Partnership between BFH-HAFL, Yezin Agricultural University and Helvetas Myanmar

11.12.2020 A partnership between BFH-HAFL, Yezin Agricultural University and Helvetas Myanmar is a win-win for local development and the broader research community.

“As the COVID-19 pandemic calls on development organisations like Helvetas to ensure linkage between short-term emergency responses to the economic impacts of the pandemic and long-term development practices, projects that empower local actors are absolutely critical. By working together with BFH-HAFL and Yezin University, we’re able to build sustained local capacity and empower researchers in Myanmar to apply global best practices considering the local context.“

Peter Schmidt, Helvetas Myanmar Country Director

The collaboration between BFH-HAFL and Yezin Agricultural University (YAU) started in 2015 with the visit of BFH-HAFL professors to discuss the potential partnership and present BFH-HAFL student-centred approaches, such as Problem-Based Learning (PBL). Shortly after, on request of the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC)/Embassy of Switzerland in Myanmar, a fact-finding mission was arranged with the assistance of Helvetas Myanmar under the Gulf of Mottama Project (GoMP), a project implemented by Helvetas Myanmar and funded by SDC that promotes sustainable use of the wetland area for the benefit of community livelihoods and conservation of coastal natural resources. This project started in 2015 and is now in its second phase, which will be completed by the end of 2021. At this stage it is foreseen that it will be followed by a three-year exit phase.

timeline yau project Enlarge image

“For SDC the objectives of the GoMP project are two-fold,” says Moe Moe Than Win, Senior National Program Officer, Embassy of Switzerland in Myanmar: “it aims at building a structure, while facilitating and contributing to the conservation of biodiversity. By integrating the different components of the project, including the partnership between YAU and BFH-HAFL, we have increased the momentum of the impact on the ground”.

Based on the positive outcome of both missions, the two universities signed a two-year partnership agreement in July 2016. The core principles of the agreement were:

  • To support YAU staff through a scholarship programme for young YAU staff to study at BFH-HAFL;
  • To assist YAU in the elaboration of student-centred learning and competence-oriented exam methodologies and corresponding revision of curricula;
  • To support the exchange of students from BFH-HAFL/YAU with defined BSc/MSc theses in the GoMP framework;
  • To facilitate joint research for development projects through international competitive bidding.

The programme consists of YAU students traveling to Switzerland first for one year, during which they complete their course work and design their MSc thesis, along with a principal advisor from BFH-HAFL. Then, the students travel back to Myanmar to do the fieldwork for their thesis on the GoMP activities, assisted by Helvetas Myanmar and the GoMP staff, and finally come to Switzerland a second time to analyse their data, write up the thesis and defend it.

Student tandems at the heart of capacity development

According to His Excellency, Swiss Ambassador in Myanmar Tim Enderlin, “Switzerland believes that this partnership allows on the one hand Swiss students to get exposure to the problems and challenges of farmers in a developing country such as Myanmar. On the other hand, and by pairing them with students from YAU, it allows for a cross-learning experience, as students from Myanmar get the opportunity to experience different teaching methods, such as problem-based learning that are not yet being used much at YAU.”

Benjamin Jungblut Enlarge image
For Benjamin Jungblut (on the left) "it was intense and fascinating to see the process through which the farmers’ and fishers’ needs were translated into policies that would respect the national rules and regulations while reflecting the frameworks of implementors and donors."

“It is encouraging to see how a student, through her thesis work, accumulated knowledge and skills on rice cropping systems not only at global level, but really down to the specific field reality in Gulf of Mottama,” says Urs Scheidegger, previous Head of Master Studies at BFH-HAFL until January 2020.
According to Alessandra Giuliani, the BHF-HAFL head of the project based in Myanmar since the project started, it is imperative that students come prepared for the field work. She argues that “sometimes the Myanmar students studying at BFH-HAFL struggle with the new teaching and learning approaches. Having BFH-HAFL students learning alongside them can provide much needed support. In return, their experience shared with the BFH-HAFL students during field work in Myanmar is very precious. Having been based in Myanmar for the past 4 years, and living at the intersection of the two cultures, I understand the value that this programme is creating. I have formed a truly personal connection to the exchange programme and the students involved: developing friendships and building bridges across the two cultures is an integral part of it!”

No No Aung from Myanmar got her master’s degree at BFH-HAFL specialized in Sustainable Production System in 2019. Enlarge image
No No Aung from Myanmar got her master’s degree at BFH-HAFL specialized in Sustainable Production System in 2019.

Jos van der Zanden, the Gulf of Mottama Chief Technical Advisor  at Helvetas Myanmar, adds: “the year that students from Yezin spend learning at BFH-HAFL in Switzerland is very valuable – they learn a lot about improved research methods, and then come prepared for their field assignments on the Gulf of Mottama Project (GoMP). Before students begin to work on the project we carefully discuss their strengths and interests – what they would like to research and where their academic interests are, as well as what the current tasks and needs are for the Helvetas team working in the Gulf of Mottama. It’s really a unique combination from both sides that brings the most value out of the student work. 
To give you an example of a field assignment, we’ve had students working on the development of our Greenway App, a mobile application that empowers farmers in Myanmar to ensure they can maximise their production by providing them with updated technical agricultural production and market information. Based on the data they put into the app they can perform a cost-benefit analysis on their farm. This app is a way for us to empower the farmers, as well as a Monitoring and Evaluation tool for us to assess the impact of our work on the local community. In the past, students helped shape the development of the app by interviewing farmers and conducting focus groups with the farmers to discover more about their digital needs and their ability to leverage this technology. Soe Khaing, a current student within the programme, continues to work on this app, supporting the roll-out efforts.”

Seeing results and looking forward to the next steps

Both the BFH-HAFL team and their YAU counterparts feel that the project is delivering on the objectives that were defined as part of the initial agreements. “Our partnership with BFH-HAFL and GoMP/ Helvetas has enabled many of our students to grow both academically and professionally. They not only learned new techniques and approaches, but were also able to apply themselves at higher professional levels, and were promoted to Assistant Lecturer positions at YAU,” says Dr Nang Hseng Hom, YAU Rector. 

For Helvetas Myanmar this has also been “a win-win situation,” says Jos, “it’s great to have students from both universities to support our project work, and I see the value that students get out of this experience. I think it’s a wonderful opportunity for the students to experience another culture, which then enables them to jump-start their future careers. I went through a similar experience during my Masters studies at Wageningen University and know first-hand how these experiences can expand the students’ skills and kick-start their future careers”. 

Markus Buerli, Deputy Head of Cooperation, Embassy of Switzerland in Myanmar from 2016 to 2020, also sees the long-term impact of the project: “SDC has been supporting this collaboration between BFH-HAFL and YAU from the beginning. While development projects have a start and end – we are convinced that such partnerships between universities will last beyond the SDC support.”

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Category: Research, Studies