International Educator - January/February 2013 - 33
Rebirth in the Former Yugoslavia
become more practical. However, with time, “I pretty much realized, this was it.” He taught himself about what was happening in the world by reading publications such as The Financial Times, The Economist, and The Wall Street Journal at the university library. “Fortunately I had access to what was happening in real time,” he recalls. Through that reading, he saw he had major shortcomings in his education on topics such as finance and management. “They were pretty wide gaps. I could figure out I didn’t know much.” When it came time to graduate, Manev didn’t pick up his diploma. “That was a statement, a way to protest.” After graduating in 1987 he worked in Bulgaria, but was trying to get to the United States to study further. Once the Iron Curtain fell, U.S. universities were interested in bringing in students from Central and Eastern Europe, and he wound up at University of Minnesota-Duluth for his MBA, before getting his PhD at Boston College. His introduction to U.S.-style higher education was something of a shock. Within a few days of his arrival at the University of Minnesota-Duluth, he’d had lengthy talks with the dean and associate dean. It was a sharp contrast to his time in Bulgaria, where he recalls trying to get approval from the dean to bring a group of students to an international trade fair, and she scolded him for bothering her. Even in the Eastern European classroom, “it was a very conservative system. The professor preached, like a priest,” and didn’t want to be disturbed by questions from students, says Laszlo Frenyo, who has held a wide range of positions in the Hungarian higher education system and now is dean of faculty at McDaniel College Budapest and president of Hungary’s Strategic Committee of the Higher Education and Research Council. Before the collapse of communism, “there wasn’t much space for students to have a voice, for faculty to have a voice,” Matei recalls. There were strict relationships between governments and universities in Central and Eastern Europe. Universities were controlled and funded by the state, and something as simple as purchasing a chair required approval from the Ministry of Education. When the Iron Curtain fell, “nobody really believed the Soviets were going to leave the country,” and it took time for them to join in reform efforts because “it seemed like a bit risky business,” recalls Frenyo, who was deeply involved in university reform as part of the Hungarian Rectors Conference. Among major changes that were enacted in Hungary in 1993 were the reestablishment of university autonomy, establishment of a national accreditation system, and the return of the PhD program to universities, Frenyo says. During communism, the Academy of Sciences handled the PhD program.
OR COUNTRIES that once comprised former Yugoslavia,
internationalizing higher education has been doubly hard. Not only did the region have to contend with the collapse of communism in the region, it was rocked for nearly a decade by violent wars. Now international higher education can have an impact in helping to bring peace to the area. “Higher education has a role in changing perspectives in the way people think about one another,” says Jim Myers, associate provost of international education and global programs at the Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT), which has campuses in Kosovo and Croatia. One prime example is RIT’s campus in Dubrovnik, Croatia. It’s a stunning coastal city, and its old town is on the UNESCO World Heritage List. The city was shelled by Yugoslav forces during the war. At the time, Yugoslavia was composed of Serbia and Montenegro. In 1997, just two years after the war in Croatia ended, RIT opened its Dubrovnik campus at the behest of the Croatian government, offering dual U.S. and Croatian degrees in hospitality and information technology. Shortly after the school was created, a U.S. Agency for International Development grant was used to fund a controversial program—bringing Montenegrin students to study at the school. The Montenegrin students had a “pioneering spirit,” Myers says, and quickly became popular with their fellow classmates, taking part in activities and being elected to the student government. “It was the best imaginable outcome in building bridges.” Since that time, RIT has opened a campus in the Croatian capital, Zagreb, and added undergraduate and graduate business courses. In 2003 RIT opened American University of Kosovo (AUK), in the capital, Pristina, with a variety of graduate and undergraduate programs. RIT is unusual for the region because it focuses on hands-on work experience mixed with classroom learning. “We have an applied orientation in education. The history of education in Eastern Europe has largely been theoretical,” Myers says. It has about 1,000 students in the region. Faculty is a mix of locals, expatriates, and RIT professors who travel to the region for a quarter or semester. Edin Heric, a native of Sarajevo, Bosnia-Herzegovina, said he chose to study international hospitality in Dubrovnik because “I wanted something different than an education in Balkan-curriculum style.” He also appreciates the connections he’s developed and new perspectives he’s been exposed to. Heric spent part of his junior studying in Rochester, then did a co-op in Colorado Springs, and now is getting his MBA at the New York campus. His goal is to move to the Dominican Republic with his fiancée and enter the hotel industry. Chris Provenzano, a junior majoring in political science at the Rochester campus, traveled the opposite direction and spent two months in Kosovo this summer. He spent his first month interning at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, before taking classes. The experience stoked his interest in diplomacy and international relations, “especially coming from a conflict that was so fresh,” Provenzano says. “Everything there was about rebirth.” Brian Bowen, vice president for academic affairs at AUK, often works with master’s students on their dissertations. They tend to be in their 40s and were schooled under the communist-style of education. Now they’re “very appreciative” of the educational style at AUK. “It’s a bit like a mini-America in the Balkans,” he said.
J A N + F E B . 13 INTERNATIONAL EDUCATOR