A Consultant's Casebook

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The Reform of Economics Education in Mongolia

The Project Plan

I have worked around the world: Hong Kong, P.R.C. China, Germany, Estonia, Malaysia, and Singapore, among others. I enjoy the travel associated with exotic foreign places.  I find it challenging to work among people with limited English skills. And so, I was very interested when I read about a consulting opportunity in Mongolia.

The European Union administers an aid program called TACIS (Technical Assistance for the Commonwealth of Independent States - the former Communist bloc). This aid program was extended to include a number of countries including Mongolia.   Typically, the technical assistance offered is related to moving the countries’ institutions toward a market economy and promoting democratic reforms.  I was interested in the position of Project Director for the “Reform of Economics Education” at the National University of Mongolia.  But this effort was structured to fail.

First, consider the contract award process. The European Union TACIS office in Brussels has a discriminatory hiring policy and staff personnel are hired only if they are less than 30 years old.  Consequently some junior-consultant wanna-be was given the assignment of identifying worthwhile projects in Mongolia. During a two-week period, the junior staffer traveled to Mongolia, interviewed some important people who spoke English or French, and wrote the Terms of Reference TORs for a number of potential projects. So, no more than two man-weeks of effort were expended to identify a significant problem and to identify the means by which the problem should be addressed.

The TORs are edited and approved by the TACIS contracts office and distributed to a short-list of potential bidders.  Five organizations bid for the Reform of Economics Education project, each representing one of the major geographical regions of the EU: Germany, France, Spain, the UK, and Greece. To bid competitively, the organizations allied themselves into trans-national consortia.  Teams of professional proposal developers worked to produce thousand-page documents to demonstrate capabilities, methodology, and an understanding of the Terms Of Reference.  Manchester University solicited my resume to be presented as Project Director to demonstrate both experience and capability.

What I find incredible is the mis-match of effort!  The TORs presented the project plan and methodological approach and were completed in a few man-weeks by junior-level staff.  The bid proposal harnessed some 9 man-months of professional time to demonstrate capabilities, methodology, and understanding of a very rudimentary plan, which inevitably got things wrong.

In the case of the Reform of Economics Education project, the TORs missed the point completely.  When the EU project-planner arrived in Mongolia, he interviewed the important people he could find.  At the “Economics Institute” of the Mongolia National University he discovered a need for curriculum reform.  This need dovetailed nicely with the TACIS emphasis on education and “market economic reform” and the TORs were born.  They were stillborn, however, because of time pressure, cultural differences, and language shortcomings. 

Time pressure and the language and culture barrier contributed to a gross misunderstanding.  An “Economics” curriculum in the former Soviet states has a far broader scope and encompasses Management, Accounting, Business English, Organizational Behavior, Human Performance, as well as Economics.  In short, an “Economics” curriculum in the former Soviet states mirrors the curriculum of a Western business school.  So, while the Economics Institute of the National University of Mongolia is a Western oriented business school, the TACIS office in Brussels developed a plan for technical assistance that concentrated only on the reform of a Western economics curriculum – to the tune of 2,000,000 ecu! 

With hindsight, the differences in expectations were evident at our meeting with the selection committee in Brussels.  Professor Tom Christie represented the Department of Education at the University of Manchester, well known for its work on curriculum reform and curriculum design.  Professor Christie eloquently presented the need to harness the full resources of the Manchester Department of Education and the Department of Economics.  Professor Dorj, Rector of the National University of Mongolia, questioned the participation of the world-renown Manchester Business School!

Our bid was successful, and the EU/TACIS program accepted our proposal.  The intent of the Europeans was to spend 2,000,000 ecus to reform the program of economics education in Mongolia.  The intent of the Mongolians was to have their business school curriculum revised.  The “Economics Institute” had a faculty of about 100, only 7 of whom taught economics.  Of the nearly 5,000 enrolled students, only 50 undergraduates and 7 MBA candidates studied economics.  Simple arithmetic suggests that the most certain results from the narrow focus of aid would be to send all 64 economics students and faculty to study at Manchester University with a stipend of some 31,000ecus each.  Or, the economics curriculum reform might be obtained by sending the 14 faculty and senior students to obtain Manchester University Ph.D.s in economics with stipends of approximately 140,000ecus each. 

The Project Organization

  OK.  So the focus of the project was a bit skewed.  But, the TACIS program allows for a revision of the Terms Of Reference with the submission of the first project report, the Inception Report.  The Inception Report is intended to revise the project plan according to the current situation in the field.  The first project milestone is the Inception Report.

Of course, the Inception Report needed to be approved by all the major players in the consortium.  These players included, (1) the University of Manchester Department of Education headed by Professor Tom Christie; (2) CfBT, the Center for British Teachers, a consultancy focusing on educational issues; (3) and The National University of Mongolia.  The relationships among these three organizations were strained by competition for the 2,000,000 ecus.

CfBT was the organization that first identified the Mongolian project through its Brussels liaison. The TORs were announced during the spring of 1995 when the University faculties were preparing for summer recess.  CfBT was not on the list of pre-qualified bidders and needed to find a qualified partner to bid.  One of the Directors of CfBT was on the faculty of Education at Manchester University, and secured the university’s consent to act as lead bidder – all unbeknownst to Professor Christie who was in Botswana. 

In July, Professor Christie suddenly found that his curriculum development group could be 2,000,000 ecus richer.  While CfBT identified the project, wrote the major portion of the proposal, recruited senior-level staff, and managed the proposal submission process, Professor Christie’s group was poised to reap the rewards because it was the pre-qualified bidder.  After the proposal presentation in July, Manchester and CfBT settled down to divide the spoils.

In theory, the National University of Mongolia was the TACIS aid recipient.  The aid, however, was administered through Manchester University – all 2,000,000 ecus were funneled through the University accounting office.  CfBT assumed the responsibility of project management in Ulaanbaatar, while the Department of Education at Manchester had overall responsibility for project management.  As Project Director, CfBT, not the University of Manchester, employed me.  My contract with CfBT explicitly stated that my client was the National University of Mongolia, and that my work must be in their interests.  The interests of the Mongolians were clear: to upgrade the teaching skills of their staff by arranging in-country seminars and to provide visiting scholar opportunities to study abroad. 

The stage was set for a conflict.  I was the only native-English speaking representative of the client, the National University of Mongolia.  CfBT received its funds for managing my presence, and arranging for the local Ulaanbaatar costs associated with visiting experts.  Manchester University was to receive its fees for days of technical assistance offered on site and an overall management fee. 






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Last modified: October 19, 2000