During the meeting Dmitry Medvedev announced that he had signed an Executive Order establishing scholarships for students enrolled in university programmes in five areas essential for economic modernisation, as well as scholarships for graduate and undergraduate students for achievements in science and education. The scholarships will be paid out from 2012.
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President of Russia Dmitry Medvedev: Good afternoon,
I said recently that I was planning to devote some time to meetings on students’ problems. The new academic year has started, which in itself is a good reason to review a wide range of issues, from education to students’ daily routines, their leisure activities – in short, everything that is related to student life.
Today we are joined at this meeting by representatives of student organisations and rectors of some universities. I hope that today's meeting – it is our first on this subject – will be devoted to the most essential problems of student life and various proposals to address these problems.
Russia has more than nine million students, which is 6% of the population. I think this is a very substantial figure if we compare Russia with other countries. It is vitally important for the country that young people receive the kind of education that is most in demand and later take up competitive positions in the economy and social sphere, that they become modern, thinking and creative people who have the opportunity for self-realisation. These words may sound commonplace but they are absolutely accurate nonetheless.
As you know, the draft law on education being currently debated sets out new approaches to quality education, and that is very important. But, as I said, student life is equally important because ultimately it affects their studies. Everyone who has ever been a university student understands that. Therefore, a great deal depends on the living conditions in student accommodation, on the sports facilities at the university and on the state of the canteen.
Therefore I propose that we focus on several issues.
The first thing that is of great concern to students is the financial aspect and their scholarships. The scholarships students receive today are not very big, 1,200 rubles. Scholarships were always modest, also at the time when I was a student, but in comparison with the purchasing power today, in real terms scholarships have become smaller than they were in Soviet times. Nevertheless, in September, scholarships were raised by 9%. The scholarship fund for the most successful students has increased by 20%. Scholarships will be paid out in accordance with the criteria set out by the Russian Union of Student Organisations. I believe it will depend on academic and other achievements, including sports.
”It is vitally important for the country that young people receive the kind of education that is most in demand and later take up competitive positions in the economy and social sphere.“
I would also like to announce that 10 minutes ago I signed an Executive Order on awarding scholarships to students enrolled in higher education institutions which train personnel for the five priority areas for the modernisation of our economy. These scholarships will be paid out from 2012 and the students at these schools will receive 7,000 rubles, while graduate students will get 14,000 rubles. Also, on my instructions government scholarships will be paid to undergraduate and graduate students in the amount of 5,000 and 10,000 rubles, respectively. Considering the size of the academic community, these figures may not be very big, but I emphasise that these scholarships will be paid for outstanding achievements in science and education.
In addition to state scholarships there may be other ways of encouraging students. We all realise that the majority of countries don’t have big scholarships either, and some countries don’t have them at all. In order to improve the situation, I think business could play a more active role because ultimately, it has great demand for university graduates. The business community is interested in student training – in quality personnel, of course, not just any kind.
I would also like to hear from you about the situation at your universities, the role of student organisations in addressing these problems, and your views on other issues.
Another long-standing and very complex matter is student accommodation. It's no secret that many student halls were built decades ago, some even hundreds of years ago, and they are morally and physically obsolete. I remember my own student years. The dormitories at Leningrad State University were appalling. I am from St Petersburg so I lived at home, but when I went to the dorm to visit my friends I couldn’t believe that people not only slept there but they also studied and managed to learn something and get good marks. That is how it was then and unfortunately, the situation has not changed much. This does not mean that there are no new dormitories. New universities have new student accommodation and some universities have renovated old facilities but the situation still remains difficult. Therefore, we must not only renovate the existing buildings, but also to build new dormitories, which meet the current sanitary standards and safety requirements.
Student accommodation must be comfortable. There is no need for luxury – just look at dormitories in other countries — but they must have the infrastructure that today's students need to be able to study. There must be a gym, a medical facility, study rooms, Internet connection (that is not even being discussed) and a kitchen for cooking healthy food.
However, our ultimate goal should be to create what top universities in developed countries have: university campuses. New universities and their campuses are being built in line with this principle. I am referring to the Far Eastern Federal University campus on Russky Island: in addition to comfortable rooms it has a swimming pool and a stadium, and a medical centre. Naturally, this is a completely new facility and no expense was spared in building it so that when it is completed, I’m certain that it will be a very popular and exclusive academic institution in the best sense of the word.
There are plans to build campuses at other universities as well, in particular at the National University of Science and Technology MISIS, and at other universities, not only in Moscow or the Far East. However, I reiterate that the situation with student accommodation and campuses is still very complicated.
A very important topic is monitoring students’ health because, obviously, the students who work hard put a lot of energy and health into their studies. We must also look at the way medical services are provided, how students feel and the state of their health when they graduate. We must expand the network of student health resorts and prevention clinics where possible. There is a great deal to talk about regarding this matter.
”I signed an Executive Order on awarding scholarships to students enrolled in higher education institutions which train personnel for the five priority areas for the modernisation of our economy. These scholarships will be paid out from 2012.“
I would like to emphasise once again that the solution to this problem is not entirely up to the federal government, especially since not all universities are financed by the federal centre; a great deal depends on the regional authorities. I hope that the governors present here today will say a few words about their plans to address these problems.
That is all I wanted to say to begin with. I would like us to discuss the advisability of using different loan mechanisms and subsidies to address the problems with housing, food, transportation costs and education services, and which mechanisms can be used to make tuition-based education more affordable. I invite all of you to join in the discussion.
I am not going to call the speakers from the list. Let’s have a free discussion, so please raise your hands, and I mean both the rectors and representatives of the student community. Go ahead, please.
Dmitry Medvedev: Colleagues, a lot was said today. I would like to start by saying that the discussion on this topic will continue. Nonetheless, we heard a few ideas which, I feel, it is imperative to develop further. To be more specific, I will certainly instruct the Presidential Executive Office and the Cabinet to study all of the ideas mentioned today, but some of them deserve particular attention. I will highlight a few of them.
First of all, with regard to the National Final School Exam. This has not been the first time I’ve heard positive remarks in the last two or three weeks – not about the exam itself, which has been subject to quite a bit of criticism, but about the potential this national exam opens up for provincial universities and high school students who go to school in villages and small towns in rural areas. In my view, this is very good, and indeed, that is one of the reasons that the final school exam has been implemented. The figures presented by colleagues, demonstrating an increase in the number of prospective students arriving from relatively small towns, are a good sign. Indeed, these figures represent the new blood we needed to get through the changes in our testing system.
Many people spoke about good projects implemented by employers, particularly within the framework of sector-specific education systems – what employers are doing to ensure to keep the that good college and graduate students. Naturally, all of this should be supported as much as possible. And if everything is as you say, then we need to maintain this trend and try to subsequently achieve good employment indicators on this basis as well.
With regard to dormitories. I will give instructions on analysing non-standard approaches to redesigning dormitories and building new ones. Some people asked, why aren’t we doing this or that, why aren’t we using those examples? Let’s look into all approaches from the angle of legal feasibility and economic efficacy. If anything needs to be adjusted in our legislative acts, we can do that, too. In any case, I believe all means that lead to resolving this problem are good. If, in the future, dormitories are turned into something different, such as residential houses, even that is a possibility.
One example is what we’re currently doing on Russky Island, where dormitories being constructed for athletes and students will first be used to accommodate the upcoming APEC forum participants. My point is that dormitories can initially be constructed for other purposes. As far as I know, in Kazan, similar dormitories are being built to house athletes at the Universiade. Later, they can also be appropriated to universities. I think it would be best to combine these kinds of approaches and thereby create new opportunities for housing students.
I am also not against looking into investor contracts and corresponding programmes that already exist, but colleagues, you understand – this can only happen within the framework of opportunities currently available.
The young people representing our student community spoke extensively about introducing student government and a corresponding regulatory framework. I support doing this as quickly as possible, including the issuance of a law on student government. Is it currently in the State Duma?
[Minister of Education and Science] Andrei Fursenko: There is a special article in the new law.
Dmitry Medvedev: The law on education?
Andrei Fursenko: Yes, in the law on education. We can expand it.
Dmitry Medvedev: Well, it makes no difference to me how you proceed in terms of legal technicalities. This could be a new law, or it can be articulated in the draft law you are currently working on. In any event, we need to include some specific provisions with regard to student government. At the same time, as far as I understand, this should involve a system of regulations concerning student government: some general positions should be stated in the law on education or in some special law, whereas more detailed points concerning particular universities can be stipulated in their respective statutes, since regulations on student governments can vary. Every university will have its own particularities. These are the very university freedoms which must exist and which help reflect the specifics of student life in a given region or a given university.
The problem of season travel cards does indeed exist, and this is not the first time I’m hearing about it from students. Let’s do the following. We will give instructions in Moscow, Moscow Region, St Petersburg and Leningrad Region, as well as other regions in the Russian Federation, to look into the possibility of introducing season travel cards for students, at least for certain seasons, and submit their ideas and proposal on this matter.
I already talked about student government.
With regard to post-graduate training. I gave instructions to the Defence Ministry to ensure that all full-time post-graduate students are not drafted. There are no objections to this, nor should there be. We simply need to monitor how this will actually be carried out. It concerns all universities that have post-graduate students, and not just ones that have corresponding exemptions from military duty. Because post-graduate students are not college students; they are young scientists, and it is imperative that we create all the necessary conditions to ensure that they complete and defend their thesis.
As far as the unfortunate registration issues are concerned, to be quite frank, I still do not fully understand the main problems. Nevertheless, I will give the Federal Migration Service (FMS) instructions to find some way to combine these approaches, so that the FMS can work in a proper way with higher education institutions, ensuring that they all have equal status and do not depend on particular agreements involving particular rectors.
I already spoke about student government. It’s true that we really need to think about broadening the horizons and possibilities of student government, which includes some fairly delicate, sensitive matters that, incidentally, did not exist in the previous education system, such as a student’s transfer from paying to non-paying status. Right now, as far as I understand, this occurs at the university administration’s prerogative. Who makes those decisions?
Andrei Fursenko: The rector’s office, but we gave recommendations for them to take into account the recommendations of student organisations.
Dmitry Medvedev: I think this is quite important, because we understand how sensitive an issue this is. A person paid money, but after he or she changes status, he or she can stop paying. This event is very important for students, particularly if they have financial difficulties. And in this case, we need to ensure that these decisions are taken in an atmosphere of transparency; they must be clear not just to the teaching staff or the administration of higher education institutions, but to students as well, to ensure that no tension is created. The same is true for scholarships.
With regard to expenditures, the issues brought up by our colleagues representing student unions. I don’t know about the concrete facts you presented, although at the very least, this looks quite strange, particularly with regard to the purchases of expensive cars for the Customs Academy. If they are purchased so that other Federal Customs Service structures can use them, then that is simply wrong, because if they need cars, then they should buy them centrally – preferably reasonable cars at a reasonable cost. And if they are being purchased directly for the academy (did I understand you correctly?), then at the very least, there is cause for investigation. I would like the head of the Customs Service to answer the question of why the Customs Academy has purchased so many Mercedes, and anything else they may have purchased.
I think it’s a very good idea to create some kind of programme for all universities to have high-quality, high-speed wireless Internet. In the past, we put our efforts into connecting schoolchildren to the Internet, and now we should do the same for university students. Naturally, it would be good to have Wi-Fi at our schools as well, but I think it is only really necessary for high school students, whereas university students need Wi-Fi 24 hours per day all throughout the university campus: in classrooms and in the dorms. This is something that could become a major government programme. We just need to think about how to implement it, and what funding and procedures we would use.
I am not against defining students’ social status, although things rarely change as a result of how we define status, but nevertheless, perhaps from a legal standpoint, this may clarify some status issues in order to make it clear what rights, obligations and privileges all students should have. Maybe we need to do this, though it seemed to me that we have such a status already. But if changes need to be made, let’s look into it.
With regard to student representation and quotas within collegial authority, I support broadening student presence as much as possible, but at the same time, not so much that it paralyses work. After all, a collegiate authority’s job is to govern, and a student’s job is to learn, rather than govern along with the teaching staff and university administration.
I am not certain that we can turn the issue of university dining into a national project, as we once did with school meals, since these are somewhat different things. Schoolchildren are still very young and small; they are citizens of our nation who need constant monitoring and care, and our schools are very different from universities. After all, college students are independent adults. On the other hand, we really do need to think about how to create standards for student dining. Cleary, each individual will make a decision depending on his or her needs and capabilities, including financial ones, but we should have certain standards. I will once again recall my own student days. There was an enormous amount of variation in the food provided at my alma mater, Leningrad State University, which like all major universities is scattered across different parts of the city. You enter one cafeteria, and it’s simply inedible, it’s poisonous, but you go into another one, and the food is pretty decent. So we need to ensure that we adhere to some reasonable standards.
With regard to the specific topic of military educational institutions and what was said by Vasily Golubev, Governor of Rostov Region: naturally, I will give instructions, but I think that this is more of a general topic. My governor and rector colleagues, we need to see what opportunities are available, for example, at military educational institutions that are closing. And if, for whatever reason, it really would be expedient to make them available to civil educational institutions, we can do that. The question of money being given to the Defence Ministry is, of course, an important one, but it is not a decisive one. Taking money from one place and, for example, spending it to develop student dormitories, while giving a particular ministry the chance to make money, is wrong, these processes can be reconciled.
As far as sports and recreation are concerned, summer vacations at health and recreation resorts are a very important topic. The only issue is that the state of these resorts leaves something to be desired. But in cases when universities are able to maintain these resorts through various means, it is preferable to continue running them, because after all, many students do not have the resources to do this on their own. And these existing resorts are important.
With regard to sports, Valery Shantsev is right: we need to combine our universities’ capabilities with those of the regions. It is not necessary for each university to have its own sports and recreation centre. It would be good, of course, if the university has a campus and that campus has a pool and some other athletic facilities. But it’s not realistic to have that everywhere. In many cases, it is much more expedient to associate a university with a particular municipal or regional sports and recreation centre, but to do so while assuring the centre is accessible to students. They shouldn’t be charged an arm and a leg, and regions should introduce some reduced-rate student passes to sports and recreation centres, the way they usually do it for schoolchildren.
I already spoke about new mechanisms for building dormitories. I would like this to be reflected in my next set of instructions.
I suppose it’s fair to ask about how universities’ financial opportunities are affected by the entering students’ National Final School Exam (EGE) results, because however you spin it, this concerns universities’ prestige or standing. If a university is not very good, it will attract less-talented students. This is absolutely clear. We must think about how we will handle this issue. I think if we believe EGE results are generally objective then this objectivity should be applied to measure universities, in a more concrete way.
There is the particular topic of clinics separating from medical universities. I know about this. I was talking with the medical community, the rectors of other medical universities. You know, we should strive toward maintaining these clinics’ association with medical universities, because they serve as a kind of laboratory where university students can train. However, these clinics need to be modern, not some kind of pit where people are afraid to get treatment; instead, they should resemble normal medical facilities. We need this kind of foundation; this is truly the universal experience.
And finally, with regard to the dormitories that are almost ready. I support the idea that we need to channel money first and foremost toward dormitories that are close to completion. However, we also need to look at the dormitories themselves. If, for example, a dormitory is intended for fifteen thousand individuals, while the university has three thousand students enrolled, then it’s probably wrong to finance that dorm. But if the size of the dorm conforms to the number of students – that is the order of priority we should establish.
Colleagues, I would like to thank all of you for your participation in the discussion. Let me emphasise again that this is only our first meeting. I will issue relevant instructions this month based on the results of our today’s work.