New products for booming market

  • 2003-05-29
  • Gary Peach

From the moment it gained back its independence and embraced market economics, Latvia has been a leader in enlightening a new class of Baltic business managers.

In a little over a decade after throwing off the Soviet legacy of central planning and command economy, Latvia now boasts five master of business administration programs and numerous undergraduate business schools with classes in English, Latvian and Russian.

And since prices are competitive, choosing an institution can often became quite problematic for both high-school graduates and business professionals looking to improve their qualifications.

In order to help understand the dilemma, as well as where business education in the Baltics is at present, Janis Grevins, director of Riga Business School, offers an insightful paradigm of "old stream" and "new stream" schools.

"'Old stream' are built on economic traditions of understanding management," he said. "They try to incorporate management subjects [as taught in the West] into the teachings of traditional economics."

By contrast, "'new stream' programs stem from the [Western] understanding of management, and they try to find the right mix of economics and management," said Grevins, who studied for seven years at the University of Buffalo before moving back to Riga.

Whereas "old stream" schools - such as the University of Latvia - predominately use existing faculty, many of whom were trained in the Soviet system, "new stream" schools "have new programs and must find the faculty to teach them," stressed Grevins.

And since newer business and management programs are money-driven, he added, they are more flexible.

But whatever the emphasis, all schools would agree that demand for business education is growing fast - so fast, in fact, that top educational establishments are reviewing their product mix.

New executive M.B.A. pograms are being set up, and several schools are considering the possibilities of a full-time M.B.A. program, something as yet nonexistent in the Baltics.

"We are experiencing an educational boom," said Ella Kalnina, head of the international office at RISEBA (Riga International School of Economics and Business Administration). "Enrollment is increasing year by year."

This year RISEBA will congratulate the first graduates of its new executive M.B.A. program, which is run in conjunction with the University of Salford, in suburban Manchester.

According to Kalnina, approximately half of all lectures are conducted by Salford professors.

Riga Business School's executive M.B.A. is four years old, making it the oldest in Latvia, while its master-level programs were the first to be accredited by the Ministry of Education and Science.

The Stockholm School of Economics just launched its executive M.B.A. program last fall, and given the institution's high repute, the program promises to be a winner despite the fact it is by far the most expensive.

According to Ieva Ubele of SSE Riga's executive education department, the school receives approximately 1,400 applicants annually for 115 places in the undergraduate program.

For the fall executive M.B.A. program, 21 students were selected out of a pool of 25, but "one has to bear in mind that for Baltic standards the executive M.B.A. is rather expensive, and in the first year we did not advertise widely."

But the costs bear themselves out. Seventy percent of the faculty in SSE Riga's executive M.B.A. program is international, which essentially eliminates the need for Baltic professionals to travel abroad in order to receive the best instruction.