International University College President Todor Radev: We Incorporate Dutch Education in Bulgaria
Interview with Prof. Todor Radev, President of the International University College based in Dobrich, Northeastern Bulgaria, for the Dutch Survey ("International Survey: Bulgaria-Netherlands") of Novinite.com (Sofia News Agency). The IUC was started as a Dutch sponsored project.
Todor Radev is an Economics graduate of the University of World Economy in Sofia and St. Petersburg University in Russia. He has specialized in the UK, and has taught at Sofia University and Technical University of Sofia.
One participants in a IUC program in the Netherlands, Vladimir Jechev, also took part in the interview.
How was The International University College created? Where did the initiative on the Dutch part come from?
International University College (IUC) goes back to September 1992, when under the Bulgarian-Dutch PSO project for cooperation of the Dutch government with Central and Eastern Europe, a two-year training course in hotel management was started for 20 students at the Bulgarian Black Sea resort Albena.
Instructors from the Higher School for Hotel Management in the city of Maastricht, the Netherlands, were seeking a partner to train managers in the field of tourism programs entirely in a Dutch manner, and this is how everything started. Based on this school, in 1996 we created the International University College as required by Bulgarian law for higher education.
In 1998 the Accreditation Board of the National Agency for Assessment and Accreditation granted us initial institutional accreditation as a College, and then the new higher education university was approved by the Council of Ministers of Bulgaria and officially established by a decision of the National Assembly from May 5. 1999.
What is the Dutch participation in IUC today? Is the Dutch model integrated within your educational programs?
International University College is constantly evolving and for the past 10 years has expanded further its network of many partners. Some of the majors offered by the college are taught in partnership with Dutch universities – such as Stenden University - allowing students in hotel management to get a degree in international hospitality management after completing their studies at IUC;
Our contract with HAN University of Applied Sciences allows students in international business and management to continue and complete their education in the Netherlands with a specialization in human resources management or logistics. Studies in these fields are entirely in English with instructors being both local and visiting from partner universities.
Perhaps the strongest Dutch presence is with another PSO-established project at International University College – our Culinary Academy HRC. The Culinary Academy is the only school on the Balkans for professional chefs. In cooperation with a Dutch company known for its selection and training of personnel for the tourism industry - HRC International – we were able to start the first of its kind school for culinary arts in our part of Europe.
The HRC Culinary Academy was inaugurated by the Ambassador of the Netherlands in 2008 – H.E. Willem van Ee, and currently has four classes of students. The model of training is extremely dynamic in itself: two of the four semesters at the Academy are spent as paid internship abroad - one in Europe or the Middle East, notably the Netherlands and Doha, Qatar; and the second is in the U.S. Theory and practice go hand in hand in each one of our majors, so internships are a compulsory element of the education of each student.
Thanks to our Dutch partner HRC International, students in Culinary Arts get internships at renowned 4 - and 5-star hotels, which also helps them pay for their training with us. Some of the places where we currently have students are Hotel Villa Ruimzicht, Hotel Chateau St. Gerlach and Hotel Restaurant Kronenburg in the Netherlands, and the W Hotel Doha, Qatar, and in the U.S. - Solage Calistoga, California, Hilton Atlanta & Towers.
We continue to share experiences and to partner with many other universities, including Dutch, in projects in education, such as the Atlantis, Erasmus, and Leonardo da Vinci programs.
Does the quality of Bulgarian students, teachers, teaching and learning processes, correspond to western standards? What is the evidence for that?
Not only corresponds to, but our students are among the top students, whenever they go to foreign universities. Our student Marina Staneva, who is continuing in Maastricht after training with us, was at the top of her class academically. Vladimir Jechev, class in 2009, was also among the top students at the HAN University. After graduation, he returned to Bulgaria to study further with us – he is a student at the MBA Program of University of Wales Institute Cardiff, which we implemented in Bulgaria. But let him tell you about his experience himself.
Vladimir Jechev: My experience with the exchange program at HAN University, Arnhem Business School, the Netherlands has gone far beyond the scope of simple business studies turning into a comprehensive, in terms of knowledge, yet challenging and beneficial period.
Before going to the Netherlands, I was in the International Business and Management Program at International University College. In addition to the actual introduction to the field of contemporary business, the program also enhanced my ability to evaluate and assimilate cultural differences in the international business framework.
My time at HAN has made more aware of the importance of proficiency in such skills as: ability to write company-specific reports and others reflecting self-performance, ability to speak eloquently, preparing exhibits and arranging meetings, the importance of personal appearance, and the need for good business manners.
IUC student Vladimir Jechev during his exchange program in at HAN University, Netherlands.
How does the IUS fund its programs? Do you have foreign sponsors?
Sponsors - no, but we have a very strong team, thanks to which we have been realizing academic and non-academic projects under EU programs, together with our partners in Europe and USA. The fees at Western universities are many times higher than the fees our students pay.
Thanks to the businesses that we have developed, we do not only succeed in keeping fees at this level, but also in showing our students what real-time management is. They not only learn to manage a business, but also practice at the Accounting Office at the College, at our training Travel and Tour-Operating Agency, at our training restaurants and hotel facilities, and in the complex "Summer Theater" they have the opportunity to express themselves in a creative aspect.
Some of the best professional centers in the country work with the College, too - only this year 600 members of the Supreme Judicial Council of Bulgaria were trained in our centers, as well as many other officials in the public administration, 60 unemployed persons from Dobrich received professional qualifications, and more than 30 foreigners practiced Bulgarian language at the college.
For the last three years, the International University College and its structures developed and won over 23 European and international projects worth over EUR 4 M.
Why the choice of northeastern Bulgaria Dobrich for this project, was the choice of the location influenced by the Dutch? What conditions make Dobrich the most suitable location for the IUC? Have there been suggestions to move to more "prestigious" places such as Varna or Sofia?
Since IUC was launched as the first private school for tourism in Bulgaria, it was the natural choice of both the Bulgarian and the Dutch parties to have it in a major tourist area in the country. In 1992, Albena was a leading tourist center in the country.
The moment our students exceeded 200, however, the school in the resort was not effective anymore for proper training and studies. Moreover, during the winter Albena is hardly the best location. Of course, we looked at the closest possible solutions, and so our base is entirely in the city of Dobrich now.
There are no students of ours in Albena now, except for hotel facilities for their practical training during the summer. Currently, there is another university occupying our old facilities there. IUC currently has over 1400 students, but we also have modern facilities that allow us to teach, and to do a lot more.
What is the relationship of IUC with the Bulgarian Black Sea resorts?
Ever better. We have great partnerships with resorts and especially with large hotel chains such as RIU, Iberostar, Helios, Sol Melia. Business and education must always be developed hand in hand.
Our students need a quality environment to practice what they have learned, and our partners need quality staff, motivated and willing to work. Therefore, more and more employers have been contacting us, trying to attract our students.
The tourism sector in Bulgaria constantly complains about the lack of "skilled" workers? Do you think that these complaints are justified? How do the staff and managers educated at IUC, compensate these shortages in tourism?
Yes, that is true. But as I said, employers do see the skills of their employees, and so as they go forward, target schools that can provide them with staff that are able to meet their needs.
Just weeks ago, a report by the joint study of the Bulgarian Association for Management and Human Resources Development and Pari Daily was published. It showed that businesses put IUC at seventh place among the universities, from which they would like to recruit. Besides, 22% of the respondents were managers in various fields and industries, and only 12% were from the tourism sector.
Imagine what the percentage would be if only employers from the tourist industry were polled, where we have hundreds of students at good positions already. /Reference: http://www.bhrmda.bg/bg/130/news_open.html/
Is there really room for the realization of managers with college degrees from your tourism program in Bulgaria, or do Bulgarian businessmen in tourism mostly want "qualified" waiters and other lower positions?
Nobody should expect to begin his professional development as a manager. Companies decide and manage via specific policies how to motivate their employees to work hard on company goals.
Our students succeed because they seek career development, rather than higher wages; they know that this is achieved with hard work, and they seek out the challenges in their work. Employers who can provide them such an environment at work, enjoy high quality employees who can grow with the years.
What are your observations on the realization of your college graduates - what proportion of them find work in Bulgaria? What part remain abroad after completing their 4th year of studies at your partner universities, including in the Netherlands?
Our relationship with our students does not end with graduation. Our University College Career Center maintains contact with them, and more often than not, they find their careers with the help of the College.
At present, about 10% of the graduates of our students work outside the country, most of them residing in the United States, Britain and the Netherlands; some 18% continue their studies in master's programs here and abroad.
Examples of successful realization abound, but here are a few of them: The Manager of fast food restaurants in the resort of Albena, Hristo Penev, is our student of class 2000; Events Manager of Hilton - London is our former student who graduated in 2006 - Tsvetelina Pavlova; one of the Deputy Mayors of the Municipality Veliki Preslav is our graduate - Kamen Dimitrov, class of 2002; some recent graduates - class of 2008 - hold managerial positions at the Radison SAS in Sofia - Vasilka Kukusheva - Front Office Manager; at the Royal Caribbean - Christina Dimitrova, Customer Relations Manager; Vihren Hotel, Bansko - Varujan Tatuasyan, F&B Manager, and many more.
What are your plans for the development of IUC and what role do the Dutch or other foreign partners play in them?
The main idea is that the training at the International University College, in more and more of our programs, to lead to the so-called double degree, i.e. after three years of training with us, students to graduate with both Bulgarian, and a degree from our partner universities.
We have this opportunity available to our students majoring in programs taught in English, in the joint programs with our Dutch partners, and with several prestigious British universities, and even with our American partners now, with whom we offer more than 10 undergraduate and masters programs.
In June, the National Agency for Assessment and Accreditation approved the increase of our capacity more than twofold, which means that we can train twice more students. Moreover, we plan to introduce new fields of studies, consistent with the development of businesses worldwide.
An example is the Business Information Systems, which aims to create business management specialists who command the opportunities that information technologies provide. In this major, students will have the option to continue their studies with our partners in the United States, where this area is very well developed.
What is the thing (or things) that are specific for Dutch higher education that Bulgarian universities must "learn" and "import"?
Actually, we have a lot to learn from them. There, the student is at the center of attention; they do not create boundaries between students and teachers; they encourage self-preparation, proactive initiatives and self-discipline, and the personal contribution of each student. The teacher there is a mediator - he encourages and motivates.
So it is at the International University College - everything has to pass not only through the head of the student, but also through his hands, because we teach not only knowledge but also skills. Therefore, in our studies, we use Dutch methods, such as working in small groups, solving case studies, organizing events... The more situations a young person has faced during their training, the more successfully they can deal with cases in real life after graduation.