Center receives $9.5 million to assist Ukrainian business

Nathan Hall

The University Center for Nations in Transition has received a $9.5 million grant that will be used to train Ukrainians interested in learning Western-style business practices over the next five years.

The Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs’ center is considered a leader in a new consortium of U.S. and Polish academic institutions working to improve business education in Ukraine.

The syndicate is the second phase of a loose collaboration involving more than 50 Ukrainian universities. The last project lasted more than three years and used approximately 100 faculty members from several Minnesota colleges. This first of a two-phase program was sponsored with $5 million acquired from the U.S. Agency for International Development.

“I would venture to say this is one of the most successful projects of its kind in Eastern Europe to date,” said William A. Estrem, an associate business professor at the University of St. Thomas. Estrem has made several trips to Ukraine in which he taught at two summer institutes, conducted several weekend workshops and supervised book distribution.

“It’s been quite a challenge helping the Ukraine adjust from a command economy into a market economy,” University rhetoric professor Victoria Mikelonis said. Mikelonis, who helped Estrem write the grant, is currently writing a book about her experiences teaching in Ukraine.

Mikelonis shuttled back and forth between Minnesota and Ukraine from January 1999 until April 2000.

“We’ve worked with over 4,600 faculty and 1,900 administrators to help them design their own degrees,” Mikelonis said. “In their old system they never had grad school or any sort of post-diploma studies.”

“These schools used to teach Marx-style courses, but now that the government subsidies have been cut, they have to learn how to survive in a free market,” said John Radzilowski, a program associate at the Center for Nations in Transition. “We show them case studies, demonstrate to them how to recruit students and then help graduates find jobs.”

In 2000, the center also completed a research program titled “Strengthening business contributions to sustainable development in Central and Eastern Europe.” This research was financed by contributions from the Charles Mott and Rockefeller foundations.

The center has been working with the Humphrey Institute since the late 1980s on researching and developing similar educational activities in Central and Eastern European countries, such as Poland and Ukraine, according to the center’s Web site.

Mikelonis said Ukraine still has a lot of work to do, even though it is receiving assistance.

“(Ukraine is) very divided because the eastern region is mainly ethnic Russians, because Stalin, at one point, moved seven million peasants there during a particularly severe drought, whereas the West is still mainly native Ukrainian,” Mikelonis said. “We need to see some unity here. They need to pull together in order to move forward.”

Mikelonis described her unique experience as “team teaching,” since her English was translated into Polish first and then into the Ukrainian dialect or Russian.

“The Polish are way ahead of the curve and have gone through a lot of this already,” Radzilowski said. “They are successful enough now that they can help us and have become a great source of hope for the Ukrainians as well.”

Radzilowski said because Poland’s economy is still much more robust, many Ukrainians still emigrate there so often that the European Union is considering halting the flow.

In 1999, the Carlson School of Management established a joint-degree program with the Warsaw School of Economics for their first executive master of business administration program. In 2000, the Humphrey Institute started its first double-degree program in business and public management at Olztyn University in Poland.

“What we did was to disseminate innovations from other countries and then help these people adapt so that they might better meet their needs,” Mikelonis said. “We’ve helped them change their curriculum, develop new revenue streams and instill an entrepreneurial spirit. We ourselves aren’t changing the face of their universities – we’re just taking in some ideas and letting them run with it.”

Radzilowski said the center is committed to letting Ukrainians create their own system of accredited peer review.

Mikelonis said she perceives the Ukrainian goal of success as noticeably different from the United States’.

“The Ukrainians are shooting for a system much closer to Scandinavia rather than the U.S.,” Mikelonis said. “They may adopt some of our free-market practices, but they still want a strong safety net behind it.”

Radzilowski said, “We interact mainly with the Ministry of Education, who set standards for almost everything. They run everything but are starting to relinquish some of that control.”

Radzilowski said the Ukrainian economy is still not very good.

“There’s a staggering amount of corruption, high unemployment levels and there’s a heavy organized crime element Ö but we’re trying to prove that principles, like being honest, is better in the long run.”

Radzilowski said newfound affluence in places like Kiev, Ukraine, is proof that many strides have been made in Eastern European countries.

“We’ve got a great track record of success in over seven countries so far,” Radzilowski said. “We’ve got a wealth of experience and we just want to share that.”

Nathan Hall welcomes comments at [email protected]