Birth of a University

The Russians Could Use American Campuses as Models

by Gretchen Kell

About 80 miles south of Moscow, the University of California is helping to convert a biological research center into a land grant university equipped to tackle Russia's environmental problems and smooth its transition to a market-driven economy.

As part of that effort, six Russian scientists are took a three-week crash course at Berkeley this summer in agricultural and environmental resource economics. Twenty experts taught them subjects including finance, technology and management of agricultural and environmental policy.

"The Pushchino Biological Research Center emphasized basic science until recently," said David Zilberman, director of the Center for Sustainable Resource Development at the College of Natural Resources. "Now it's our challenge to help the Russians transform it into a land grant university and develop research that leads to commercially applicable outcomes and that will be competitive in the world economy."

In Russia, there is a redirection of monies from basic scientific and military know-how geared to the Cold War to programs that directly help society.

The land grant university model, on which Berkeley is founded, combines teaching, research and public service.

The Russians' summer training helped Pushchino State University, which opened in 1993 and was once Pushchino Biological Resource Center, become "Russia's third greatest university, after Moscow and St. Petersburg," said Emery Roe, director of external grants at the College of Natural Resources and an organizer--along with Zilberman and Professor Jerome Siebert--of the crash course.

Zilberman said the Russians "are extremely capable scientifically and have great mathematical skills. With some exposure to Western economy they can catch up and be among the leaders in economics as well."

In 1991, a partnership signed between the Berkeley, Davis and Riverside campuses and Washington State University launched the overhaul of Pushchino, a "science city" of 20,000 people with eight institutes devoted to basic scientific research. Two years earlier, a Russian microbiologist had approached Berkeley Professor Milt Schroth in Japan at an international conference on plant pathology and asked him to come to Russia to see how desperately modernization was needed.

The microbiologist, Alexander Boronin, is now chancellor of Pushchino State University.

"We're helping the Russians develop a model system to be copied throughout Russia," said Schroth, a former associate dean of the College of Natural Resources and a plant pathology expert. "They're begging for information. They want to change Russia through education. It does wonders for them to see how we do things, to determine what approaches could best be adopted and modified for their use."

In addition to classroom instruction, the three-week course at Berkeley includes field trips to agricultural communities and businesses in California.

Schroth said Russia has serious environmental problems to address, including oil spills, ground water pollution from chemicals, contaminated food supplies and chemical weapons that need to be disposed of or destroyed. In the Ukraine, hot spots remain from the Chernobyl disaster.

"Agriculture is probably the biggest environmental disaster," he said. "There is little information concerning how much of the food supplies grown in Russia are affected by chemicals, pollutants and pests."

Schroth said Russia needs new, coordinated, scientific programs which focus basic and applied research on solving critical problems. Unlike in the U.S., the country has never had a system in which technology is brought from universities and scientists to the farmers.

Schroth said the Pushchino project already has led to cooperative research projects between Russian scientists and their American helpers. There are joint studies on the biological control of wheat diseases, culturing disease-free potato seed, protecting animals from diseases and on various environmental problems.

In 1992, Berkeley helped set up another school in Russia--the State University of St. Petersburg School of Management. It was the first business school in Russia to be housed at a major university.

The campus became involved in both projects believing that the new schools will contribute to a peaceful change in Russia by building economic strength as a prerequisite to political stability.


Copyright 1995, The Regents of the University of California.
Produced and maintained by the Office of Public Affairs at UC Berkeley.
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