Oct. 22, 2007

Cornell team helps Bulgarian university develop master's program in regional development

Over the past 20 years, Cornell's College of Agriculture and Life Sciences has worked with Poland, Hungary and Slovakia to help their recovering economies after their Communist governments fell. Now, add Bulgaria.

More than a dozen Cornell professors -- from development sociology, applied economics and management, natural resources, crop and soil sciences, as well as the Cornell Law School and city and regional planning in the College of Architecture, Art And Planning -- have collaborated for several years to help Bulgaria's University of Rousse develop a 15-course curriculum for an on-campus master's degree program and an off-campus educational certification program, both in regional development management.

"These programs have now been institutionalized and are part of the university's regular offerings -- the first group of master's degree students graduated earlier this year," says David L. Brown, Cornell professor of development sociology, who with Gerald White, Cornell professor of applied economics and management, led the collaborators.

The university showed its gratitude to Brown on Oct. 2 by awarding him an honorary doctorate, its highest honor.

"Our role was to help this Bulgarian university imagine what a degree and an off-campus program focused on management of regional development would look like, what courses would be involved, how it would it be organized, how it would select students," says Brown.

Using a buddy system, Brown paired Cornell and Rousse professors to work together on curriculum and course development; courses include Principles of Community Dispute Resolution, Tools and Methods for Environmental Planning, Sustainable Development of Agricultural and Rural Areas, Sustainable Community Development, and Spatial Economics.

Members of the Cornell team traveled periodically to Bulgaria to develop the curricula and the courses and help pretest them, and members of the Rousse team came to Cornell to observe different pedagogical models and learn about Cornell's land-grant programs. In addition, three Ph.D. students from Rousse spent a semester at Cornell and participated in Cornell Professor David Lewis' development planning course in city and regional planning, which used Rousse as its case study.

Regional development, Brown says, is critical for many Eastern European countries.

"Bulgaria's post-Socialist transformation resulted in regional inequality and environmental damage," says Brown, noting that Bulgaria joined the European Union (EU) at the beginning of this year. "Educational programs to address the challenges of uneven development are largely absent in Bulgarian higher education. And, since regional development is an important aspect of the EU accession process, Bulgaria needs leaders who can manage the process of territorial change to make a smooth transition to Europe."

The Cornell group now is proposing that it work in an advisory capacity with the Rousse faculty to help them do for universities in the former Soviet republics of Moldova and Ukraine what Cornell has done for the University of Rousse.

"There's huge geographic inequality in these ex-Communist countries because centrally planned economies targeted investments to particular types of areas," says Brown. "Now, international capital is determining where growth occurs in countries like Bulgaria." There is a real need for professionals to know how to mange this uneven geographical development in these transforming societies, he says.

The partnership with the University of Rousse was facilitated by the Office of International Programs in Cornell's agriculture college and funded by a two-year, $200,000 grant from the U.S. Department of State's Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs and a smaller grant from the Tianaderrah Foundation.