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Few natives of India, on their first trip to Europe, would willingly spend all their time in tiny Slovenia, probably preferring to seek out more glamorous destinations.
But Rajesh Kumar, associate professor at the Alliance Business Academy, Bangalore, has no regrets about his fortnight’s stay in the Alpine resort of Bled, north-west Slovenia, last month.
Professor Kumar is the first Indian national to attend the International Management Teachers Academy (Imta), an annual two-week faculty development programme, now in its seventh year.
“Imta has been a great experience, listening to some of the best professors in the world. The course is meticulously planned and it has given me a lot of motivation and enthusiasm to perform better and achieve more,” he says, having completed the fortnight’s studies.
Organised by the Central and East European Management Development Association (Ceeman) and supported with funding from George Soros, the US billionaire-philanthropist, Imta imports most of its teaching faculty and lays great stress on the innovative use of case studies and interactive teaching methods.
Participants take a common course in the first week, which concentrates on general aspects of management education and the use of case studies. In the second they opt to study a particular course, such as marketing, finance, or leadership and change, with a specialist professor.
“Imta is all-inclusive. Its working methods include lectures and debates, individual preparation, small group discussions and teamwork, case analysis and discussion, simulations, role-play, presentations and the use of IT.
“It’s very intensive and usually involves immense individual progress and increased awareness,” says Milenko Gudic, Imta director.
Participants invariably testify that the course has had a radical affect on their professional outlook.
Tatiana Kazantseva, teaching assistant at the State University of Management, Moscow, says that Imta has given her the intellectual basis for taking a positive, creative and organised approach to teaching.
Her enthusiastic reaction is typical of the 29 young faculty on Imta this year.
Most, as usual, were from business schools in former communist central and eastern Europe, the region Ceeman was set up to serve.
But increasingly, as exemplified by Prof Kumar, the course is attracting participants from countries well outside the original target area. For example, this year’s attendees included Wee Ling Loo, an assistant professor of law at Singapore Management University.
“People here are very dedicated about what they do,” she says. “JB [Professor JB Kassarjian, leader of the leadership and change course] exemplifies what he says: you must continually renew yourself, be passionate and not just satisfy the letter of the law.”
“ People here are very dedicated about what they do. JB [Prof Kassarjian, leader of the leadership and change track] exemplifies what he says – you must continuously renew yourself, be passionate and not just satisfy the letter of the law. If I can be like that, well, this is it, you know!” says Prof Loo.
While Imta has a palpably energising effect on participants in Bled, is this long-lasting, or does it wilt once faculty return home?
Prof Gudic is adamant the effects are long-lasting. “We have had instances where Imta alumni, as visiting lecturers, have taught at schools where there were other former Imta participants, and the students have immediately commented on the similarity of styles,” he says.
He also points to the annual Ceeman case-writing competition, where there has been a surge in both quantity and quality of entrants, many from Imta alumni, in the past two years.
However Ms Kazantseva, although inspired to improve her classes and teaching style, admits to pondering the challenges she faces when introducing changes on the classroom floor.
“In Russia the systems of education, teaching and learning are absolutely different, and the bureaucracy is very strong.
“I need to find [ways] and methods suitable for the Russian culture and school customs, while at the same time also making the lessons fit my own [character],”
Can a course created to bring modern, open teaching styles to young faculty from Plzen to Petropavlovsk have relevance for young faculty from countries that have never known communism?
For Prof Gudic, that is not even a question. “The issues, such as learning to teach and get the best out of case studies, are independent of nationality. The needs are universal,” he says.
Yet while the course had many positives for Prof Kumar – so many that he would “strongly recommend” it to his colleagues in Bangalore – he was somewhat disappointed in the
second week, when discussion on finance was eclipsed by debate on accounting.
Nonetheless, Prof Kumar’s presence was much appreciated by others in his course.
“I think that we all benefited from Rajesh’s teaching experience. He showed us many [novel] teaching methods, including [how to deal with] less interesting topics, such as marginal costs.
“At the end he offered us all his material for free,” said Jasmina Selimovic, teaching assistant at the Faculty of Economics, University of Sarajevo.
However, for all its success in terms of an expanding market, Imta’s intake this year was down on that of 2005. In addition, for the first time in seven years, it was devoid of participants from central Europe – Poland, Slovakia, Hungary and the Czech Republic.
Prof Gudic denies that this signifies that Imta is becoming redundant in its “core” area, citing various reasons why schools in Poland, for example, pulled out at the last minute.
Nonetheless, it seems that Ceeman may have to revive “local” marketing efforts more systematically next year.
However, support for Ceeman from the newer, more far-flung schools looks set to continue – at least Singapore Management University, which began sending faculty last year, has voiced its intention to continue.
“We are pleased with Imta – it’s more than just a ‘train the trainers’-type course, but a rather holistic faculty development programme. We are committed to send some faculty each year,” says Chin Tiong Tan, provost and deputy president of SMU.