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IREX Fellow investigates liberal arts, international exchange

Until November, 2012, Aliaksandr Kalbaska, vice rector for academic affairs of the European Humanities University (EHU), will conduct research at the Reves Center for International Studies at William & Mary as a visiting IREX Fellow.

IREX is a Washington, D.C.,-based international nonprofit organization providing thought leadership and innovative programs to promote positive lasting change globally. Kalbaska’s month-long fellowship is part of the University Administration Support Program (UASP), which fosters the development of higher education in public universities throughout Eastern Europe and Africa.

During his time at William & Mary, Kalbaska plans to analyze U.S. models of higher education management and apply these models to challenges faced at his home institution. The European Humanities University is a private, non-profit liberal arts university founded in Minsk in 1992. It now serves almost 1,700 students, offers undergraduate, graduate and postgraduate degree programs, and promotes research in the humanities and social sciences.

In 2004, the university was expelled from Belarus by the government because it was too closely aligned to Western education models and refused to change its curriculum. It has since been headquartered in Vilnius, Lithuania.

“We are not a usual institution,” said Kalbaska. “We are a Belarusian university in exile in a European Union nation. This means our students had to move and we now accept international students from all over.”   

The increasing international composition of the student body and popularity of study abroad and exchange programs at EHU were determining factors in Kalbaska’s choice to work with William & Mary and the Reves Center during his fellowship.

 “My task is to understand how the Reves Center organized international exchange for the last 25 years and prepare a roadmap for my university.”

Kalbaska also hopes to explore the characteristics of an American liberal arts education.  

“Our university proclaims itself a liberal arts institution, but we are transforming from a post-Soviet higher education system,” he said.  “It’s not easy to combine liberal arts with this.” 

In addition to his work at W&M, Kalbaska will visit Oberlin College in Ohio and Bard College in New York to compare three different liberal arts institutions. At the end of his fellowship, he will submit a written case study and share his experience with his peers during the UASP closing workshop in Washington, D.C., in November.

Upon his return to Vilnius, Kalbaska plans to build upon his experience in the United States to expand the International Relations office and international programs at the European Humanities University.