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(E) University of Zagreb and University of Georgia Partnership
By Nenad N. Bach | Published  02/11/2006 | Ideas | Unrated
(E) University of Zagreb and University of Georgia Partnership

 

Showcasing Significant Accomplishments: 

The Recent History of the University of Zagreb and University of Georgia Partnership for Building a Foundation for a Strong Economic Future for Croatia

Rusty Brooks, Assistant Director and Professor[1]

The International Center for Democratic Governance

The Carl Vinson Institute of Government

The University of Georgia

Background

Almost eight years of cooperative work between the University of Zagreb and the University of Georgia now shows significant accomplishments that will positively contribute to building a sustainable economic future for Croatia.  Primarily these results were made possible through the diligent and persistent work of Dr. Bojan Baletic of the Faculty of Architecture at the University of Zagreb (UZ) and with the support of Vice Rector Vlasta Vizek Vidovic of UZ.  These recent accomplishments were facilitated through a three year project begun in 2002 between the University of Georgia (UGA) and the University of Zagreb (UZ) entitled “A Partnership for Sustainable Rural Economic Revitalization in Croatia.â€?  This project was funded by the Association Liaison Office for University Cooperation in Development in Washington DC with monies from the United States Agency for International Development.

This three year project focused on the Zumberak region of Croatia.  This region was selected because it had significant out-migration of people; little job creation and job retention; important land and forest resources; and is in close proximity to Zagreb.  The proximity issue was considered an important consideration if the project was to be able to entice faculty from UZ out to the region to assist in accomplishing the objectives of the project.  The stated objectives of this three year project were to have UZ and UGA partner in “outreach activitiesâ€? to generate jobs and improve quality of life in the Zumberak region of Croatia.

What the project actually served to do was to indicate the important institutional changes that would first have to occur at UZ to allow these “outreach activitiesâ€? to have support and financing.  These necessary institutional changes would be required to help alter the university culture to not only embrace and reward traditional teaching and research, but would create the institutional mechanisms to allow and endorse UZ to actively engage in organized applied research, technical assistance, and consultation activities that would positively improve the lives of the people, governments, and businesses in Croatia.

This three year project intended to demonstrate how to produce jobs and improve quality of life in the Zumberak through helping organize activities by UZ that emulated “outreachâ€? activities carried out at UGA.  Many U. S. institutions of higher education carry out outreach activities in addition to their primary missions of teaching and research.  U. S. universities have an organizational culture that sees outreach activities as equal in importance to their responsibilities of traditional teaching and basic research.

Outreach activities allow U. S. universities to actively engage themselves with their larger publics by addressing real world problems and issues that confront citizens, businesses, their state and local governments, and specific economic sectors such as agriculture, forestry, and tourism.  In this way, U. S. universities build valuable constituencies beyond only the traditional student.  By actively engaging with this larger public constituency, U. S. universities provide applied research, technical assistance, and consultation activities that make significant contributions to better governments, more successful businesses, improved quality of life for citizens, and large contributions to overall economic development.  In turn, U. S. universities receive significant financial and political support from these larger constituencies.  This broad-based support for outreach and engagement by U. S. universities comes about largely because they are seen as such important players in stimulating economic development and improving quality of life for the people they serve.  This is exactly the case at UGA and the state of Georgia benefits greatly from the university’s role in outreach scholarship.

What Happened at UZ?

Again, what this three year project served to clearly demonstrate was that it was going to be necessary to change the organizational culture of UZ to create internal institutional mechanisms that would support faculty roles and university structures (in addition to the traditional roles and disciplinary silos that serve to only facilitate and reward teaching and research) to support outreach activities.  Clearly, the reward and financing structure, as well as the promotion system, would have to be changed if UZ was to effectively engage itself in outreach in the Zumberak.  It became obvious that the first task would require making changes within the UZ laws and regulations to support outreach. 

This was the important role that Dr. Baletic assumed at UZ.  Over the three year period he worked tirelessly within UZ to:

Ground documents for UZ outreach:

  1. Program document for the establishing of the UZ Council for the Support of Regional Development and Local Community (2003).
  2. Program document for the establishing of the UZ Centre for Sustainable Regional Development (2004).
  3. Donation of the school buildings by the Zumberak local government (2003).
  4. Articles regarding the outreach mission of UZ and the optional formation of the Office for Regional Development in the new UZ Statue (2005).

In addition, he managed to provide leadership to other activities that also supported the grounding of outreach into the UZ organizational structure and to engage UZ faculty in developing projects that would support outreach activities.  For example:

Documents were produced that outline the strategy and subject of UZ outreach in the rural development domain:

  1. Project proposal: Socio-economic models of rural sustainable development (submitted to the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry).
  2. Project proposal: Sustainable tourism in rural Croatia (submitted to the Ministry of Tourism).
  3. Project proposal: Development of a web-based system for sustainable development knowledge distribution (submitted for Croatian telecom donation).
  4. Project proposal: University integration and regional development support (submitted to Tempus program).
  5. Project proposal: Sustainable tourism in continental Croatia (submitted for Interregional cooperation).
  6. Power point presentations at the ALO Synergy in Development Conferences in Washington DC in 2003 and 2004.
  7. Participation and support of the Zumberak plan of local development based on EU criteria (Interregional project).

All these changes at UZ have worked to assist the university in more formally structuring activities that help create in Croatia avibrant agricultural economy; improve public health; help create new jobs and businesses; organize significant new rural development activities and programs; protect and preserve traditional architecture; train officials for better functioning local governments; and, move to better manage the increasingly fragile natural resource base with sustainable management practices to help Croatia clearly demonstrate the characteristics of a country ready to assume a place within the European Union.

In sum, the collaborative work between UGA and UZ, with Dr. Baletic’s and Vice Rector Vizek’s strong support, has resulted in creating at UZ a model of higher education that transfers the relevant and appropriate technology of UGA’s land grant model of public service and outreach to Croatia’s citizens, civic society, governments, and businesses, and positions UZ to now become a major catalyst for improving quality of life and sustainable economic development in Croatia.

Where are we now?

            Dr. Baletic continues to lead efforts at UZ to move the collaborative work with UGA in Zumberak forward.  Vice Rector Vizek recently completed an agreement between the local governments in Zumberak for the donation of the old school in Mrzlo Polje to become the UZ Centre for Sustainable Development.  The recent generous contribution of Dr. and Mrs. Lawrence Phillips to UGA for work in Croatia will allow UGA and UZ to utilize this abandoned school facility, when remodelled and furnished, as a locus of joint activities that can serve as a model for outreach activities across Croatia.

UGA has committed to work to obtain donor monies to rehabilitate and reconstruct the abandoned old school into a viable and quality facility with the expectation that UZ and government in Croatia will furnish, supply, staff, maintain, and support the activities that will take place there.

UGA has also committed to bring salary monies to create a Director of Outreach in Zumberak at this Centre contingent upon UZ and Croatia government providing the necessary infrastructure to support the position, including staff, equipment, and supplies.  UGA has also committed to funding UZ faculty to carry out activities at this Centre for Sustainable development if UZ and the relevant Ministries agree to recognize, support, and reward outreach activities and outreach scholarship by participating faculty at UZ.

The Phillips contribution to UGA is being set up as an endowment to insure the long term involvement of UGA in Croatia.  The Phillips endowment will allow students and faculty from UGA to travel to Croatia to use this facility in Mrzlo Polje jointly with colleagues from UZ.  The Phillips monies will also allow funding for joint projects between UGA and UZ faculty and students to carry out activities at this centre.   It is envisioned that activities including public health education and promotion; short courses on preserving and protecting architectural heritage; agriculture and forestry improvement courses and technical assistance; small business development; tourism development; activities for the preservation and utilization of traditional handicrafts and art for local economic development; local government training and applied research activities; and youth recreation and education are just some examples of the types of activities that will be conducted at this centre by UZ and UGA faculty and students.

All along, Dr. Baletic and colleagues at UZ have continued with an ongoing plan of activities to build institutional support at UZ for outreach scholarship.  As a result an impressive list of activities has been accomplished this past year including:  

Documents and activities that build UZ – local government ties and identify specific needs in Zumberak:

  1. ALO project promotion with local government.
  2. Losinj conference that hosted the representatives of local governments.
  3. Interregional project Enerwood – sustainable management of wood resources in Zumberak.
  4. Participation and support of the Zumberak plan of local development based on EU criteria (Interregional project).
  5. Study trip for local government representatives from Zumberak to UGA.
  6. Assistance in creation of the Homeland collection for Zumberak in Sosice as a means of cultural identification and tourist attraction.

Along with this, Faculty of Architecture at UZ did their own research and activities that will be of use to the future outreach work of the UZ Centre in Mrzlo Polje:

 

1.      Analysis of the regional and urban plans for Zumberak.

2.      Creation of a GIS database on the 2001 statistical data on population, cultural and natural attractions and tourist offer.

3.      Documentation based on three thorough study trips around Zumberak to establish real situation in regard to Zumberak tourist appeal.

4.      Analysis of the Croatian rural tourism offer and distribution as means to direct this development in Zumberak.

5.      Establishing a relationship with the Natural park of Zumberak and organizing two summer student workshops in Budinjak.

Special activities regarding the future UZ Centre for sustainable development that will provide the direction for reconstruction of the old school:

  1. Photo documentation on the school buildings.
  2. Measured drawings of the present state of the buildings.
  3. Design proposal for the possible functional organization of the school buildings for the centre.
  4. Rough cost estimate.

Most importantly, Faculty of Architecture and their students conducted interviews with the inhabitants of Mrzlo Polje as to their needs and views. This was done to establish the possibility of their future engagement in the UZ Centre activities and to identify what specific educational programs and activities should be conducted at the UZ Centre for Sustainable Development. 

The activities as implemented by UGA/UZ at the UZ Centre for Sustainable Development in Mrzlo Polje will have as their mission the task of improving the quality of the lives of the region’s citizens through providing education and training programs that address existing public health issues; help create new business enterprises and strengthening existing ones; and, build strong and effective partnerships with local governments and NGO’s in the region.  Building effective multi-sector partnerships between UZ, local and national government, NGO’s, citizens, and international aid agencies will be an important task of this centre and its staff.

If the limited financial and human resources that work out of this centre are to be most effectively leveraged it will require strong multi-sector partnerships between all these relevant parties.  Expertise in building these critical multi-sector partnerships is strong skill that UGA can share with colleagues at UZ.  All the activities identified for the UZ Centre for Sustainable Development will serve to improve the overall livability of the region while building the capacity of these local governments and NGO’s to function in an effective and sustainable manner for the benefit of their constituents and clients.

Why is UGA/Georgia/U.S. Interested in Croatia?

Regional rural development activities implemented by UZ through a directed, successful outreach program can be a significant impetus for political stability, improved public health, economic development; and improvements to overall quality of life for people of Croatia.  The benefits to UGA are a continued internationalization of the curriculum; additional research, teaching, and outreach outlets for UGA programs; increased international prestige for the university and its overall academic and outreach programs; and, recognition by political interests in the U. S. of support for foreign policy goals that contribute to stability in south central Europe.

Benefits to Georgia potentially include new business opportunities and relationships that can facilitate the entry of Georgia enterprises into the regional and local markets.  Croatia is poised on the border of the EU and markets to the east.  Croatia has significant port facilities that could provide accessibility for Georgia products to these markets. 

The U.S. gains better regional security and stability and assistance in combating terrorism and direct and indirect threats to the U. S. from the region.  Croatia is a major entry point for contraband of all types into Western Europe from points south and east of Croatia.  Activities that serve to address economic development problems in rural Croatia will serve to stabilize the rural areas and provide more control of rural border areas by repopulating these areas.  As this project serves to revitalize and repopulate these areas, more political, economic, and social control can be exerted by locals over illegal smuggling activities, especially trafficking in people.  When Croatia can gain better control of border areas in rural places, the US will gain from greater overall international security and the EU will benefit from increased security as well.

Wrapping Up

UGA typifies U. S. state universities and land-grant colleges that have always provided critically important benefits both to the states that fund them and to the nation as a whole. Some of the benefits—lives ennobled by exposure to the arts, improvements to society made by people using what they’ve learned, and current applications of research breakthroughs, etc.—are intangible and hard to express in dollars and cents. Others, however, show quite clearly that public higher education is an invaluable investment that returns a very high yield on every state dollar spent and has tremendous economic development value and outcomes.

In the first project between UZ and UGA, it was apparent to the visiting Croatian delegation to Georgia that UGA played a major role in economic development in the state.  More importantly, it was obvious that UGA was seen as a trusted source of non-biased information on economic development; provided invaluable training and applied research services to local and state government alike; served to provide expertise and research to both small and large businesses; provided a mechanism to commercialize relevant technology for new business start-ups; developed applied research programs to address specific Georgia problems in agriculture, forestry, biotechnology, industrial development, food processing, fisheries, and an entire host of other areas; and utilized this economic good will for the benefit of the university, its citizens, businesses, and governments.

By extending itself beyond the traditional classroom and out into the state of Georgia, UGA was seen by the visiting UZ delegation as a respected, responsible, and formidable player in economic development for the citizens of the state.  More importantly, UGA was seen by the UZ visitors as an institution which valued and rewarded this outreach mission by those faculty and staff members who provided this invaluable service to the people, businesses, and governments around the state.  

This is where we are today.  UZ and UGA are positioned to create in Mrzlo Polje the Centre for Sustainable Development that can serve as a model of how UZ and other institutions of higher education in Croatia can engage in outreach activities that serve to enhance the lives of people, improve the business climate, and make governments more efficient and effective.   UGA is committed to working with partners in Croatia to make these things happen.  At the same time, UGA believes that Croatia can serve as a leader and role model for all of southeast Europe.  By showcasing successful programs and activities at the Centre for Sustainable Development, Croatia can demonstrate a leadership role for the region in addressing similar problems and concerns.  In fact, UGA sees this project in Croatia as serving as a model for countries around the world.  What better legacy for Croatia than creating the model that can serve as the demonstration site for best practices in community and rural development for the entire world!       


 

[1] For more information about the joint work between UGA and UZ please contact Rusty Brooks at rbrooks@cviog.uga.edu or (706) 542-7502 or Dr. Bojan Baletic at bojan.baletic@arhitekt.hr in Croatia.


 

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