Baltic university comes under fire

  • 2001-04-05
  • Aleksei Gunter
TALLINN - Concordia University faced numerous charges this week from a former employee, who accused the university of insufficient quality in its law studies and unreasonably high education fees.

Toby King, from Great Britain, who has previously studied at five universities in the U.S.A., Japan and Europe, was employed as an associate professor of law at Concordia International University Estonia for the fall semester last year.

"More accurately, I was employed by Concordia Estonia Faculty Services Ltd., a company incorporated, for unknown reasons, in London, and owned by Mart Susi, the rector, and his wife, who is vice-rector," wrote King in a letter to The Baltic Times.

"Concordia's raison d'etre is radically different to other universities. Normal universities are dedicated to teaching and research. Concordia, on the other hand, is dedicated solely to making as much money for the owners as possible," King continued.

"It is richly ironic that, having paid high fees in order to obtain a quality education, Concordia's students are provided with such a ridiculous library that they have to study instead in a public library (Estonian National Library) open to anyone free of charge," wrote King.

Kristaps Tamuzs, 20, a second-year student of law at Concordia, an exchange student for this semester from Helsinki University, agrees the library is in need of a great deal of improvement.

"The library resources, corresponding to law studies, are really poor. Basically, only textbooks necessary for running the courses can be found there and it seems to be a rule that they are not available when most needed," he said.

But he added that he thought it normal in any university to have to go to different libraries while studying, so there is no grounds for students complaining they have to go to the National Library.

King called Concordia's library "truly pitiful, a pathetic handful of books and journals.

At Concordia's website Toby King is still listed as a staff member of the law studies department. He left Estonia earlier this year.

A special higher education commission including some European and American university professors audited the law studies program at Concordia last March.

The commission stated that due to plans to develop research work the university should obtain a better collection of legal textbooks, especially on issues related to private law.

Meanwhile Concordia plans to expand. According to Susi, several new academic programs will be available from fall 2001, namely a postgraduate program in "e-business," a bachelor's in political science and international relations and a doctorate in business.

Concordia now has 1,200 students, out of which 250 come from Latvia and 245 from Lithuania. The average fee is $3,000 per year, which is the highest cost for higher education in Estonia.

However, some students defend their university from King's claims.

Timurs Umans, a Latvian business student at Concordia, admitted that there certainly are some problems at Concordia but thinks it's unfair to give such a vocal negative opinion.

"I don't believe it was appropriate to express it as publicly as he did," he said.

"In general, at the present stage of development in private education in our newly independent states, it is fairly satisfactory and there are faults which I'm sure will be resolved with time. Rome wasn't built in a day," said Umans.

Linda Trusevska, a third year student of law from Latvia majoring in EU law, said she thought most of the problems start when people with such diverse cultural and national origins do not understand each other.

"Those who cannot learn to understand others are quitting fast," she said about King's case.

Trusevska, 20, is an active member of the students' Government and EU Law Association.

"Most of the law professors have a wide range of practical experience in specific fields. This fact already distinguishes Concordia from other universities in the Baltic states," she said, adding that the regional final of the European Moot Court competition, a prestige event in Europe, was held at Concordia.

A senior law student from Lithuania, whose thesis adviser was Toby King and who wished to remain anonymous, said she had previously been taught by professors from Vilnius University who failed to reach the same high standard of teaching and qualifications as the foreign professors at Concordia - including King himself.

"Toby King really helped me a lot. In finding the topic and main issues of the thesis, he also brought some important articles from Brussels," she said.

"Baltic professors, especially the older ones, are not capable of providing a Western type of teaching, because they have never really experienced it themselves," she said.

She said that courses on local law, for example Lithuanian law, are being taught during the weekends by professors who come from Vilnius.

She admitted that it is true Concordia cannot offer the same amount of library materials on EU law as the Estonian National Library. But the library is only nine years old, and the National Library lacks new books on contemporary issues of the EU.

"To graduate from here I have to write a thesis. Among many other sources I have used 10 books from Concordia's library and several important articles from its periodicals. I think this is a good result, bearing in mind that I wrote about this 'hot' topic of the EU," she said.

"In comparison with Helsinki University, the academic staff at Concordia are of a lot higher level," concluded Tomuzs.

The Estonian Education Ministry is satisfied with Concordia's work. Maiki Udam, the head of the higher education division of the science and higher education department of the Education Ministry, said there have previously been no complaints regarding the quality of studies at Concordia.

"The bachelor's law studies program was finally accredited by the ministry last spring, as were the bachelor's and master's programs on international business administration," said Udam.

The accreditation lasts for seven years.

The dean of the law school at Concordia, Frank Emmert, spoke on behalf of the university when contacted by The Baltic Times for comment.

"It's true that our library is small compared to well established Western university libraries. But its budget - for books and journals and not including rent of rooms, staff and office expenses - is over 500,000 kroons ($28,570) and we have about 10,000 books, as well as more national and international journal subscriptions for the subjects we are teaching. This is more than any other university library in Estonia, including Tartu Law School.

"The entire income is spent for the purposes of educating our 1,200 students. It is true that every member of our faculty and staff, including Rector Mart Susi, are being paid - let's be honest - are being paid well for Estonian price and wage levels. However, it is illusory to believe that there are big profits to be made with something like a private university."

Emmert told The Baltic Times why he thought King may have left the university. He was already working with Concordia at 50% percent teaching time when he requested a full-time teaching position.

"These negotiations were not successful, since he expected a salary of $2,000 a month for full-time employment using the logic that if 50 percent is paid at $1,000, 100 percent should be paid at $2,000.

"We never made any promises or even just indications as to such an amount, since even our most experienced professors are paid at a rate of 'only' 25,000 kroons for full-time employment - about $1,650. He rejected our offer of an equivalent salary and left Estonia.

"He also demanded payment of a one-way ticket to Turkey, where his parents are living. Even though this was significantly more expensive than a ticket to the U.K., we eventually paid his flight to Turkey.

"Mr. King has demonstrated an absence of any understanding of how a university is managed and what kind of expenses need to be provided for," concluded Emmert.