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Comparison of CIS curricula in Russian and American universities.

Russia is undergoing a great transition period, with many large-scale economic changes taking place at a very vapid pace. At this time, almost half of the economy has been converted from the old centralized economy to a privatized environment. Many changes have occurred in social life, such as the development of large private firms, private banks, a new tax system, and the first bankruptcy actions. During the Soviet period, lay people were primarily interested in foreign politics and sporting events. Today, the focus of newspapers is on economic news, changes in local and foreign currencies, negotiations with the World Monetary Fund, stocks and securities markets, and so on. The greatest changes have occurred within the minds of the people (Breev, 1993). Under socialism, people relied on the state system for most of their needs. Now the majority of Russians understand that their well-being depends on the success of their own efforts, on their ability to adapt to the new and dynamic labor market realities. Evans and Birch (1995) found that the vast majority of Russian students did not believe their education was relevant to their intended careers.

These great changes in the economic field have created new opportunities and demands on the Russian education system (Alenchikov, 1993; Kitaev, 1993). New economic realities demand new business specialists. Therefore, business and economic education (as well as related fields such as law and business law) were very popular in the first years of the decade of the 1990s. There was an almost immediate recognition by business people that they needed more knowledge, shifting from the old "planning in advance" behavior to a more flexible attitude capable of operating in a dynamic and highly risky environment. Many older managers were not able to make this transition. Consequently, new business institutions hired predominantly young people with new educational backgrounds and fresh world outlooks. At present, it is not out of the ordinary to meet young people, 25 and 30 years old, as heads and top mangers of the leading banks, trading companies, investment firms, and other business organizations.

As a result, business education has undergone dramatic changes. Hundreds of new business schools of very different types, sizes, programs, and educational quality have opened in recent years (Kitaev, 1993; Meddoks, 1994). Many old state universities have opened new business colleges. A lot of separate business schools have been opened as well. These schools offer widely varying educational programs. Several business schools, primarily in Moscow, have affiliated with American schools, and copied the curricula from the corresponding American school. There are also many short terms schools, with program ranging from four months to one year, where accelerated training is available. Many of these schools offer programs in accounting and in computer information systems. There has been a high demand for specialists in these areas and this demand continues.

Business professions have become very prestigious. During the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s, business was not a very attractive discipline for young Russians. Now, however, business schools and law schools have the highest prestige (Breev, 1993) This contention is confirmed by the fact that the majority of educational programs paid for by students (the Russian education system was, and still is predominantly, free of charge) has been in the business field.

Because of the unique nature of the Russian computer market, the computer information system field is one of the most attractive in business schools. There has always been a large technological gap between Russia and western countries in many fields, with the largest gap being in computer information systems. The planned Soviet economy was quite inert, unable to cope with the extremely rapid developments in computer applications. Therefore, at the beginning of the 1990s, new liberal import rules led to the importation of many modern computer systems into Russia. The first private companies under Perestroika were in the computer field, and in the period 1988 to 1990, this business was considered the most profitable in Russia. These two phenomena, quick development of demand of business education and rapid increase in the computer systems market, fed each other and resulted in a great need for computer information system education. At that time, many Russian universities and colleges were equipped with modern personal computers. New, modern computer information system programs were developed, and their standards and quality grew to match world standards. At the same time, computer information systems program development was, and still is, influenced by Russian education traditions. Therefore, it is of interest to present its current state, and to compare Russian and American computer information system programs.

Specified of Russian University Education

Historically, Russian university education has differed from the American model. We will discuss the primary differences relevant to the theme of our paper.

First, Russian education tends to be more specialized than American education (Lahusen & Kuperman, 1993; Mechitov, Schellenberger & Taylor, 1995). Russian university students select their specializations at the time they apply, and it is very difficult to change this specialty. Each college in the university has its own set of entrance examinations. Furthermore, even within a single college, different specialties may have different examination processes. For example, in business colleges, students should pass different examinations depending upon the speciality they have applied for, such as management information systems, marketing, business law, international business, and so on.

After acceptance into a program, all students with that specialty have to follow the same curriculum. Once the program of study has been determined, about 90% of all courses are directed. This has the benefit that courses are very consistent and mutually dependent. As a result, Russian university programs are less complex than American programs. There is less repetition of material, thus allowing coverage of more material in the overall teaching process. But at the same time, it is extremely difficult for students to change programs (Taylor & Mechitov, 1994).

The next feature we will discuss is the structure of university courses. In Russian university programs we find greater variety in course hours. One course could be 2 academic hours per week, while another could be 8 hours per week. This increases flexibility in developing educational programs, but also increases problems in planning course schedules. The Russian educational system has traditionally been more oriented toward engineering (Alenchikov, 1993). During the Soviet period, engineers, mathematicians and scientists were produced at ten times the rate of all lawyers, psychologists, sociologists, and economists. In a planned, highly centralized economy, there was little demand for specialists in marketing, accounting, and business law. As far as computer information systems was concerned, Russian universities produced many graduates, but with unique features.

The focus of old Soviet business courses was the planning process. The economy consisted of large factories and plants (Lahusen & Kuperman, 1993). Therefore, most of the attention of computer information system people was focused on large-scale information and operations, as well as on mathematical models for planning. Large-scale economic modeling was one of the most popular fields of research during the 1970s. At that time, there were plans to develop a computer information and planning system for the entire country. Because of the failures of such large-scale systems to generate workable plans, the popularity of computer information systems declined during the 1980s. However, research on large scale information systems continued until Perestroika. During 1990s attention began to be paid to other aspects of information systems, such as real application of information systems, information systems in small and medium business operations, human factors and management, impact of information systems on organizational systems, systems analysis and design, etc.

Another unique feature of the Russian information system field was caused by features of the Russian university system (Taylor & Mechitov, 1994). Many universities in Russia are called "institutes" and many of these institutes are specialized, focusing on a single field. For example, in Moscow there are institutes for medicine, metallurgy, automotives, commerce, and other fields. In reality, these institutes are real universities with 10 to 25 thousand students each, offering a variety of degrees. For example, in the Metallurgy Institute degrees are offered in metallurgy, physics, chemistry, computer science, applied mathematics, business, and other fields. All students in that institute are supposed to have either a major or minor in metallurgy, but graduates of that institute can find a job in any field, not just in organizations related to metallurgy.

There are thus a number of different types of universities, schools and colleges in Russia offering business programs, particularly in computer information systems. For example, in Moscow there are a number of business schools offering programs with widely varying qualities, from high quality American business education with transcripts from the Harvard Business School or California State University, to very poor, rapidly build schools whose programs cannot be take seriously. The absence of a tradition to evaluate and rate business schools on their academic content makes it a difficult problem to compare these organizations. It is even more difficult to find a basis for comparing schools in the U.S. with schools in Russia. However, due to close contact by two of the authors with both schools, we have a basis for comparing the Business and Management College in Moscow S&A University with the School of Business at East Carolina University. Specifically, we compare the computer information systems programs of both schools using the 1994/1995 academic year as a basis of comparison. Both schools are Federal, and both schools have about 17,000 students. Both business schools are well established. With programs that have adapted over many years. The national ranking of both schools is proportionally similar. In our view, both are typical of their respective university educational systems. Professor Mechitov has taught at both schools, and is thus able to make not only a formal comparison, but also to include personal impressions.

Computer Information System Curricula

Considering the differences that we have discussed in curricula and teaching traditions, it is not trivial to compare Russian and American programs. Sometimes the same title is used in totally different senses, or the same material may be covered in different courses. For example, business statistics at East Carolina is a prebusiness course, while at Moscow S&A University this course is a concentration course. The East Carolina (ECU) curriculum was initially designed and has been revised to cover the content of the DPMA (Chen, Danesh & Willhardt, 1992) and ACM (1991) model curricula. Three factors have been used as a basis for structuring the ECU program. The degree awarded is a BSBA with an eighteen semester hour concentration in computer information systems, thus the total CIS curriculum includes eight courses. The CIS program has a "Board of Advisors" comprised of CIO's who advise on curriculum matters. Thus the content of the concentration reflects of blending of the School of Business curricula policy, the DPMA model curricula, and recommendations from the Board of Advisors. A partial listing of courses offered in the two programs is given in the Table 1, organizing courses into categories of prebusiness, core, concentration, and general business requirements.

We note initially that there is a great deal of the same material covered in both programs. Over the long history of both programs, there has been litte contact, as the Russian and American universities have had radically different roots and traditions.

Prebusiness Courses

Table 1 presents a listing of prebusiness courses required by both the American and Russian business schools. While there are a number of similarities between the programs, there are also a number of striking differences. The Russian program pays much more attention to mathematical background. Instead of one basic mathematics course as in the East Carolina program, the S&A program includes several mathematics courses, particularly in probability theory, mathematical statistics, and in discrete mathematics. Furthermore, the Russian course in basic mathematics is more comprehensive while also covering material in greater depth than the East Carolina course in mathematics for decision making.

The mathematical background of East Carolina students focuses on application. In the Moscow business school, greater attention is given to theoretical foundations of mathematical theory. An example of this attention is the management science course. Traditionally, in Russian business schools management science covers all formal topics, including the primary theorems, their proofs, and other elements of the models used. In the corresponding American course, usually only algorithms and their principle logical bases are described (for example, look at the Anderson, Sweeney & Williams text (1994) used in the East Carolina course).
Table 1

Comparison of Courses Available - Prebusiness Courses

East Carolina University          Moscow S&A University

microeconomics                    microeconomics
macroeconomics                    macroeconomics
legal environment of business     business law
mathematics for decision making   basic mathematics probability
                                  theory and mathematical statistics
                                  discrete mathematics
business statistics               business statistics
financial accounting              financial accounting
managerial accounting             managerial accounting
introduction to computers         introduction to computers
                                  programming technology systems
                                  programming data base management
                                  systems


The stronger mathematical training received in the Moscow school are used in subsequent courses, such as in economic-mathematical modeling and in managerial economics. From our point of view, these courses have had little relationship with real business decision making problems, and the primary justification for covering them has been the traditional focus on large-scale economic problems.

Some of the same features are found in comparing programming language courses. Moscow S&A student are exposed to PASCAL and C languages at a fairly comprehensive level of detail. Students are expected to write several of their own programs, using tool boxes, graphics, and other features. Russian students are also exposed to the basics of assembler, and more recently, with either LISP or PROLOG. The East Carolina program does not include assembler et al, and demands less in their coverage of PASCAL and C. However, East Carolina students must take a COBOL course, not included in the Russian program. This last difference is a function of historical development. In the U.S., where large-scale computing was developed at an earlier period than in Russia, there are many old software programs written in COBOL. Russia does not have this problem, as COBOL was not widely used in the 1970s or 1980s. there is currently almost no Russian demand for COBOL. On the other hand, PASCAL is much more popular in Russia than in the U.S.A. large part of the commercial software in Russia is written in PASCAL (although C prevails, as it does in the U.S.). Except for pure programming language courses, the Moscow program includes several courses on the theory and methodology of computing design, such as programming technology and systems programming.

Table 2 displays the corresponding lists of software systems used m both business schools. There are a number of differences. Currently, the American program covers almost nothing about DOS. The Russian system pays a great deal of attention to DOS, while coverage of Microsoft Office packages are only starting to be introduced into Russian programs. The S&A program provides coverage of LOTUS, DBase and Clipper, all DOS products, as well as the Lexicon text editor, the only Russian produced software product with a stable segment of the country's software market. Most Moscow computer information system programs include exposure to the Norton Commander package, which is still very popular in Russia.
Table 2

Comparison of Software Used

East Carolina University         Moscow S&A University

MS-DOS                           MS-DOS
                                 Norton Commander
Windows                          Windows

Word                             Lexicon
Excel                            Lotus
Access                           Dbase, Clipper
VP-Expert
IFPS


Most of these differences are easily explained by differences in hardware facilities. East Carolina is equipped with sufficient IBM 486 personal computers to allow students to use Windows applications. East Carolina students have easy access to student computer laboratories. At the S&A Business School there are only two computer classes, one equipped with IBM 386 personal computers and one with IBM 286 machines. Student access to computers is very limited. Professors and lectures also have limited access to computers. There are only four 386 PCs for 19 faculty in the MIS Department of S&A University. This makes it difficult to develop and update computer-based courses.

With respect to application software, the situation at Moscow S&A University is very poor. There are no management science systems (such as STORM or LINDO), no expert systems (Like VP-EXPERT), primarily due to the general lag between the American and Russian software markets, as well as because of financial problems in paying for current western software. Lecturers usually use prototype systems developed by themselves or their colleagues, or shareware programs. This, incidentally, helps explain the Russian attention to basic programming skills.

Business Core Courses

Business core courses for both programs are shown in Table 3. Business core course, such as accounting, marketing, and management, are very popular in Russian business schools. As we have mentioned, since the beginning of market reforms there has been a high demand for this knowledge. The gap in textbooks and educational programs was quickly filled by translations of western textbooks, and copying of theft academic programs. Therefore, [TABULAR DATA FOR TABLE 3 OMITTED], the S&A program is very close to that of East Carolina. The exception is in International Business, as that course does not appear in the S&A program, although some aspects of international business are covered in management and accounting courses.

Concentration Courses

Courses available for program concentrations are given in Table 4. East Carolina's decision support systems course and the Decision Support and Expect System course at Moscow S&A have several significant differences. The Russian course is more theoretical, focusing on methodological ideas and concepts. The S&A program discusses decision making problems with a variety of decision making methods and decision aid techniques. Attention is also given to behavioral aspects of knowledge acquisition and preference elicitation. Conversely, the East Carolina DSS course includes deeper coverage of information systems and their ties with DSS and expert systems. The East Carolina program provides students applications in IFPS and VP-EXPERT. In general, the East Carolina program is more practically oriented, with greater coverage of the history and practice of decision support applications, while and S&A DSS course covers more theoretical and research aspects of the topic.

General Business Courses

Table 5 compares general business courses. The East Carolina program covers a much greater variety of topics. All of the primary business issues are covered. In the S&A program, however, topics such as business ethics are not mentioned at all, in part reflecting the current stage of development of Russian business. Little attention is paid to communication skills, such as composition and writing ability. The Russian program covers very little with respect to public relations. These differences are explained in our opinion by the differences in market development between the two countries.

There is a similar lack of development in the Moscow business school with respect to student practice at local companies. Currently, Moscow business firms prefer to hire people with experience as opposed to people with education. However, increasing competition for skilled and well educated specialists is creating better opportunities for relationship development between business firms and Russian business schools. Students in Moscow are very enthusiastic about opportunities such as [TABULAR DATA FOR TABLE 4 OMITTED] internships, realizing the importance of real work experience for their career development.

Discussion

New labor market realities have deeply influenced university education in Russia. We have observed a number of changes, some positive and some negative. Almost all Russian universities are in deep financial crisis, as the country cannot afford to produce as many new engineers, physicians and artists as they have in the past. Therefore, universities in Russia are making efforts to survive by meeting new educational demands, finding new sources of finance. Business education is one of the most promising markets for this development.

Despite a number of drawbacks, Russia has always had good educational and research traditions. During Soviet times, competition with America on hardware and software motivated Russian computer specialists to match world standards in computing. To compensate for the lack of commercial software, they wrote their own computer codes. These historical features of Russian computer development have had an impact on current computer information system curricula in Russian business schools.

In general, Russian business schools give deeper coverage to mathematical and programming background than do U.S. programs (DMPA, 1990). Russian business schools teach students to develop their own software, and teach how management science techniques are used to solve non-standard optimization tasks in business. We think that the level of requirements in Russian business schools is quite close to the skill levels required of computer science departments in American universities. This is caused by general attitudes towards mathematics in Russia, where more attention is given to mathematics at all levels, from elementary school through undergraduate programs (Taylor & Mechitov, 1994). Certainly a sound mathematical background is useful. But it is questionable how many credit hours should be required in mathematics by Russian business schools.

Russian business students are not sufficiently exposed to the concepts and operations of modern business software. Because of financial problems, access to modern software is very limited, despite that fact that many American software companies sell their products in Russia at prices below that in most western markets. However, the situation is rapidly changing. The computer industry is one of the fastest growing segments of the Russian economy. There has been an observable tendency in Russian business schools to give greater attention to familiarity with and application of software systems, and less attention to programming and mathematics.
Table 5

General Business Courses

East Carolina University                  Moscow S&A University

composition
writing for business and industry
business and professional communication   business communication
business ethics
environmental biology                     ecology
introduction to sociology                 introduction to sociology


Our last remark is that the opportunities for Russian-American collaboration quite good. American education in general and particularly in business education is well respected in Russia. As the Russian economy has opened, Russian universities have tried to develop programs according to American standards. Our experiences and impressions indicate to us that Russian faculty are very enthusiastic to develop additional contacts, and to use American programs and texts. Naturally, this collaboration is mutually beneficial. Every year there are more Russian students applying to U.S. universities and every year more universities develop bilateral ties in both teaching and research (Meddoks, 1992; Olson, Schellenberger & Mechitov, 1995).

References

ACM/IEEE-CS Joint Curriculum Task Force. (1991) Computing Curriculum 1991. New York: ACM Press.

Alenchikov, I.N. (1993). Economics and the school. Russian Education and Society 35:3, 57-65.

Anderson, D.R., Sweeney, D.J., and Williams, T.A. (1994). An Introduction to Management Science. Minneapolis/St. Paul: West Publishing.

Breev, D.B. (1993). Labor problems and the shaping of market relations. Studies on Russian Economic Development 4:2, 124-128.

Chen, J., Danesh, N.A., and Willhardt, J.A. (1992). Computer curricula in AACSB accredited business schools. Interface: The Computer Education Quarterly 13:4, 60-73.

DPMA (1990). Information Systems: The DPMA Model Curriculum for a Four Year Undergraduate Degree. Data Processing Management Association.

Evans, F.J. & Birch, N.J. (1995). Business education and change in Russia and Eastern Europe. Journal of Education for Business, January-February, 166-171.

Jutaev, M. (1994). High demands for new business specialists. Financial News, 66, December 8 (newspaper in Russian).

Kitaev, I. (1993). Current development in the former USSR labor market and their interaction with the educational system. Russian Education and Society, 35:3, 6-32.

Lahusen, T. and Kuperman, G., eds. (1993). Late Soviet culture: From Perestroika to Novostroika, proceedings of a meeting. Soviet Culture Today: Restructuring the Past or Inventing the Future?, Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

Mechitov, A., Schellenberger, R., and Taylor, R. (1995). The changing world of Russian university students. College Student Journal, 1995, 29:2, 130-133.

Meddoks, B. (1994). The role of business schools. Financial News, 62, December 8 (newspaper in Russian).

Olson, D., Schellenberger, R., and Mechitov, A. (1995). Teaching knowledge base consistency and completeness. Journal of Computer Information Systems, in press.

Taylor, R. and Mechitov, A. (1994). Russian schools and the legacies of the Soviet Era. Education, 115:2, 260-263.
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Title Annotation:computer information systems
Author:Schellenberger, R.E.; Mechitov, A.I.; Olson, D.L.
Publication:Education
Date:Dec 22, 1996
Words:3991
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