Magazine article Times Higher Education

Belarus Takes Bologna Path to Come in from the Cold

Magazine article Times Higher Education

Belarus Takes Bologna Path to Come in from the Cold

Article excerpt

The former Soviet satellite is working to raise standards and to court foreign students. Stephen Hoare reports from Minsk

Walking a diplomatic tightrope between neighbouring Ukraine and Russia, Belarus - a member of the Commonwealth of Independent States - is attempting to adopt liberal market-led policies to improve the quality of its higher education and to attract more international students.

As part of such moves, a deal was signed last month in the capital, Minsk, between a UK awarding body - the Association of Business Executives - and the Belarusian government recognising ABE qualifications as the equivalent of the country's diplomas of higher education and master's degrees.

The signing of such a memorandum is part of a campaign by Belarus to join the Bologna Process, a system designed to ensure comparability in the standards of higher education qualifications and to promote freedom of movement within Europe.

"We welcome educational ties with the UK because it is the motherland of the English language," Sergey Maskevitch, Belarus' education minister, said at the forum in Minsk where the agreement was signed. "Being able to study for a qualification that is internationally recognised offers our students the confidence to know that their education is the best we can make it. We need graduates to stay in Belarus and help us build our economy."

By investing 2 per cent of its gross domestic product in improving the quality of its higher education, Belarus hopes to shift a stagnant economy that is reliant on state-owned manufacturing companies supplying Russia with lorries, coaches and chemicals towards high-technology industries. "We have a very good higher educational platform here, but we don't have enough specialists in business and technology. We would like to see more research devoted to pharmaceuticals and nanotechnology," said Mr Maskevitch.

Although the Russian higher education "five plus one" model of combining undergraduate and master's education is widely adopted within Belarus, universities are now trying to shorten degree courses to converge with the Bologna Process. At the same time, degree syllabuses are becoming less prescriptive and more influenced by the views of student councils and employer bodies.

Striving for quality

Belarusian universities have also been upgrading quality management systems to meet European standards in an attempt to become more like the West. Anatoly Osipov, first vice-rector of the Belarusian State University of Informatics and Radioelectronics, said his institution achieved a key European kitemark for quality management in 2010, "and this academic year for the first time we have started offering a four-year undergraduate degree followed by a two-year master's to bring us closer to the European system". …

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