In 1996 I was invited by the Council of the Baltic Sea States to chair a committee of Western European political scientists, economists and lawyers charged with the task of inspecting and evaluating a unique academic initiative, in which Council members themselves and the European Union had invested large sums of money. The recipient of this largesse was EuroFaculty, which had been established some three years previously with a singular remit: to reform the teaching of law, political science and economics (which included business and management) in the newly independent states of Lithuania, Estonia and Latvia.
I must confess that I had not previously heard of EuroFaculty, about which practically no one in academia in the UK seemed to know anything. In fact, its labours were to play a pivotal role in the reinvigoration of the university teaching of humanities and social sciences in these countries, and it has had an impact that, I think, could hardly have been imagined when the initiative was first launched.
The problem that EuroFaculty was established to solve stemmed from the downfall of the Soviet empire and, more specifically, from the desire of the German government, and of Hans-Dietrich Genscher, its foreign minister at the time, to draw Lithuania, Estonia and Latvia into the ambit of the EU. Recognising the need for a great many reforms in the way these countries conducted themselves, Genscher looked to their universities to provide the required professional leadership, but it was obvious that nothing could be expected from this direction unless and until the universities were themselves overhauled. EuroFaculty was not the only initiative launched with this end in view, but it was the most internationally focused of these efforts, and it was the most successful.
It is difficult to imagine now the parlous state of the non-technical universities and university departments that the Soviets left behind. In Riga, my committee felt reassured that peer review of teaching had always taken place, until a politics instructor took us aside and explained that the sole object of that exercise had been to make sure that the pedagogy was exclusively Marxist. In Tartu in southern Estonia, a deputation begged us to intercede with Brussels and procure a supply of chalk for the blackboards. What struck us most of all was the sheer irrelevance of the material, which was taught for the most part by Soviet-trained academics and Communist Party hacks. We recommended that wherever possible these worthies should be paid to not come to work, while EuroFaculty, using Western-trained academics, educated and nurtured a younger generation of scholars. The recommendation was accepted and, by and large, it worked.
Of the three directors of EuroFaculty, the Danish economist Gustav Kristensen, the author of this volume, was the last, serving from 2001 until the project was honourably terminated four years later. His history may strike some as over-anecdotal, but its great strength lies in its author's determination to tell the story "warts and all". Among the difficulties that the project overcame was the intense rivalry that existed between the Baltic states, Swedish suspicions of German intentions, constant bickering among the participating Western nations and the mind-numbing bureaucracy that EU sponsorship imposed on all our efforts.
Although individual Brits contributed to and worked within EuroFaculty, the official British financial contribution was derisory. While it wasted vast amounts of British taxpayers' money on corrupt Third World regimes, the Blair government supported just two EuroFaculty lecturers - and their funding was peremptorily withdrawn in 2002, leaving the Danes and the Norwegians to pick up the bill. Kristensen faithfully chronicles this betrayal but stops short of calling it disgraceful and short-sighted, which I'm afraid it was.
Born into a Dream: EuroFaculty and the Council of the Baltic Sea States
By Gustav N. Kristensen. Berliner Wissenschafts-Verlag 516pp, €59.00. ISBN 9783830517696. Published 1 May 2010