Soros eyes North Korea

March 26, 1999


The George Soros-backed Central European University in Budapest is hoping to build on links forged with North Korea to offer masters' courses in economics and international relations to students from the communist state.

The success last year of a six-month course in western economics for a group of business managers from North Korea's Rajin-Sonbong free trade zone opened the way for further cooperation.

Seven North Koreans studied in Budapest under the schme, supported by the United Nations Development Programme. The project took months of delicate negotiations to set up, said Sophie Howlett, CEU director of external programmes, during a visit to Moscow's Schola '99 education fair last month.

Other North Koreans followed similar tailored courses in micro and macroeconomics at universities in Canberra and Thailand.

The success of the experimental courses, known as the International Cooperation Programme, led to a groundbreaking summer school in the North Korean capital Pyongyang last August, funded by an Pounds 18,000 grant from Soros Open Society Institute.

More than 20 postgraduate students, university teachers, free trade zone managers, journalists and civil servants took courses in management, business law, economics and English. Student testing and selection was undertaken by CEU executive vice-president Istvan Telpan in an initial visit.

Working with officials from a country still locked in cold war politics had been fraught, but offered rich rewards, Dr Howlett said. There had been an attempt to force two extra students on to the CEU's six-month sub-masters-level course, raising suspicion that they were secret police, but this evaporated as understanding grew, she said.

The success of the Budapestcourse for business managers from Rajin Sonbong, where North Korea cooperates with China and Russia in a free trade zone, laid the foundations for a more open summer school. The range of students was wider and the atmosphere more relaxed.

A change in the political climate in North Korea, which has been attacked for a famine cover-up and alleged spy missions in South Korea, meant plans for further programmes were suspended.

Dr Howlett said: "The CEU still hopes that eventually it will be able to offer full MA courses to the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, but it will take time."

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