University of Yangon collaborating with international experts to establish a new Centre of Excellence on Water Studies


Do you have any idea when you first hear about the water studies? I am sure that you will be willing to know what the water studies is. So, let me introduce the general term of the water studies.

"Our State Counselor wants not only a center of excellence of water studies in Myanmar and also she wants to establish an Asian Water Hub in future"

Dr. Saw Yu May

What is a Water Studies?

In general, water studies is the study of natural water resources and its challenges and conducting research to support innovative scientific and technological solutions that ensure adequate supplies of clean water to protect people's health and livelihood, to protect and restore watersheds and aquatic ecosystems, and to strengthen our economy.

So, what are the opportunities relative to water studies in Myanmar?

As you have already known, Myanmar has successfully made a lot of collaboration with many international government agencies and organizations during these years. At the moment, the University of Yangon newly established the department of Environment and Water Studies to contribute to the capacity building needs in the Myanmar water and environmental sectors with the support of the NUFFIC program in March 2019. Over the coming months, the department is collaborating with renowned international academics from Sweden, U.S.A., Singapore and the Netherlands to design a new bachelor's program: namely, Water Studies which will be launched in December.

According to the interviewing result of the professors from the department, that program was advised to initiate by the State Counselor in one educational fair held in the University of Yangon in last September 2018.

Establishment of the Environment and Water Studies Department

In September 2018, the State Counselor guided the educational authorities to develop a course related to the water studies in one meeting which was held at the University of Yangon. Therefore, in March 2019, the environment and water studies department was newly established and started with four faculty members: professors from different departments. They are, (1) Professor Dr Seinn Lei Aye, (2) Associate Professor Dr Saw Yu May, (3) Associate Professor Dr Khin Lay Thwe and (4) Lecturer Dr Tin Moe Khine.

Their vision is to become a Center of Excellence in Water Studies and a leading scientific and educational resource on various aspects of natural resource and water management in Myanmar, through excellence in research, training, linking academia, fields of policy and practice, in active collaboration with relevant partners at home and abroad. Associate. Professor Dr Saw Yu May said, "Our State Counselor wants not only a center of excellence of water studies in Myanmar and also she wants to establish an Asian Water Hub in future".


State Counsellor emphasizes the importance of water studies at Yangon University - Myanmar Water Portal

3 Sep 18 - Myanmar State Counsellor Office (Official Facebook Page) - State Counsellor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi has urged the university's authorities to promote the law and water studies at the university in the conclusion of the meeting

What is the water studies applied by the University of Yangon?

Professor Dr Seinn Lei Aye explained that incoming December 2020, the environment and water studies department has planned to offer a bachelor program of Water studies and this study program will be the combination of both social and natural science. The program is a teaching and research parallel approach. This water studies will mainly focus on four areas such as;

  1. Water resource management
    • Water and wastewater treatment
    •  Water auditing and sustainability
    • Water and humanity (Intangible cultural heritage)
    • Water identification in Human culture
    • Water governance and policy
  2. Water Quality
  3. Water and climate change (effect of climate change in water)
  4. Water and energy

Under the water resource management category, there will be social sciences courses will be contained such as water and humanity, water identification in human culture, etc.

Associate professor Dr Saw Yu May also explained "Conservation of natural water resources cannot be done by only scientific facts and proofs, we have to deal with social cultures like water and humanity which will be the intangible cultural heritage".

Moreover, Professor Dr Seinn Lei Aye added that this water studies is considering to run with the interdisciplinary approach. As far as she has known, there is no university in Myanmar which offers that kind of approach; the combination of the natural and social science curriculum. Later on about 5 or 10 years, the department has a plan to expand and more focused on the curriculum development related to environmental issues.

According to the labour market research that they are currently carrying out, there will probably be another focus area of water studies to add such as Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) under the category of water resource management.

What is the difference between Water Studies and Water Engineering?

Professor Dr Seinn Lei Aye explained that these terms are not much different but water engineering prefers more in designing phase such as flow rate calculation, software running. Unlike the water engineering, this water studies program will run with the interdisciplinary approach (the combination of both natural and social science) focusing mainly on the process and operations, not on engineering design and calculation.

Why is water studies important?

Associate professor Dr Saw Yu May said that demand of needs of water knowledge is getting higher in Myanmar because Myanmar is very rich in water resources and even the water per capita is the second-highest in Asia after Bhutan. Depending on those resources, it is no doubt that Myanmar citizens can get many developments but on the other hand, there are also more challenges on how to maintain those resources in a sustainable approach. We need more water professionals although there are already courses of water engineering in other technological universities such as Yangon Technological University and Myanmar Maritime University etc.

Moreover, Professor Dr Seinn Lei Aye added that nowadays, Myanmar is the second-highest impact of climate change in the world. Despite Myanmar's water resources is the second richest in Asia, water distribution variation is so much different all around even in Myanmar and it is being more impacted because of climate change. In the mountains region and dry zone of Myanmar, they are facing challenges having access to water. It is important to consider both quantity and quality.

Another problem is that there is no sound database for water resources in Myanmar although there is only data in relative departments with their respective fields. Results of sample vary from one lab to another because of the differences in calibration of material, human resources, facilities and the use of methods. Therefore, the environment and water studies department aims to have sound water resources data for the whole country in that department by using GIS later on. Based on that database, other researches, management and socio-economic will be considered.

They are planning to have a national laboratory that can help in developing the policy and provide a standard for industries and later researches. To manage these well, professional human resource is more required. This is why water studies is very important in Myanmar.

Challenges in developing a BSc program

They are not worried about the interest of students but the one thing is not having a laboratory yet because they are just focusing on curriculum development at the moment and they cannot emphasize getting the laboratory. However, currently, they have a small plan to have apparatus and facilities shared with other departments for upcoming postgraduate diploma. According to the University's master plan, the department wants to launch in time on the day of 100th anniversary of the University of Yangon.

Curriculum Development Discussion with VU Amsterdam and The Water Agency
Curriculum Development Discussion with VU Amsterdam and The Water Agency

Training Programs

In their academic plan, there are three training programs which will be offered in the year 2020 and 2021.

In June, a full-time post-graduate diploma program in water studies will offer for 1 year. The curriculum for this program had been developed by the support of Central European University (CEU), Hungary. Now, they are waiting for permission. For this program, a total of 30 graduates from any university will be accepted. They must have good common in English because there will be one foreign professor from Central European University (CEU), Hungary and so, they have to take an entrance exam.

In December, there will be an offer for BSc (Water Studies) program with a total of 50 students. Curriculum development for this four-year BSc program is now designed by the support of the Ministry of Education, Myanmar. They have invited the international experts with the curriculum development fund for a total of six experts from USA, Sweden and Singapore and there will be two more experts from Northern Illinois University (NIU) and Central European University (CEU) with their fund. Moreover, according to the NUFFIC grant, one expert from VU Amsterdam will also take part as a co-designer.

In December 2021, there will be an offer for MSc (Water Studies) program. With the availability of supervised professors and lab facilities, 4 or 5 people who are qualified from the post-graduate diploma will be able to attend that master degree.


Myanmar is now a trend in water resources management and the stage of the need for more water professionals and thus, the main opportunity can attain from this water studies is getting the job opportunities. Since the curriculum will be developed according to the results of the labour market assessment and students will be taught with the need of the assessment result, students can apply directly the academic theories in every area of the country and, surely, they will get jobs in industries and government offices as well as in the international organizations and they will have a chance to get further scholarship program.

Written by Thandar (Yangon Technological University)

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