myo Myint Tun, who recently passed his high school exams and was admitted into the elite university. He could barely contain his excitement as he explained to DVB that studying at the prestigious institution had been his dream for years.
“Our political leaders and internationally prominent academics always came from Rangoon University”, said Ko Ko Gyi, the famed student leader from the 88 Generation Peace and Open Society movement.
Ko Ko Gyi was a student at Rangoon University in 1988 and took part in the mass uprising, which landed him in jail for 20 years. During his time in prison, the insular Burmese government became known for its fear of higher education.
Although he is positive about the reopening of the university, Ko Ko Gyi said that Burma’s education sector needed to be brought into the 21st century.
“I would prefer the university to be for people from all walks of life, not just a few children of the elite”, he said. “Perhaps a scholarship programme will be needed to allow all sectors of society to take part.”