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Cablegate: Funding Educational Opportunity for Opposition

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.




E.O. 12958: N/A

1. Summary: In three separate meetings in recent months,
democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi (ASSK) has raised the issue
of providing educational opportunity to opposition youth who
are denied the right to attend Burmese universities and
denied passports to travel abroad for study. She has
appealed for some way to provide "correspondence courses" so
that these youth can continue to work toward a degree at a
recognized institution of higher learning. Post endorses
this idea as being worthy of support and suggests Department
investigate a grant arrangement with a university or
education NGO to administer a correspondence program.

2. Apparently fearful of the political power of an organized
student body, which manifested itself in political uprisings
in 1988, 1990, 1994, and 1996, the military regime has
succeeded in effectively destroying Burma's university
system. Universities were closed for six out of the last ten
years. Campuses were relocated to distant suburbs so
students would have less time to congregate together. Now
"distance learning," the Ministry of Education's latest
affront to education, allows students to attend classes two
weeks a semester after months of "self study." At the same
time the regime degraded the university system, they built up
a system of degree institutions for the military, to which
their own children are ensured entrance.

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3. However, there is no place in either side of the two tier
system for political dissidents. Younger political prisoners
arrested in 1996 and recently released on the occasion of a
visit from a UN envoy have learned that they may not return
to their studies to complete their university degree.
(Several of them have been admitted to English classes at the
American Center free of charge to give them some possibility
for self-improvement.) Children of dissidents are also
denied places at university as punishment for their parents'
misdeeds. Former political prisoners are also denied
passports. They may not go abroad even if they had the
economic wherewithal to afford overseas study. (Oppression by
the regime ensures they do not.)

4. ASSK has asked us, if students may not go to the
university, to find a way to bring the university to them.
Post suggests the department investigate a grant to a
university or educational NGO to administer a program of
correspondence (not/not internet-based distance learning)
courses leading to an undergraduate degree at an accredited
institution for opposition-affiliated youth who are denied
other educational opportunities.

5. Post Public Affairs Section could assist the grant
program in the following ways:
-- assist program (or university) administrator with
identifying candidate students;
-- offer students use of the American Center Library and
reference service;
-- offer students limited use of personal computers to
complete assignments;
-- offer occasional writing labs and discussion sessions for
student participants;
-- facilitate mailing of course material and assignments via
diplomatic pouch.

6. Post estimates that the program may require a full-time
administrator at first, possibly dropping to half-time after
the program is established. If not resident in Rangoon, the
administrator would probably need to travel to Rangoon for
extended periods. Post estimates that perhaps five qualified
candidates could be found for the first semester, and
possibly more. They should be fully funded for at least a
half-time courseload. If it were possible to also fund a
small stipend, students could dispense with working and might
be able to handle a full courseload. Even $100 a month could
pay all living expenses. It would be desireable to secure
out-year funding, if possible, so that the course of study
would not be interrupted.

7. ASSK has also appealed to the British Embassy, which has
expressed interest in collaborating with Embassy Rangoon, in
the same way we have collaborated on other training programs.
They are seeking funding to sponsor two students. Their
political officer suggested that the Open University in
London might be able to tailor a course of study for the
Burmese students. Post would be open to any solution that
satisfied the need for higher education, whether it involves
a U.S. institution or an English one.

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