Water Research Laboratory

UNSW building capacity in Myanmar

Late last year, GWI hosted six engineers from the Myanmar Government at the UNSW Water Research Laboratory, where they completed an intense two weeks of professional development on physical and numerical hydraulic modelling. The 2016 visit was the most recent face-to-face engagement in a collaboration between UNSW Engineering and Myanmar dating back to 2013, when the Faculty began a relationship with Myanmar’s preeminent engineering university—Yangon Technological University (YTU).UNSW and YTU representatives meet in Myanmar

In terms of its water priorities, Myanmar faces multiple challenges which threaten its freshwater resources. Extreme weather events such as droughts and cyclones, along with allocation and sanitation issues, are affecting people and ecosystems alike.  UNSW and YTU have prioritised collaboration on water and wastewater treatment, natural resource extraction and its impacts, renewable and remote area energy systems, and urban planning, to help mitigate these existing issues and better prepare for the future.

GWI’s multi-disciplinary expertise is also assisting with capacity-building in an institutional sense. Since the inception of a civilian government early last year, Myanmar’s education system has undergone a considerable change and universities are now overseen by the Ministry of Education, rather than by different ministries depending on the specialisation of the university.  After the previous military regime closed the YTU campus to teaching, it was permitted to resume enrolling Bachelor of Engineering students in 2012—meaning that in 2018, YTU will have its first BE graduates for 20 years.

“Universities are learning about institutional autonomy, and the freedoms and responsibilities that go with it,” said Dr Iain Skinner, Senior Lecturer at the UNSW School of Electrical Engineering and Telecommunications.

UNSW and YTU have prioritised collaboration on water and wastewater treatment, natural resource extraction and its impacts, renewable and remote area energy systems, and urban planning

UNSW and YTU have prioritised collaboration on water and wastewater treatment, natural resource extraction and its impacts, renewable and remote area energy systems, and urban planning

“Imagine the excitement and challenge that comes with introducing a whole new set of degree programs from scratch, when there is very little institutional experience in teaching.  How do you supervise your first student project when your boss has not supervised one either?” said Dr Skinner.

The Engineering Faculty is assisting Myanmar in its quest to join the Washington Accord, an international accreditation agreement for professional engineering academic degrees. UNSW staff have also run workshops on electrical power technologies and water treatment, and this year, two staff members from YTU will begin PhD projects at UNSW.

GWI works closely with the Australian Government on capacity-building initiatives in Myanmar, and through the New Colombo Plan, preparation is currently underway for the first UNSW undergraduates to visit YTU for short-term projects in January 2018.