Provost Mininger on Higher Education |

September 20, 2023
Provost Mininger on Higher Education |

We are republishing an article by Nikolina Fipilova for The piece was originally published in Bulgarian on their website. 

Dr. Mininger is the Provost of AUBG since August 2022.

Previously, he was Vice President for Academic Affairs and Associate Dean of Faculty at LCC International University in Lithuania. He holds a PhD in comparative literature from the University of Minnesota, studied at Humboldt University and the Free University of Berlin, and was a fellow at the Søren Kierkegaard Research Center at the University of Copenhagen. He was editor-in-chief of a number of Value Studies (VIBS) books at Brill (Leiden/Boston), editor of the VIBS subseries Philosophy, Literature and Politics, and senior editor of the Baltic Journal of Law and Politics.

How do you assess the current curricula in higher education – to what extent does it meet the needs of real business in Bulgaria and worldwide? What efforts do you make to adapt to the business needs?

One of the main reasons that higher education is often lagging behind in terms of fulfilling real business needs is that most universities operate only in a reactionary way to what businesses need, how business is done, and what the nature of labor in the business sector is really like these days. The American University in Bulgaria (AUBG) stays highly relevant because we not only listen and react to what real businesses tell us they need, but because we also help lead the conversations about how business work might best get done.  Some of the ways we fulfill what businesses need include:

  • our collaborative approach with industry partners, in which our students pair their world-class level university learning with real-world experiential learning,
  • our interdisciplinary Business programs teach Business from multiple angles so that students not only know how Business is done, they also know how to innovate, solve the problems associated with ‘business as usual,’ and creatively adapt to the quickly changing environments of the real business world.
  • Our entrepreneurial mindset prepares students for successful careers in the ever-changing business landscape by empowering them to be change-makers themselves, and developing the dynamic economies of Bulgarian and the Balkan region in the process.
  • Our attitude of continuous improvement in terms of our own business curriculum: we adapt to the evolving demands of the business sector by listening to the voice of employers and business partners – many of whom are our alumni – by using their feedback directly in regular curriculum reviews

But, as noted, what makes AUBG an important, unique, and deservedly prestigious university in Bulgaria and across Southeast Europe is that we not only listen and react to real business conversations – we lead and help shape those conversations:

  • through our exceptional alumni who hold leadership positions in some of the most successful businesses in Bulgaria
  • by training graduates not only for the skills they need today to get a first job, but by making them experts in skills that will serve them for an entire career – even in the precarious and quickly-innovating industries of today.

How do we do this? This is the very essence of what our unique American educational model is all about. Rather than just teach students one subject as their major, we provide students with an in-depth major and with expertise in the crucial business skills that will never change no matter the technology or economy:

  • communication skills such as empathy, persuasion, and the ability to speak well on your feet;
  • keys to collaborative success, such as team-building strategies, coping strategies, and leadership qualities;
  • ability to find creative solutions, which is marked by open-mindedness, confidence, and an entrepreneurial mindset
  • critical thinking, which isn’t so much about criticizing things as it is about being capable of articulating one’s values and understanding those of others, knowing where those values come from and why we hold them, and the ability to make decisions based on those values

In sum, our AUBG Business graduates gain skills that businesses need now, and skills that they will need regardless of what the future may bring. Of course, we provide an emphasis on the contemporary requirements of the business workplace, such as expanded digital literacy, and a comfort-level with analytics so that data-driven decisions are appreciated, so that students are successful immediately upon graduation. But their AUBG education also prepares them for the jobs they’ll hold beyond just their first one, by adapting to the quickly innovating business world, so that when economic, technological, and political changes happen, AUBG graduates lead the change!

Have you recently opened new educational major in response to Industry 4.0 and which ones? What interest do you register in them?

As the world becomes more integrated in its data gathering and by its information gathering (and protecting) systems, as well as more and more previously human-operated tasks becoming automated by computers and AI, AUBG educates students to intelligently and creatively use this technical assistance for smarter, more innovative and successful business. We know that for every problem that a computer can solve for us, there is a human who must know the right questions to ask that computer. Therefore, we train thoughtful, technologically savvy, and ethically strong business leaders who can lead business teams through conversations and pathways to effectively using these extraordinary technological advances for better business practices.

For example, one way in which we’re bringing our university education together with the real industry conversations on the ground, is our new “Sofia Semester” initiative. In this program, AUBG students spend a semester at our Sofia campus, where their studies are focused on their strongest professional interests. During this semester students work on unique internships in top companies in their areas of concentration, while taking advantage of opportunities to tour other companies in their industry, meet and network with leaders in Sofia in their areas of professional focus, and take exclusive courses that prize experiential learning. This “Sofia Semester” gives students access to how so-called Industry 4.0 works in practice, and not just in theoretical categories learned in the classroom.

Over the years, to what extent have you relied on alumni with successful careers to support their alma mater? In what forms does this support for your educational institution happens?

The American University in Bulgaria has many highly successful alumni, whose careers and lives we celebrate for having been a part of the AUBG experience. AUBG relies on the support of its alumni in various ways. Their contributions, both financial and non-financial, play a vital role in the growth and development of our institution. We deeply appreciate their involvement as mentors, donors, guest speakers, recruiters, and advocates, as they contribute to the overall success of our educational programs and foster a strong sense of community among our students and alumni. We greatly value our alumni and recognize their importance as ambassadors and advocates for our institution. They have firsthand experience of our educational programs and understand the impact our university has had on their personal and professional lives. Leveraging their success and expertise, we actively seek their support in ways such as: financial contributions, mentoring and career guidance, guest lectures and industry insights, internship and employment opportunities, alumni network and engagement, and advocacy and recruitment efforts. It is a mutually constitutive relationship: we provide outstanding education for students, and as they succeed in their professional and personal endeavors, so too does AUBG remain strong and supported in providing excellence in university education. AUBG succeeds as its alumni succeed.

What support do you need from real business to ensure that your academic goals meet the demands of future work trends, such as: artificial intelligence and the emergence of new professions, hybrid work, emphasis on soft skills and transactional leadership, internet regulations and copyright, etc.?

The support of real businesses is essential to ensure that our academic goals meet the demands of future work trends. By collaborating with industry partners, seeking their input, providing internship opportunities, engaging in curriculum development, and fostering collaborations, we can equip our students with the necessary skills, knowledge, and competencies to thrive in a rapidly changing work landscape. Together with real businesses, we can prepare our graduates to embrace emerging technologies, navigate evolving work models, cultivate essential soft skills, and understand the regulatory frameworks that shape the future of work. The “Sofia Semester,” noted above, is a great example of a situation in which our students draw on the resources, insight, and support of Bulgarian businesses.

Do you identify any trends and challenges in the future for education systems in the country and around the world and what are they?

There are always many challenges that face our societies, for which our universities are upon to train future problem-solvers. At the moment the most frequent and most important conversations surround the advances in AI. That AI conversation has many notable sides, including:

  • Technological Advancements: The rapid advancement of technology is transforming education at an unprecedented pace. Embracing these advancements, such as artificial intelligence, virtual reality, and online learning platforms, enhances the educational experience we provide. However, it also presents challenges in terms of adapting curricula, training faculty, and ensuring equitable access to technology for all students.
  • Evolving Job Market: The job market is continuously evolving due to globalization and automation built upon the quickly advancing AI technologies. It is essential for educational institutions to anticipate the skills and competencies required in the future workforce and align their curricula accordingly.
  • Lifelong Learning: In the era of knowledge-based economies, learning should be seen as a lifelong pursuit rather than a one-time event. Education systems need to support continuous learning opportunities for individuals of all ages, promoting upskilling and reskilling to meet the demands of a dynamic and fast-changing world. In that work world, it is the case that most people will change their careers – not just their jobs – an average of four times. In order to prepare graduates for that world, as I’ve noted above in several places, AUBG does not just educate students for their first job after university; we train students for adaptability and growth for a lifetime of professional success.
  • Global Collaboration: With increasing interconnectedness and globalization, education systems should encourage international collaboration and cultural exchange. Building partnerships with institutions worldwide, promoting student mobility, and incorporating global perspectives into the curriculum will prepare students to thrive in a globalized society. For example, as an active and integral member of the Open Society University Network, AUBG engages its students in collaborative projects with students from universities around the world, from the US to China, Kyrgyzstan to South Africa, Germany to Columbia. In this way AUBG serves Bulgaria by bringing global mindset and experience to local business success.
  • Environmental Sustainability: Education must play a role in addressing the urgent global challenges of climate change and environmental sustainability. By integrating sustainability education into curricula and campus practices, AUBG raises awareness, fosters responsible citizenship, and equips students with the knowledge and skills needed to build a sustainable future.