University of profit

  • 2001-04-05
  • Toby King
The law school at Concordia University is dedicated to providing the finest legal education in the Baltic states. This is just one of the modest claims made by Concordia International University's impressive brochure. According to this brochure, Concordia offers internationally competitive and academically rigorous programs taught by a predominantly Western faculty in the best tradition of open-minded, international and critical Western thinking. An education at Concordia thus prepares students to take leading roles in the business, political and legal life of Europe and the world. Sadly, the reality could not be more different.

I was employed by Concordia University – or, more accurately, Concordia Estonia Faculty Services Ltd., a company incorporated, for unknown reasons, in London, and owned by Mart Susi, the rector, and his wife, the vice rector – to teach law in the autumn term last year. Having studied at five different universities in Europe, the United States and Japan, I thought I had considerable experience in different types of universities. Nothing, however, had prepared me for Concordia. Concordia's reason for existence 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. Mart Susi's business strategy is very simple. Students are charged exorbitant fees, while as little as possible is spent on staff and facilities. The predictable results are profoundly demoralized staff, dreadful facilities, bitterly discontented students, abysmal academic standards and, presumably, fat profits.

The latter, however, can only be guessed at, as the university's accounts are a closely guarded secret.

Although Concordia has over 1,000 students paying annual fees of around $3,000 each, the university is run on a tiny budget. The library is truly pitiful – a pathetic handful of books and journals. Concordia has now been running for eight years, more than enough time to buy some books, but books, of course, cost money and the rector seems able to find better uses for his students' fees.

It is, of course, impossible to study without books, so the students instead have to use the Estonian National Library. 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 open to anyone free of charge.

The rector is equally unwilling to spend money on teachers' salaries and so naturally faces a problem in recruiting and retaining staff. One way he solves this difficulty is by luring teachers from abroad with promises which he has no intention of keeping. In my own case, Concordia promised to pay the full cost of my flight to Estonia. But once I had arrived at Concordia, the rector revealed that he would pay for only half the flight cost. Only after weeks of argument did he agree to honor his promise. Much the same happened with my salary. Before coming to Estonia, I had agreed with Concordia that my workload and salary would be doubled after Christmas. At the end of the autumn term, the rector told me that while my workload would indeed be increased, my pay would remain the same, so in effect cutting my agreed salary by 50 percent.

These were not isolated incidents. Most teachers quickly find their contracts are not worth the paper they are written on and, unsurprisingly, few teachers remain long at Concordia.

Students choose to study at Concordia because they feel – rightly or wrongly – that the state universities of Tartu, Latvia and Vilnius are stuffy, old-fashioned and weak in international and European law. Concordia's slick brochure deliberately exploits this perception by painting a picture of an American-style university with an impressively large faculty, recruited principally from abroad, teaching a comprehensive range of courses in international and European law. This picture is a travesty of the truth.

According to the brochure for 2000-2002, 41 professors teach law at Concordia. Of these, 30 are actually full-time professors at the universities of Tartu, Latvia or Vilnius, or practicing lawyers, who visit Concordia only for a few days each year to deliver lectures in Estonian, Latvian or Lithuanian law. Of the remaining 11 professors, recruited from the United States or Western Europe and responsible for providing courses in international and European law, only three are still present at Concordia. New recruits – perhaps new victims would be a more accurate description – have increased the total number of non-Baltic professors to six.

The brochure claims that these professors teach over 90 courses in international, comparative and European law. This is evidently impossible and in reality many of these courses are not actually taught.

Far from offering the broad curriculum claimed in the brochure, the school offers only a narrow range of courses. Moreover, academic standards at Concordia are at rock bottom. Little or no research is conducted.

As there are so few teachers, they are often required to teach subjects which they have never studied and about which they know nothing. Each teacher devises his own system of examinations, with no attempt to ensure that they meet even the most minimum academic standard. Many examinations seem little more than a formality – so long as fees are paid on time, the degree certificate will be awarded.

The main victims at Concordia are undoubtedly the students. After three years of so-called legal education at Concordia, many students in my class had little grasp of the most basic legal principles, were unable to write coherently and had no conception whatever of legal reasoning. This was certainly not the students' fault. They are intelligent, ambitious and hard-working and would excel at a normal university.

Concordia practices an especially cruel deception. The owners set out to attract the brightest and most ambitious young people in the Baltic states, promising that Concordia is a center of academic excellence unmatched in the region, while in reality it is simply a device to enrich two greedy individuals. The students, who arrive at Concordia expecting so much and who receive so little, are, in general, bitterly disappointed with their choice of university. Concordia University is no more than an academic sham, where students can certainly buy a degree but not an education.