November 26, 1999

Ten years ago, the Berlin Wall was breached. A week later came the Czech and Slovak "Velvet Revolution". Central and Eastern Europe, soon joined by states of the defunct Soviet Union, embarked on democratisation and market economics.

Hundreds of academics from Western Europe and North America flooded eastward to help. A handful ended up as political advisers. But most are teaching "western" skills under international programmes, such as the European Union's Tacis, Phare and Tempus.

Stanislaw Gomulka, reader in economics at the London School of Economics, said:

"The expectation was that transition would be fast and that as a result of liberalisation and privatisation, economic recovery would start soon and remove inefficiencies and shortages."

Transition was intended also in higher education, Dr Gomulka said. "The academics saw their role as transforming teaching and research, particularly in business studies, banking and management."

The results have been patchy. Reform of university teaching has been, Dr Gomulka said, an "unquestionable success - particularly in Central Europe".

Further east, things are problematic. Kingston University is involved in promoting business and management studies in Belarus. Facilitator Alan Flowers, a physicist, said the words are an anathema and courses are billed as "economics".

But business climates are different. Simon Horsman, senior lecturer in business at Coventry University, which worked on a Tacis management project in Samarkand, Uzbekistan, said: "If there's no rule of law, there's no point learning to draw a balance sheet."

Taxation levels are "not perceived as legitimate", he said, and fear of the mafia is driving capital abroad. Most students want to work for foreign companies or projects, where pay levels are higher, making money quickly and getting it abroad. This leads to "project hopping" - locals trained in western skills under one scheme have no wish to pass them on. Instead, they transfer to another project ... until the longed-for western job arrives.

Vera Rich

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