Analytical paper: New forms of practice-oriented business education at masters level in Belarus
The Ostrogorski Centre presents a new analytical paper ‘New forms of practice-oriented business education at masters level in Belarus’, written by Natalja Apanasovich.
The paper primarily based on suggestions made during a conference on reform of Belarusian higher education held on 27 December 2018 in Minsk, organised by the Ostrogorski Centre.
Dedicated to the issues of higher education and its reforms in Belarus, the conference allowed academics, practitioners and administrators to discuss the existing problems and possible solutions. The main topics concerned new forms of practice-oriented business education at masters level, modernization of higher education at entrepreneurial university framework, reforms of Belarusian scientific research, and the issue of plagiarism at Belarusian universities.
The analytical paper suggests that Belarus faces a potentially serious shortage of managers and business leaders with appropriate skills and competencies. While Belarusian executives identify problem-solving, self-management and critical thinking as the most important soft skills to succeed in business, these skills remain the most difficult to find in the recruitment pool. In order to bridge the gap between workforce supply and demand, Belarusian educational institutions should develop and implement new practice-oriented approaches and forms of teaching and learning.
Moreover, practice-oriented business education in Belarus and other post-Soviet countries can positively contribute to the transition to a market economy and the process of catching-up with highly-developed countries. At the same time, Belarusian higher education institutes (HEIs) need to take a large stride to catch up with Western HEIs in terms of creating high-quality graduate business education programmes.
Consequently, Belarusian business education masters degree programmes, as well as business schools, need to have official status and the normative base to be separated out from the traditional academic system. Promotion of international business school accreditation would be a stimulus for both educational institutions and state bodies to develop the business education system. Since business education is expected to foster the development of business skills, traditional lectures, seminars and tests apparently no longer work.
The results of the research highlight how academic programmes can add real value to business and what Belarusian business schools and HEIs should focus on teaching in their graduate business programmes. The research also proposes recommendations on how to reduce the gap between market demand and skills developed in graduate business programmes. In particular:
- Separate business education from the traditional academic system
At present, Belarusian business education is far too integrated into the traditional academic system of higher education. As a result, management education is regulated by a multitude of norms and instructions issued by the Ministry of Education, which do not take into account the specificity of business education and often come into direct conflict with the current demands of the labour market and world-recognised forms of business education. Within the framework of the established educational regulations of HEIs, it is very difficult, for example, to switch to a credit-based modular system for organising the educational process, make significant use of distance education technologies, and implement innovative teaching technologies and methods.
- Create a special status for practice-oriented masters degree programmes
At present, formally, according to national legislation, there is no difference in hiring specialists with the bachelors and masters degree. Similarly, the legislation does not differentiate these two groups in terms of salaries that are important to the state-owned organisations and enterprises. Hence, the graduate business programmes are seen as highly academic but with limited value in management practice, driven by academic regulations rather than real-life issues. Masters programmes in business that operate at HEIs should have the freedom to invite lecturers as they see fit. However, it should be admitted that this might increase the cost of education.
- Establish careers centres for graduate students
Graduate business school programmes require timely insights from employers in order to ensure the skillsets they focus on are in sync with current market demands and therefore establish careers centres for their graduate students to support them in their career decision making. Most HEIs have careers centres, however, they provide basic career services mostly for bachelor students.
Masters students and graduates require a different approach to career development, tools, internships and job searches. In addition, such centres may serve as intermediaries between business and education that often speak different languages.
- Focus on soft skills development
More emphasis needs to be given to practice and teamwork than to theory, using fewer ready-made solutions. Teaching methodology should be shifted towards more student-centred learning. More enterprising and action-oriented approaches and activities aimed at developing critical thinking, problem-solving as well as cross-disciplinary projects should gradually supplant traditional passive methods of education.
HEIs have to skip traditional passive methods of education and stop “feeding” learning material to students. Less lecture time should be spent on theoretical material and more time on the analysis of real situations or cases. Particular emphasis should be given to practice and the creation of a more practical teaching format. The study shows the most effective forms of education for the development of soft skill are: case studies, business simulations, meetings with business representatives, and students’ participation in consulting projects.
- Develop and implement new forms of teaching and learning
Business needs to be built into educational processes. First of all, this represents a departure from classic business cases towards the analysis of real examples from current business practice. Masters students as course assignments should undertake consulting projects, the results of which are visible by the end of a course and can be counted towards the final grades. Students’ internships, alongside visits to different regions and countries, enable students to open their minds and think out of the box, as well as to develop their communication and self-management skills.
Analytical paper: Belarus-Lithuania Relations: Common Interests and the Nuclear Dispute
The Ostrogorski Centre presents a new analytical paper ‘Belarus-Lithuania Relations: Common Interests and the Nuclear Dispute’, written by Ryhor Astapenia.
The paper aims to improve mutual understanding between Belarus and Lithuania. The relations between two countries deteriorated when Belarus officially started the construction of a nuclear power plant (NPP) on the border with Lithuania in 2013.
The issue may dominate dealings between the two countries for a long time to come. Both countries rely on separate facts to support their position while ignoring arguments presented by the other side. Lithuania has a right to raise issues related to the security of the power plant but nonetheless over-politicises the problem.
The Two Truths of the Belarusian NPP and Playing with Security
Belarus and Lithuania disagree even regarding the purpose of the nuclear power station’s construction. The Lithuanian elite believes that the initiative to launch the Belarusian NPP belonged to the Kremlin. According to them, the purpose of the NPP lies in keeping the Baltic States dependent on Russia’s power resources, while renouncing plans for the Visaginas NPP; a Lithuanian power station which was to be constructed on the border with Belarus.
The Belarusian ruling elite saw the Belarusian NPP as an opportunity to decrease their own dependence on gas and, most likely, to stimulate the economy as a whole and the depressed Astraviec district in particular.
The rival narratives only grew as both parties found new arguments to fuel the dispute. The Lithuanian side makes the well-grounded claim that the Belarusian authorities have a problem with transparency. For example, when a 300-ton reactor vessel fell, the authorities initially refuted reports and concealed the incident from the public for several weeks. This gives the impression that, in the event of an accident at the power station, Belarus would not inform Lithuania (and indeed its own citizens), or will do so only when it is too late.
In addition, the construction of the NPP by Belarus does not fully meet the requirements of both the ESPOO Convention and the Aarhus Convention, though in practice many similar constructions go through difficulties in order to correspond with all the regulations of these international conventions. They are based on the good will of the signatories, and even many European Union member states argue about compliance with these Conventions.
Moreover, the Lithuanian side tends to ignore several facts. First, Belarus is coping with the development of the nuclear power engineering excellently according to the International Atomic Energy Agency, the regulator (and the lobbyist) of the field. Secondly, Belarus voluntarily agreed to be subjected to the stress-tests of the European Commission. Finally, even Lithuanian energy specialists note that the station complies with high safety standards.
Relations between the two countries appear black-and-white in the sense that relations are very negative in some spheres and as positive in others. Apart from the NPP, military cooperation and intelligence services’ activities remain sore spots in bilateral relations. Lithuania was probably the biggest critic of the Zapad-2017 military drills held in Belarus and Russia last autumn and intelligence communities of both states look at each other with nearly open hostility.
Flourishing Economic Relations and Border Cooperation
However, the irony lies in the fact that, despite a poor reputation, the defence ministries of the two countries cooperate rather successfully. Lithuania was the first NATO country to sign a plan for military cooperation with Belarus. According to the plan, the countries exchange a significant volume of information and hold annual inspections of military objects. The latest such inspection was conducted in October 2017, three weeks after the Zapad-2017 military drills.
In the sphere of economic cooperation and contacts between citizens, relations show notable successes. The two countries are key economic partners: Lithuania remains one of the biggest Western investors in Belarus, having occupied first place among them, and was one of the biggest exporters from the West in some years.
Cross-border movement of people between the two countries grows constantly. The EU Programme for Border Cooperation plays a significant role in this, providing financial resources to maintaining the countries’ interests towards each other. According to an insider, when representatives of the Belarusian organisations cooperate with Western Europeans, they often feel patronised, while “in cases of working with Lithuanians and Latvians, they feel equal and engage in cooperation fully”.
However, the programme has a significant drawback for the Belarusian partners – the funds within it are allocated disproportionately among the countries. In 2017 the Steering Committee of the programme “Latvia-Lithuania-Belarus” selected 30 projects for funding. Among them, only two projects on the Belarusian side were among the main beneficiaries. In all the others, Belarusian organisations play a secondary or even marginal role. For example, Belarusians might feature as guests at a seminar in Lithuania or Latvia. The Technical Secretariat refused to provide data on the distribution of funds allocated by the European Union between the two countries, although such data exists in another programme of the cross-border cooperation which involves Belarus – “Poland-Belarus-Ukraine.”
How to Improve Belarus-Lithuania Relations
Belarusian-Lithuanian relations have a much greater potential than many think. With the deepening of the Belarusian-Lithuanian ties, Lithuania could play an increasing role in the transformation of Belarus. For instance, at the end of 2017 Belarus signed up to its first “twinning” project, aimed at the support of the Belarusian National Bank and financed by the European Union. The Central Bank of Lithuania serves as the “twin” in this project. This is just one example how the countries can pursue their interests helping each other.
The main problem in Belarusian-Lithuanian relations is the lack of trust between the parties. The states need to learn to put one another in the partner’s place. More specific recommendations include creating a joint mechanism to monitor the Belarusian NPP, expanding bilateral expert-level dialogue, proportional re-distribution of finances from the EU Neighbourhood Program and broader information exchange between the two states’ defence ministries.
So far, Belarus and Lithuania successfully avoided arguments in the spheres where cooperation remains mutually beneficial. Now it is time to ease conflicts on the sore issues.