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St Petersburg branch strengthens Russian link

AN ICE team is in Russia this week to establish a new local branch in St Petersburg, build on links with Russian organisations and visit the recently formed Moscow branch.

This is the latest stage in a project that has been running for several years. ICE's Central and Eastern European task force was established in 1993, building on the success of Manchester branch's Polish initiative which began in 1990. The idea is to investigate, establish and implement initiatives to develop professional links with senior civil engineers and associations in target countries. Setting up local branches gives a 'home' for ex-pats, and develops Russian interest in the ICE, explained Central & Eastern Europe sub committee chairman Roger Milburn.

Romania, Poland, Russia and Hungary were identified as the top priorities. London Association is responsible for the Romanian initiative, Midlands for Hungary and Manchester branch for the remaining two. The two Scottish local associations are earmarked to take the remaining countries on board. 'We have really started to step up the pace over the last 12 months,' said Milburn, who is responsible for the ICE's Russian initiative and is a director of Ove Arup & Partners in Manchester.

Overseeing the work is the international affairs policy group, chaired by vice president Brian Crossley. President elect George Fleming was previously chair of the group, and plans to make it a focus of his presidential year.

Objectives include explaining the purpose and structure of the ICE and the benefits of links; providing a channel for two way exchange of technical and procurement information, getting to know how the education process works and identifying potential universities for accreditation; and providing support in further education and continuing professional development.

Establishment of local ICE branches is another thrust of the work. 'Part of our problem has been to get a good handle on the ICE membership in any of these countries, particularly if people are there only for a short period,' said Milburn.

Entry points vary from country to country, explained Milburn. 'In very few cases is there anything as formal and organised as the ICE. But we are trying to make contact with local associations and institutions, leading universities and then with leading public authorities.'

Universities already network extremely well, the teams have found. Contact with practitioners in the private sector is also important. 'All those have an impact on everything - the curriculum, standards and practices,' said UMIST senior lecturer Andrew Gale. The initiatives could not work if one was left out, and teams ideally include people who understand all aspects, he explained.

Gale and Strathclyde University's Dr Arkady Retik are the other members of this week's delegation.

Manchester branch's Russian work has concentrated on St Petersburg, while ICE international director John Whitwell has been doing a lot of the groundwork in Moscow.

This week's visit will also take forward a continuing professional development project to produce modules for St Petersburg's GASU University. UMIST and Strathclyde are working with ICE and Arup on a Know-How Fund initiative managed by the British Council, called REAP, which is supporting work to develop a Masters level CPD curriculum at GASU and builds on an earlier scheme.

Professor George Fleming of the University of Strathclyde had led the successful bid with UMIST, Ove Arup and the ICE to obtain Know-How funding for two water modules.Last year people came out from St Petersburg to visit universities, the ICE and Ove Arup. There were also visits to Yorkshire Water.

'The ICE has a tremendously important role in curriculum in the UK universities, whereas in Russia, for instance, the curriculum is still state controlled,' said Gale. 'An aspect we find difficult to get across is that ICE has the authority to qualify its members,' added Milburn.

What is of particular interest to the Russians is the commercial aspect of an engineer's education. 'It is always the lectures on project management, procurement, estimating, tendering and so on that are popular,' said Milburn.

Language barriers often go deeper than superficial translation. 'One of the first lessons was that words we take for granted can mean totally different things,' said Milburn. If someone is introduced as a project manager, it can come over as 'project administrator' and a technically- minded audience may lose interest. Never adopt the self-effacing English way of prefixing a talk by saying 'I'm not really an expert but...' advised Gale - this is a sure fire way of losing the audience. 'You need a first class interpreter when you are giving a talk - someone who understands the industry and has spent time in it,' he added.

Financing for ICE's initiatives comes from a variety of sources. 'Everything we are doing is on the basis of getting grants,' said Gale.

'All activities are non-commercial, but we have no problem in flying the UK plc flag,' added Milburn. 'We are hardly spending any of the members' money. Funding comes from the British Council, the EU's Tacis and Know- How funds, the Department of Trade & Industry and so on.' Modest hotels and cheap flights are used, and considerable matching of resources comes from the time devoted by the engineers involved - three to five days for a visit plus time on their return.

All those involved see it as very worthwhile. As Gale sums up in a toast used on the visits: 'Vashe budusheje: nashe budusheje' - 'Your future is our future!'

Lisa Russell

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