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Equipped for a capitalist future;FE focus

The TES finds former communist states turning to Western training experts as they struggle to modernise their economies

When Boris Yeltsin decided he wanted 25,000 young businessmen and women trained in modern management techniques, the West jumped at the chance to help.

Launched last year, the Russian president's ambitious initiative to help drive forward the country's move to a market economy aims to provide Russia with the energetic young managers it needs for the 21st century.

Each year for five years 5,000 managers from Murmansk to Krasnodar, Moscow to Vladivostok will go back to school and learn the nuts and bolts of modern business leadership in a scheme backed by pound;6.5 million of European cash.

The top 2,500 will be offered internships in European, North American and Japanese companies, paid for by western governments.

But training the elite cadre for Russia's future economy is not as simple as it sounds in a country struggling to move from Communist to capitalist ways of thinking.

A team of quality auditors from the European Training Foundation, a Turin-based Euro-funded organisation, believes only a fundamental reform of training in Russian institutions is essential if the Yeltsin programme is to succeed.

The consultants and training experts who are conducting a pound;27,000 quality analysis project say their preliminary findings indicate that Russian concepts of management and training differ significantly from those in the west.

The project's aim is to increase awareness and access to existing management training material in Russia and the West and establish examples of best practice to improve the quality of training offered. But to achieve this both sides need to understand each other.

Simon Shaw, a Cambridge-based training consultant to the ETF, said that pre-testing of a self-assessment questionnaire showed how important attention to cultural differences is in reforming management training.

Definitions used in the draft questionnaire, to be sent out this month to the 800 Russian university staff involved in phase one of the Yeltsin initiative, had to be rewritten to ensure respondents understood the concepts the quality team were using.

"We talk about 'agents for change' which is how management consultants often see themselves. But this concept is entirely alien to Russians," Mr Shaw said.

The ETF team is employing Russian training experts to iron out such cross-cultural problems.

"I hope we shall see the beginning of a discourse in Russian training institutions about how they can work with managers to help the growth of a more efficient economy.

"That's what we're really talking about: helping Russia develop a strong working economy," Mr Shaw said.

Siria Taurelli, the ETF manager of the project, said that the results of the questionnaires would be used to design better quality assessment tools for visits to some of the 76 universities involved in the Yeltsin initiative in June. More Russian consultants will be employed during the visits, she said.

"Because of the nature of the project we wanted to have people with a good understanding and knowledge of the situation in Russian training institutions and the regions, not only St Petersburg and Moscow," Ms Taurelli said.

To improve the Russian trainers' access to state-of-the-art teaching materials, the ETF team has launched a competition among the 30 established training centres and other European training projects in Russia to find the best management training tools locally available.

The analysis and results of the quality project will be presented to the Russian trainers during a series of seminars in the autumn to ensure the training can be swiftly adapted in the light of the team's findings.

"A huge programme such as the Yeltsin initiative will be successful if it somehow changes the way teaching is delivered in a way that helps managers to change or help themselves," Ms Taurelli said.

"Management training cannot be measured simply by hours in the classroom or months in the company. We have to analyse the efficiency of the training," she added.

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