Reasons for introducing Regional Studies into the Academic Curricula
With the process of EU integration at hand, regionalism and regional cooperation has become a top priority in East-Central Europe. In fact, there is no viable alternative to integrated regional development. Isolation and nationalist self-containment would be profoundly counterproductive both economically and politically. From the perspective of advancing European integration process, the existence of the appropriate legislative framework, economic and social policies aimed at ensuring the free circulation of persons, labor, material and spiritual goods across the borders is of an utmost importance.
Another important argument for the elaboration and implementation of integrated regional cross border development policies is concerning the necessity to overcome the existing gap between the economic levels and life standards between Eastern and Western European countries, and also between particular countries and regions located in Central and Eastern Europe. The integration of less developed territorial-economical units in the economic activities system of the larger regions can provide them important incentives and stimula for catching up. In the same time, integrated regional economic, social, labour market and migration policies would allow for the implementation of special development strategies designed for the needs of the less developed areas. In this way all territorial micro-units belonging to the region can be supported to find and fulfil the economic functions best suited to them, in accordance with the principle of complementary development.
The advancing process of European integration is likely to produce major changes in the situation of particular countries and of their border regions, which will further influence the possibilities to develop regional co-operation. The fact that some states will join the EU in 2004, others probably in 2007, while a third group of countries will remain in long term outside the European Unionís borders, is particularly important. Cross border labour migration policies will have rather different contexts in the shared border regions of short term accession, medium term accession and non-accession countries. These rather diverging contexts would require distinct research approaches and political strategies.
In spite of the increasing importance of regional thinking and understanding in shaping the future economic, social and cultural development of the new Europe, these processes are not adequately reflected in the structure and content of university education in the post-communist region. That is why our aim is to contribute filling this gap by promoting the development of Regional Studies as academic discipline in the post-communist region by facilitating cross-border collaboration among the scholars from Eastern Europe. The major aims of the course would be to equip future specialists in the field of social sciences with the ability to analyze and interpret complex, contradictory and quickly changing social contexts related to the problems raised by regional development by effectively linking theory, research and social practice.
Our major hypothesis in developing this course was that in a fast changing social environment, which characterizes the building up of the new Europe, economic, social, political and cultural trends cannot be effectively dealt with any more by traditional standard teaching methods along the classic division-lines between academic subjects. Regional studies, by its very definition, can be regarded as an interdisciplinary subject, where the boundaries between academic fields are loosing their importance. Starting from this assumption, we conceived the whole course to be centered on problem-based teaching and learning the course will be based on a region-centered interdisciplinary approach, in which the multiplicity of economic, social, political and cultural factors will be considered in their mutual influence.