Name : Eugene Quah
Position : Chief Executive Officer of EDULINK
When did you first visit Myanmar and what was your impression back then?
I have been interested in Myanmar since 2002 and I first visited as a tourist in January 2007. I became enchanted by this beautiful country which was quite unlike any other I had visited. The people were very kind and friendly and I made many friends whom I still keep in touch with today. I also remember that SIM cards cost $3,000, foreigners were not such a common sight and it only took 15 minutes to travel anywhere in Yangon. I left Myanmar with a strong desire to return, so I did, in 2008. And here I am today.
What do you think of Myanmar now?
Myanmar feels different now. The country has undergone significant change: politically, economically and socially. My own life has also changed just as much, both professionally and personally. When I first came to Myanmar, I was a tourist and fascinated by its magic and mystery, and baffled by its distorted economy. My experience was quite different when I started doing legal consultancy work and then business. Working and doing business in Myanmar teaches you a lot about patience and adapting to change – there’s never a dull day. I am happy to see most of the changes in Myanmar. I am optimistic about the country’s long-term future. I am looking forward to seeing the country develop more, but I also hope it manages to preserve its heritage, environment, traditions and culture that give it such a unique character.
What inspired you to start EDULINK?
I have always been passionate about education. Education can change people’s lives and empowers them to change the lives of many others. When I moved to Myanmar I noticed that people had limited access to highquality education, and to information and advice about studying overseas. I thought that this would be a good opportunity to establish a business that provides a study abroad service coupled with professional English language training – and EDULINK was born. People often ask why I decided on English language training. The reason is because English opens so many doors for people: from helping them to succeed in their studies, to making them more employable and generating more business opportunities.
What are your primary responsibilities?
As the CEO my responsibility is to craft the vision, formulate the strategy and lead the team to implement it effectively. It is also my responsibility to ensure that our team delivers results that are of real value to our customers. I am happy to have a super team which does a great job of this.
What are the unique points of EDULINK?
When I started EDULINK our primary focus was on English language training with professionally qualified native speakers of English, and a study abroad service focusing exclusively on Australian universities. We plan to grow and to diversify, leveraging our networks, our brand and our understanding of the market to focus on productivity and industry needs, without compromising on quality. When you choose EDULINK you arenot just buying certificates, you are making a valuable investment in your career and business prospects, or investing in your team’s capacity to achieve results. People often ask why we are expensive, and the reason is because we want to deliver high quality and great results and that cannot be done cheaply. There are plenty of cheaper alternatives around, but my point of view is, if you care about your investment of your time and money in your future, then you should choose nothing but the best.
How do you train your teachers and staff to control the quality of EDULINK?
To deliver a high quality service we need to make sure we have the right people working together effectively. We have some in-house training initiatives, like workshops and on-the-job training and we also provide our employees with access to online programs. However we believe that in our industry, talent and attitude are just as – perhaps even more – important. In a service industry it’s important that each team member takes the time to understand our customers’ needs and genuinely cares about them. It’s important that they share our passion for quality and make every effort to help our customers achieve success. After all, that’s why we’re here.
Please explain more about the curriculum you are adopting.
The curriculum and materials we use depends on what the customer needs. At the moment in our general English proficiency programs we use the Global textbook series. We supplement this with other materials, activities and practice sessions according to what is most useful for the students. Of course, we use other materials for IELTS exam preparation, business English and English for other purposes such as legal English. Some of these materials are quite common and are used by other training providers. However we do not think this is an issue. After all, you can have the same car and same map but your driver can make a big difference to your journey and perhaps even whether you get there. You may notice that our programs are often also longer in duration than other providers. For example, each level of our general English program comprises 160 hours of lessons, whereas other providers deliver the same curriculum over 60 to 120 hours. Of course, this is not because you learn slower at EDULINK but because we take care to ensure that our customers get the results that they expect and deserve.
What programs does EDULINK offer currently?
We want to help people with more than just with English. We want to equip them with internationalstandard with education and skills that will make a real difference. We are therefore broadening our range of services and plan to deliver higher education and vocational training programs in Myanmar. This year we also started working with universities from countries other than Australia, including the UK, US, Singapore and Thailand. We are excited about this, and we hope that our customers are, too.
What is the current student statistics?
To date, EDULINK has helped more than 9,000 people in Myanmar to improve their English, including 400 on scholarship.
What is your target market segment?
People who are willing to invest in high quality to improve their career and business prospects, University students, working adults and business people. However we have a diverse alumni network, with people from all walks of life, from politicians and ministers to successful business leaders and entrepreneurs, soldiers, lawyers and journalists. We also have corporate clients in the private sector from various industries, as well as international organizations and government. Our team enjoys having the opportunity to work with so many interesting people, and to see the impact that we can have on their lives. That is what makes our experience at EDULINK so rewarding.
What are the long term objectives of EDULINK?
Our core offering will continue to be high-quality education and training, focusing on productivity and industry needs. The general direction we are taking is higher education and vocational education and training, but the exact shape and form will depend on the regulatory framework for education and training. At the moment, the law is unclear and uncertain, and this makes it difficult to make some strategic business decisions.
What, in your opinion, is the current state of the Myanmar’s education sector?
At the moment there is no proper regulatory framework to protect customers, ensure standards or to map out qualifications. Although there are some good education and training providers out, there is nothing stopping others from printing certificates and calling them diplomas and degrees. The gemstone industry provides a useful analogy. Let’s say that the law says that all gemstones must be certified. The certificate must specify the type of stone, its origin, color, grade, clarity and any treatment. There are harsh penalties for noncompliance and the law is enforced effectively. In this environment, every customer knows they are paying for, and a merchant can sell good stones at a good price. In contrast, imagine there was no law, or if the law was not enforced effectively. Sellers could take advantage of naive customers, selling them low-quality stones at a high price, or perhaps even fake stones. In the end, it would be harder for people to buy and sell highquality stones at prices that would be worthwhile for the buyers and sellers. High-quality providers need a good government policy that is enforced effectively. We need a meaningful qualifications framework to give real meaning to the labels diploma, bachelor’s degree and master’s degree, and to put an end to diploma mills. This is important for students and for industry. I hope that the government will create an ecosystem that fosters healthy competition in the industry, protects students and ensures that they get the value that they pay for.
From a business standpoint, what do you feel are the biggest challenge facing you and your team in Myanmar in next 1-3 years?
We anticipate that we will face many of the same challenges as other businesses in Myanmar, such as high property prices and recruiting and retaining top talent. Property prices in Myanmar are extremely high and unfortunately this impacts on all stakeholders. We are hoping that over the next few years’ property prices will drop so that we can make our services more accessible and to invest more in innovation and our employees, ultimately, to deliver greater value to our customers for less. The competition for talent is also challenging, but perhaps it will be a little less difficult for us, as we have ready access to a pool of educated English speakers. For the education and training industry specifically, we need to see a flourishing industry so that people and companies who invest in high-quality education and training can get a return on their investment. It is also difficult for us to make some strategic and marketing decisions without having a better understanding of the government’s economic policy and priorities. For example, if we knew that the government will open up and promote the mining industry in 2018, then we might consider investing resources to deliver mining engineering programs, as well as vocational safety training programs. As I said before, it is also challenging and risky for us to grow unless we have a clear, enabling regulatory framework that is enforced effectively. Hence these challenges are not insurmountable for us. Although sometimes it feels like we are trekking uphill in a fog, I believe we will reach the top of the mountain and that the journey is worth it. As they say, if it was easy, everyone would be doing it.
What advice would you give to someone who is looking up to start up a business and invest in Myanmar?
A good understanding of the political and economic landscape is important so that you can make informed decisions about what to do and how to do it and what not to do. A good local partner can also add a lot of value, too, whether by helping to navigate local customs and culture, helping to give credibility, or supporting your venture with valuable networks and relationships. In Myanmar you cannot do everything by yourself. I am happy to share what has probably been the most valuable advice I have received. In my early days, a friend of mine told me, “Eugene, in Burma, you must make friends and you must keep them.” I didn’t think very much of it then, but over time I have come to appreciate how important friends are for achieving success in business and enjoying it.