Eastern Europe rushes to OU for help

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A PARTNERSHIP agreement between the Open University and the New Bulgarian University marks the latest stage in the OU's accelerating programme to take management education to eastern Europe.

The agreement was signed earlier this year by the OU's vice-chancellor, John Daniel, and the Bulgarian university's executive director, Julian Popov, in a ceremony at the House of Commons.

Mr Popov's university opened in 1992. Today, 150 practising managers from all over the country - using written material, audio and visual tapes translated and adapted to the Bulgarian market - are taking the OU's Effective Manager course, which started there last November.

The OU project, backed by the Know-How Fund, is designed to train eastern European managers to operate in a modern market economy. There are more than 3,000 managers in the CIS, Hungary, Romania and the Czech and Slovak republics who are taking OU management development courses.

Most aim for the certificate and diploma; the MBA course may follow.

This expanding force of trained staff could prove an incentive for British companies to move into these countries.

According to the OU - now celebrating its silver jubilee - distance learning has become a world growth industry. By 1996, it estimates, the present 3,000 eastern bloc students will have grown to almost 6,000; in the CIS alone (currently with 1,150 students) the number of managers on its courses could exceed the number in Britain.

Some 30 study centres operate there, from Archangel in the north to Irkutsk in eastern Siberia and Odessa in southern Ukraine.

'After more than 40 years of centrally planned economies, these countries are urgently seeking management retraining and a huge change in company cultures,' said an OU spokesman. The need now is to retrain large numbers in a short time.

Students in the Czech and Slovak republics are acquiring a whole new management vocabulary: mission statements, targets, efficiency, decision-taking. Even the concept of 'manager' was new, replacing that of 'controller', whose job was simply to see that the state's plans were met. The very word 'plan' became stigmatised, as new entrepreneurs associated it with the old centralised instructions.

'The concept of managing people in order to implement actions, rather than just to declare objectives, was entirely novel,' the OU reports.

One Hungarian manager observed: 'In Britain, the OU may be the university of the second chance; in Hungary, it is the only chance.'