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The East: British Universities To Help Boost Business Skills

London, 5 June 1997 (RFE/RL) -- Britain is expanding a scheme under which top-rated British universities cooperate with similar institutions in the former USSR to help students develop skills needed in a free market economy.

Known as the Regional Academic Partnerships Scheme, the arrangement offers financing for partnerships between 120 institutions in Britain and a similar number of educational centres stretching from Minsk to Bishkek.

A spokeswoman for REAP, Pamela Charara, told RFE/RL that the key course subjects for partnerships fall under eight headings, namely small business, financial services, energy privatisdation and enterprise restructuring, agricultural reform, health management, the environment, and good government.

Countries eligible to participate are the Russian Federation, Ukraine, Belarus and Moldova, and the Central Asian and Caucasian states, namely Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and Tajikistan, as well as Georgia and Armenia.

Charara said the REAP program is an initiative of the British Government's "Know-How Fund," which aims to provide technical assistance and expertise to support the transition to pluralist democracy and a free market economy. She says REAP's contribution is to help higher education institutions in the participating countries to deliver appropriate training.

"These partnerships will help develop the skills of the young people who will be essential in realising their countries' economic potential," she says.

Institutions willing to participate on the British side include the London School of Economics and the University of Manchester's Institute of Science and Technology. Prospective partners on the other side include the St Petersburg school of Economics and the Kazakh Institute of Management.

Funding is available under the partnerships to pay for visits by academics to develop the course in question, as well as to pay for material expenses such as photocopiers. Charara notes that the actual mobility is among academics who take responsibility for developing the courses; the students are not involved in exchanges to each others' universities.

One of the academics who has been involved in a previous initial partnership scheme is Professor Robin Matthews, of Kingston University's business school in southern England. Matthews says the strongest emphasis is placed on quality assurance -- that is, the transfer of the study course to the receiving institution at the same high level as it is taught in the United Kingdom.

Matthews has been involved in a partnership on small business studies with the Academy of National Economy in Moscow. He praised the intellecutal standards of the students there, as well as their grasp of market-economy principles.

He said the partners were keen to ensure that the course should be regarded as prestigious, and that efforts had been made to ensure that particpating students were not only bright but also had the staying power to finish their studies.

Courses are based on the open studies principle, which means that students would typically attend intensive sessions several times a months, often at weekends, where they would obtain assignments for completion in private time. This pattern of activity, though demanding, fits in well for students who are already working or studying full time.

The professor said that financial sponsorship by British companies operating on the host countries' markets would be welcome.

The REAP program is being managed by the British Council, and institutions or companies interested in involvement in the scheme may contact Charara by fax in Britain at 44-161-957 7899.