Myanmar’s first private university, founded by a lay Catholic, offers a 99 percent scholarship to its students.
The founder is a lay Catholic missionary, Joseph Win Hlaing Oo (47) who holds a Master's degree in Business Administration from Assumption University, Thailand.
He started the journey of the first private Catholic university by founding Joseph Education Institute (JEI) with capital money of Ks. 1,000,000 (US$ 500) on January 12, 2015, in Yangon, Myanmar.
He walked a hard journey to establish the so-called first private university, Joseph Education University (JEU), for the welfare of the lay Catholics and the country’s development to offer accessible, reliable, and global higher education in Myanmar.
After five years of the institute’s academic achievements, Cardinal Charles Bo of the Yangon Archdiocese canonically approved a private association of the Christian faithful on February 11, 2020.
Upon the meeting decision of the School Administrative Committee on May 29, 2020, JEI became JEU to expand the academic programs at the undergraduate and graduate levels, which was validated on June 1, 2020.
In Myanmar, lay Catholics get a rare chance to study Catholic theology. As if it is reserved for those who are trying to be priests because Catholic theology can be learned at the seminaries.
There are about 700,000 Catholics in Myanmar, but only about 1,000 priests have access to Catholic theology, and the rest have very little access.
"I am inspired that I must create a Catholic university for 700,000 Catholics to have access to Catholic education so that the mission of Christ can be sustained generation by generation," Joseph told RVA News.
When he founded the university, he faced many difficulties and challenges, especially the scarcity of qualified staff or professors, financial resources, and the setting up of the academic system of a university.
Currently, the university is run by local professors who have earned postgraduate degrees from international universities.
When it becomes an international university that can accept international students, the university will recruit foreign professors. They plan to make the university international in 2030.
Until now, the university has produced 585 graduated students with diploma degrees from the university. All of them were local people from different religions like Buddhism, Catholicism, Protestantism, and Islam.
A Karen Baptist Christian, Saw Kalu Moo (27), expressed, "The president of Joseph Education University allowed me to study Catholicism as I was eager to study Christian Studies. The institution is supporting me with the feeling of being one in Christ."
JEU produced about 500 alumni from the Theology subject.
The expansion of the university from Joseph Education Institute on June 1, 2020, coincided with the lockdown of the global pandemic in Myanmar.
The pandemic created a huge barrier to the development of the university and academic programs. Until now, the university has been going via virtual classes.
The university offers scholarships to 342 students out of 385. It means 99% of students received scholarships.
Regarding postgraduate or master’s degree programs, JEU currently has three business and financial-related degrees that are available for interested candidates. The university is planning to launch a Master’s degree in Catholic Theology, majoring in Missiology, in 2025.
An alumnus, Joseph Myat Soe Latt (53), a Catholic from Myitkyina, commended, "JEU is the first Catholic University in Myanmar where all students get full scholarships and Catholic theology education in the Myanmar language."
Myat Soe Latt earned a Diploma in Catholic Theology from Joseph Education University, and he is now a second-year student continuing his bachelor of arts in Catholic Theology at the university.
Joseph recalled his happiest moments "on receiving the approval letter of his scholarship proposal to funding agencies, receiving the students’ application forms to the university, and celebrating the graduation ceremony of students."
The university's current position was assisted by Cardinal Bo, Archbishop of the Yangon Archdiocese.
The prelate provided him with whatever he requested for students’ scholarships and university development.
As a foresighted person, Joseph has planned to make more investments in enhancing teaching quality and administrative quality, expanding the university campuses in states and regions outside Yangon and offering many academic degrees.
He is planning to expand international academic programs and accept international students, build collaboration with other foreign and domestic universities, strengthen alumni networks, and enlist the university in the global rank.
Now the Church is in the Synodal process and giving the laity opportunities to be empowered.
The layman-founded university’s existence is the front-runner of the synodal process.
Ninety-nine percent of the church population is the laity, and they must be empowered to collaborate and cooperate with bishops and priests in the mission of the Church.
Joseph said, "I founded this university to offer Catholic theology, which was taught only clerical education, to build up a synodal church in Myanmar."
If laypeople have easy access to Catholic theological studies, the Church's inherited mission from Jesus will grow steadily from secret to public, generation by generation.
"I would rather say my university (Diploma and Bachelor of Arts in Catholic Theology for Laypeople Program) is the morning star of the synodal process because the life of the Church is insipid without the participation of laypeople in the mission of the Church," he added.
During this time of difficulties and uncertainty, many admitted students could not attend their virtual classes at the university due to the internet cutoff in some parts of Myanmar.
Joseph was born in Magwe, Myanmar, in 1975 to John Uk Thang and Monica Sui Baw as the eldest son and belongs to the Lutuv tribe of Chin, with three boys and three girls in the family.
He has been an author since 1999 and has published 15 books. He is the author and publisher of the Gloria Journal, published in Myanmar.
He is the founding director of the Community Agency for Rural Development (CAD), which has been a local NGO since 2004.
Currently, he is translating the Catholic Bible into his native Lutuv dialect, one of the Chin dialects.
Radio Veritas Asia (RVA), a media platform of the Catholic Church, aims to share Christ. RVA started in 1969 as a continental Catholic radio station to serve Asian countries in their respective local language, thus earning the tag “the Voice of Asian Christianity.” Responding to the emerging context, RVA embraced media platforms to connect with the global Asian audience via its 21 language websites and various social media platforms.