Abertay lends a hand to 'secret' EU hopeful

February 6, 2004

The University of Abertay Dundee is helping to rebuild the economy of a Lithuanian town that until recently had never appeared on the map because it housed a secret nuclear power station, writes Olga Wojtas.

During the Soviet era, the town of Visaginas was kept under wraps for reasons of national security. But the European Union has ordered that the "unsafe" reactor be closed down as a condition of Lithuania joining the EU in May, and the town now faces widespread unemployment for the first time in its history.

The UK's Department of Trade and Industry has commissioned Dundee Business School (DBS) at Abertay to help former scientists and technicians to set up new businesses and create alternative work. DBS is also encouraging Scottish companies to sponsor young Lithuanians to start their own businesses.

Abertay entrepreneurial expert Jim Paterson last week organised an international conference, "Dealing with the Nuclear Legacy", in the Lithuanian capital, Vilnius. He believes the Visaginas project could be a model for other parts of the new Europe.

"Entrepreneurs are absolutely essential in helping Lithuania adjust to life within the EU. Small businesses are the backbone of every western-style economy, as they provide the bulk of employment, services and wealth-creation," Mr Paterson said.

The Lithuanian government was placing great importance on re-educating a population that under the Communist system did not need to go out and find or create work, he said.

Mr Paterson has helped establish a course at Visaginas Polytechnic, based on similar successful programmes in the Dundee area, that allows people to learn about business creation at their own pace.

The flexible course, run in English, Lithuanian and Russian, has no set timescale or exams.

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