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Educational exchanges: interview with Vitali Roussak.

Exchange of scholars between East and West has always taken place, but the dramatic changes in Eastern and Central Europe of the past few years have added an interesting new twist. As more of the countries in the Eastern bloc made the decision to restructure their economies and introduce market-oriented reforms, the question was asked: who will run these "new look" economies? Where will the enterprise managers to operate the new profit-oriented businesses come from? Who will train business executives with the new skills needed for survival in the new competitive marketplace? What about re-education for consumers who will need different types of abilities to function in the new economic environment? Who will new skills for the workforce be imparted? These are only some of the issues friar have been raised as a result of the decisions to move away from highly bureaucratized central planning.

They have also accounted for new directions in scholarly exchange: an increasing number of universities and other institutions of higher education are making contacts with Western business schools. The logic is simple: if enterprises are to become profit-oriented and competitive in an international market-place, then their managers have a lot of catch-up to do. The task is enormous, and difficult for Westerners to understand because living in our environment means that we are simply not aware of the many things we can just take for granted. But nothing can be taken for granted in the restructuring Eastern European and former Soviet economies; just about everything connected with functioning in a market environment has to be learned from scratch.

So far, American and European teachers of various business subjects have taken the East-bound route; Eastern students and teachers the West-bound. The latter have a particularly crucial role to play: by taking ffie knowledge they acquire back home with them, as the first generation of the new business school teachers, they will be setting the framework for business education in the future.

The Review of Business was particularly fortunate to have the opportunity to talk with Vitali Roussak recently. Mr. Roussak is an Assistant Professor in the Fundamentals of Economic Theory Department of the Belarusan Economic University, Minsk, Belarus (formerly Byelorussia). We spoke with him in September 1991 about his earliest experiences in New York and graduate business education here. The results of this conversation follows.

We began by asking him to tell us how and why he is here, and found out about' an interesting new exchange program.

Vitali Roussak: I arrived in New York in August (1991) with a colleague. We are here to study American business and the US economy as a whole because it is a good example of a Western market economy. We want to find out how western businesses really operate, and get a formal business education here. We are in the MBA program at Pace University, in the Lubin Graduate School of Business, majoring in international business.

The reason for this is that there is a severe shortage of qualified specialists in this area in Belarus, and in order to do business with Western economies, we need to know the rules and methods of operation of these economies so that we can compete effectively. This means that we need to know what Western businesspeople think, what their interests and aims are, what their achievements are and where any weaknesses exist.

So for this reason, we are enrolled in the MBA program so that we may go through the same learuing experience as American managers.

Review of Business: What do you hope to gain from this experience?

Roussak: Belarus has a well developed economy and technoculture, and is industrialized. When we go home, we will apply the knowledge we have gained to the education of our students. This will make it easier for us to compete, and also enter into possible agreements with Western companies which may be interested in our potential.

RofB: Why were you selected to be the first in this exchange program?

Roussak: It was like this. In Belarus, we have a State Committee for Foreign Economic Relationships; its function is to improve such international relations. This Committee contacted my University in Minsk to select some candidates for this program at Pace so that they could go to New York to study. Among the requirements were a good understanding of English (because we must be able to understand the sophisticated material of the MBA program). I made the short list, and finally, I and the Head of the Department of International Economic Relations were chosen. So here we are.

RofB: What do you see as being particularly valuable about this exchange?

Roussak: There are three things which I think are especially important. First, and not necessarily in order of importance, by living here for an extended period of time, we will be able to get a general understanding of American life and the American economy that would not be possible if we were here only on a short visit.

Second, we will be able to experience how the principles of the American economy are taught to students this is something we have no knowledge of at all. So we are starting with the basic courses and will move on to the more advanced courses.

And third, we think we are the first teachers from the former Soviet Union to study the American educational system from the inside, from a position as students of business. We are living in dormitories with other students, so we can see how they live; we take classes together, prepare our homework assignments together; we can see what the instructors in American colleges do and how their students respond. Being able to do this as direct participants enables us to compare this part of the American educational system with our own - it is very useful to see how people are educated here, and it is a valuable experience to be part of an American student's life.

RofB: Would you like to elaborate on that?

Roussak: OK. Here we are, living together with American students, so we can see how they live, what their attitude to study is, how they prepare for exams and so on. This helps us find out what is positive about the educational experience here that we can take back with us and use at home.

RofB: So far, have you come across any obvious differences?

Roussak: Oh yes, a couple of differences .have surprised us, and our experience has helped shatter a couple of myths. First, in Belarus, there is a widespread opinion that it is easy to get into an American university, that there is no competition (like having to pass an entrance exam) to enter, that you pay your money and take any course you wish. It was a surprise to us that although there is no formal entrance exam, students do have to go through a system of tests and meet certain requirements for admission and for continuing in the program.

This was a good surprise, because we thought it irrational to give an opportunity to every person who may not have the necessary background. Now we know that only those who are capable in fact enter and complete the program, so we have learned one lesson.

RofB: Have you noticed any other differences?

Roussak: Yes, there is more flexibility here. That is, at home, each university has its own procedures for entrance. Here, once a student has passed a nationwide test (GMAT), they can choose any university to study at, assuming the scores are good enough.

RofB: What about students? Are they different?

Roussak: Well, at home we believed the myth that American students are more interested in partying and involved in having a good time. Now we know that they do work hard - and they also enjoy life! The students we are with are on time with their assignments. Of course, there are very good conditions for study here - the conditions are very conducive to work.

RofB: What have you noticed in particular?

Roussak: Several things, in particular, a good library and access to the computer center. Other things include small classes rather than the large lectures we have, and frequently updated textbooks. This means that the style of teaching is different. At home, our textbooks are outdated, so the instructor is forced to become the source of new information. Here, because students have access to specialized and new knowledge, they can work alone and then discuss the material with the lecturer. This means that here, you can teach better in a shorter period of time, while at home, the lecturer has to inform and discuss. So although we need to get faster results. we have limited resources to do the job.

RofB: Would you like to teach like this when you go back?

Roussak: This poses a challenge! Educational methods are a response to the particular environment. Every society needs more educated people, but it's one thing to recognize the good points of this system, another to realize them! It might be possible to shorten the time it takes, but if we still have inadequate materials, would doing so lower standards? That we wouldn't want to do.

RofB: Let's move to your impressions of New York.

Roussak: New York is very different and beautiful! Every foreigner probably has preconceptions of New York as looking like the Wall Street area, where everyone is a businessman. But it isn't like that. There are many nationalities here, which makes it unique. Manhattan is full of skyscrapers and modern architecture, while the other boroughs are greener and more like European cities.

And New Yorkers are just like residents of Minsk everyone is busy with theft own problems, but if you need help, you get help, with a smile. Transportation here is fast but functional, while in Minsk, subway stations are more than just places to wait for a train, they are beautiful and decorated.

RofB: Any other thoughts about this exchange program?

Roussak: I think it would be very useful for both countries to widen such exchange programs. For many years, the US and the USSR were two opposing military global powers, and with the exception of World War II, confrontation characterized most of this recent his:ory. So now we have an opportunity to reinforce positive feelings. This sort of exchange can prevent misunderstanding because those involved can see who their counterparts are, what their problems are, what they are feeling and what they hope for.

It will take time, but it is important for us to get a perspective on American life, and for Americans to get an insight into ours.
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Title Annotation:Symposium: Business Education in Eastern Europe
Publication:Review of Business
Article Type:Interview
Date:Mar 22, 1992
Previous Article:Western management training in Poland: a case study.
Next Article:An innovative foreign study program: international business studies in the USA.

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