Myanmar today, opportunities tomorrow!

William Prieto-Parra, The international Manager at BESA, attended a conference organised by DIT on the business opportunities in Myanmar for UK companies in the sectors of Infrastructure, Health and Education.

This is a market that has increasing potential for UK education suppliers.

Myanmar was long seen as a lost state while under the rule of a repressive military junta from 1962 to 2011. Hardly any dissent was allowed, highlighted by the house arrest of opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who was accused gross human rights abuses. The move led to international censure and sanctions.

Burma, as it was then known, was part of the British Empire from 1886 up until its independence in 1948. At the time, Burma was seen as one of the most prosperous markets in Asia and a leading economy in the region. However, in 1962 when the military junta took over, Burma became Myanmar. The country’s economic future and stance in the Asian market soon disappeared.

Myanmar was closed to the international market for around 50 years. In 1990, the opposition National League for Democracy (NLD) won a landslide victory in the elections. However, the junta ignored the results and it was not until 2011 that military handed over power to a civilian government. In 2015, the NLD led by Aung San Suu Kyi won enough seats to form the first democratic government in the country for decades but Peace Nobel laureate Aung San Suu was barred by the constitution from becoming president. Kyi Htin Kyaw was hence sworn in as president in March 2016.

Since the ease of the junta’s power, the government has introduced new reforms. Myanmar has unblocked international news websites and YouTube. In 2012, it lifted pre-publication censorship for the press and allowed privately-owned daily newspapers to publish. The state still controls the main broadcasters and publications.


  • Population: 51 million
  • Currency: Kyat
  • 7.5% GDP
  • GDP per capita: $100
  • Area: 676,552 sq. km
  • Major language: Burmese (with other minority languages)
  • Major religions: Buddhism
  • Life expectancy: 64 years (men), 68 years (women)
  • IMF prediction: 20% growing economy by 2020

Nowadays, Myanmar is an exciting market in the region. It is geographically well positioned, bordering 33% of the world population and five other markets: China, Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, Bangladesh and India. It has an estimated £20billion investment infrastructure over the next 20 years.

Myanmar Pros & Cons


  • Investment into education, energy, infrastructure and banking
  • Around nine million students
  • Positive changes made to the press and broadcast media
  • No anti-investment groups
  • Some economic sanctions lifted
  • Economy quadrupling by 2020
  • Largest importers of Scottish malt whiskey
  • Historic UK-Myanmar connection
  • Huge untapped potential
  • Strong education links with the UK
  • High calibre business community
  • English is the second official language


  • Some US sanctions still to be lifted
  • A developing political situation with some bureaucracy
  • Closed for so many years, so few experts
  • Germans, Japanese and French already looking in the region
  • Only 30% of the population have access to electricity
  • Privileges given to Asian countries; however, lots of opportunities to non-Asian countries
  • Difficulty in finding the right partner
  • Investment from the UK low at the moment

Areas of Educational Importance and Challenge for the Myanmar Government:

  • EY and Kindergarten
  • Basic Education (Assessment and Inclusion)
  • Curriculum
  • Teacher training
  • Alternative Education
  • Tech and Vocational training
  • Higher Education
  • School Management
  • Accreditation and Quality control (private and State schools)

Myanmar MoE and its government are passing new education laws to address the above nine challenging areas and hope to deliver results with their five-year education plan (2016-2021).

At HE education level, the government see TVET as being of paramount importance and believe their young ‘good labour force’ will be the key driver in their country’s economy. MoE is looking to cooperate with the UK to improve the Vocational Skills of their labour force. Their biggest challenge is teacher training, which includes CPD, ICT and ELT.

Sixty years ago, Myanmar was one of the richest countries in South East Asia. Now, after 50 years of isolation, the country is undergoing a political and economic transformation. Myanmar is catching up on decades of underdevelopment and its economy is experiencing unprecedented growth – which is predicted to quadruple by 2030.

This is an exciting time for UK companies to develop business opportunities in Myanmar.