Students at Mandalay’s Yadanabon University are calling on the government to increase the national education budget and improve campus facilities as well as educational materials.
Yadanabon University Student Union is leading the protest camp, which has since been joined by dozens of students from nearby universities since it was set up on Monday, according to The Irrawaddy.
“The education budget was increased a bit after the student protests back in 2015, but it is still lower than the defence budget. Why?” said Ko Kyaw Thura Ye Kyaw, president of the student union.
“The education budget is very important for the country, so we are here to urge the government to increase it,” Ko Kyaw Thura Ye Kyaw said.
Students also called for campus accommodation to be built.
“There’s no hostel for students at our university. Students coming from distant places have to rent rooms nearby. This costs us a lot and offers no security at all,” the student leader said.
Last week, Burma’s Defence Ministry had asked for a 1.3 trillion kyats (US$1 billion) budget for a six-month period, during Parliament’s budget discussion ahead of the 2018-19 fiscal year, which starts on October 1.
The ministry’s proposed budget reportedly amounts to more than the combined total of the health and education budget. More than 2 billion kyats is proposed for military operations.
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On Tuesday, Yadanabon University rector Dr Maung Maung Naing called the protest “illegal” for using loudspeakers and encouraging other students to join them.
“We invited representatives of the Ministry of Education to talk with them. However, they were not satisfied with this and continued the protest. If they don’t stop, we will have to handle the situation according to the law,” Dr Maung Maung Naing said.
Teachers unions at Yadanabon University and Mandalay University agreed with the student’s contention that the education budget should be bigger but condemned the way students have chosen to convey their grievances.
“Our country has many security issues, including the conflict in Rakhine State, so they should not be protesting like this,” said Daw Pa Pa Sein, a member of the Yadanabon University Teachers Union’s central committee.
“We also seek an increase in the education budget. But staging a protest on the campus is not the solution. It is disrupting classes,” Daw Pa Pa Sein said.
The Central Association of University Teachers Unions disagreed with the two Mandalay universities’ teachers and urged for talks between the government and student body to resolve the issue.
“Blaming the protesting students instead of offering guidance is a violation of the teachers’ duty. We urge the government and the responsible authorities to negotiate with the protesting students peacefully,” their statement reads.