Faculty secure Ukraine’s free market

by Jake Kapsner

To avoid a repeat of Russia’s ruinous jump into capitalism, faculty at Ukrainian universities are borrowing brainpower from the University to make sure their transition is a smooth one.
A recent $5 million grant from the U.S. Agency for International Development in Washington, D.C. to the Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs’ Center for Nations in Transition paved the path for the three-year project.
“The objective is to strengthen and empower Ukrainian universities to offer contemporary Western management education,” said Randy Zimmermann, associate director of the transition center.
As a satellite of the former Soviet Union, the Ukraine’s business outlook didn’t include competition, Zimmermann said. “It was a central economy run by bureaucrats out of Moscow, who told Ukrainians how much and what to produce.”
With the Russian economy stumbling since the nation’s breakup in 1991, its border countries have had a tough time shedding communist influences. Comparatively, former Soviet bloc countries further west have moved towards a market economy with greater ease, said John Fossum, a transition team member and professor at the Curtis L. Carlson School of Management.
Some of those countries — Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria and Poland — have received ongoing aid from the Humphrey Institute’s Center for Nations in Transition for environmental and economic initiatives since 1992.
“I don’t think there’s another American university that is so deeply involved — not only in one country, but in several central and east European countries,” said Zbigniew Bochniarz, transition center director.
Bochniarz helped found a similar project in Poland at the University of Olsytn and Warsaw School of Economics in 1991.
“When you compare how poor these countries are to the U.S., the amount of money (almost $30 million since 1991) we’re putting into the infrastructure is very significant,” he said. The Ukraine’s GDP is less than $200 billion per year, a small fraction of the $8.11 trillion per year U.S. GDP.
Furthermore, the Ukraine’s already depressed GDP has been falling rapidly in recent years, creating the potential for political uprising.
Like other University projects in East and Central Europe, the Ukraine program could be extended after three years depending on U.S. foreign policy, Fossum said. “The U.S. government has an interest in seeing the economic-political structure in the Ukraine stabilize.”
A consortium of faculty from the University, the University of St. Thomas Graduate School of Business and the two Polish schools are now touring the Ukraine.
The team will first establish contacts with interested universities and the government’s Ministry of Education. They will then use training seminars to teach students to be active rather than passive learners.
The next step involves shipping U.S. textbooks to participating institutions in the Ukraine, while using regional issues to develop instructional materials.
The program also seeks to draw people from throughout the Ukraine for a series of national management seminars, an established American practice with no tradition in the Ukraine. Finally, the team plans to bring Ukrainian scholars and administrators to Poland, Washington, D.C. and Minnesota to study methods of securing future funding for Ukrainian education.