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List of international leaders with U. of I. ties continues to grow

Jan Dennis, Business & Law Editor

Released 9/26/2007

Werner Baer
Click photo to enlarge
Photo by L. Brian Stauffer
Werner Baer, a U. of I. economics professor who served on Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa’s thesis committee when the first-term president earned his Ph.D. in 2001. Correa is one of just more than a half-dozen Illinois economics graduates who have risen to high-ranking international government and finance posts over the last five years.

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — The leader of a South American nation where thick rainforests straddle the equator earned his doctoral degree at a U.S. university in the shadows of cornfields a half a world away.

Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa is just one of more than a half-dozen University of Illinois economics department graduates who have risen to high-ranking international government and finance posts over the last five years.

Others head central banks across Latin America and Asia, as well as government ministries that regulate finance, trade and industry in developing nations from Paraguay to Senegal.

“How many schools, in the Midwest especially, can boast so many highly placed graduates?” said Werner Baer, a U. of I. economics professor who served on Correa’s thesis committee when the first-term president earned his Ph.D. in 2001.

Baer says the roll of distinguished graduates is rooted in recruiting efforts that started among a few faculty members nearly three decades ago and has since grown into a department mission, aided by grants that have stretched its reach.

The school’s push took off in 1984, when the Urbana campus began its master’s of science in policy economics (MPSE), said Firouz Gahvari, who heads the intensive study program.

The unique study program, which offers tailored training in 12 fields, is aimed at workers in finance ministries, central banks and other public and private agencies who have been targeted for advanced study because of their potential, Gahvari said.  More than 90 students from 16 countries are enrolled in the program, which has awarded nearly 1,000 degrees to students from 94 nations.

International alums from economics

A few of the world leaders who earned master’s or doctoral degrees from the economics department in the UI College of Business:

  • Rafael Correa, president of Ecuador
  • Sri Indrawati, Indonesia’s minister of development planning
  • Hamath Sall, Senegal’s minister of rural development and agriculture
  • Raul Vera-Bogado, Paraguay’s minister of industry and commerce
  • Giorgi Tabuashvili, finance minister for the Republic of Georgia
  • Alberto Carrasquilla, former Colombian finance minister
  • Jose Uribe, president of Colombia’s central bank.
  • Maria Cid de Bonilla, president of Guatemala’s central bank
  • Seongtae Lee, president of Korea’s central bank
  • Alexandre Tombini, a director for Brazil’s central bank
  • Rodrigo Azevedo, a former director of Brazil’s central bank
  • Alag Batsukh, deputy governor of the central bank of Mongolia
  • Janybek Omorov, deputy chairman of the central bank of Kyrgyzstan

“This program impacts the lives of so many people in so many parts of the world,” Gahvari said. “And I do not just mean the students, because many of our graduates become leaders in their countries and affect the lives of their countrymen. I feel proud of what we have done and am also humbled by what we are doing.”

Gahvari said the program’s graduates include heads of central banks in Colombia, Guatemala and Korea, government ministers in Paraguay, Indonesia and Senegal, and a host of top aides.

“I think this might be the harvest,” Baer said of the department’s recent surge of highly placed alumni. “We started recruiting students from Latin America on a larger scale in the late ’70s, and it takes about 20 years to work your way up to the top. I would expect to see more of these cases from now on.”

Baer said the success of Correa and other foreign leaders does more than elevate the image of the U. of I. and its economics department.

“It seems to me that the presence of so many people from abroad enriches the education of all students at Illinois,” Baer said. “The danger always is that if you’re in the middle of the country, you can be very provincial.  If we want to develop leaders in the business world, especially in a world that’s increasingly globalized, you need to give students international exposure.”

The school’s foreign ties also could help Illinois businesses, giving Caterpillar Inc., Archer Daniels Midland and other Illinois firms a connection in trade, finance and even executive offices around the world, Baer said.

Baer said he doesn’t worry that the international leaders might reflect poorly on the school through their highly visible and sometimes political posts.

 “I have sort of a joke I tell my students who go into important positions,” Baer said. “I tell them if they do well, say you were trained in a good place. If you screw up, we can always say you forgot everything we taught you.”