President of Russia Dmitry Medvedev: Dear friends, I am glad to be here today and naturally to talk to you.
I lectured for a long time, almost 10 years, albeit at a different university as you know, at St Petersburg University. Doing what I love, especially in the legal profession, still remains close to my heart. But today of course I am not giving a class, I will not lecture, so I will keep my introductory remarks as brief as possible. I understand that you would rather ask your questions and get the answers. And, frankly, I find it more pleasant to answer them than to give some boring preamble.
I will just say one thing: my colleagues and I came to Tomsk today in order to work on what is perhaps the most important topic on our agenda, namely the modernisation of our economy. The modernisation of Russia's economy must be based on new technologies, innovation and the radical restructuring of the country's internal economic structure. This is rather hard to do as our economy is quite complicated. The volume of national wealth and natural resources is massive and, strictly speaking, for many years we did not really work in this area: we were actually engaged in extracting and light processing of our natural resources and their subsequent exportation in order to make money. All this gave us a good income and allowed us to live and live well, before the crisis in any case.
The crisis has brought everything back to earth, and shown us that there is really no future for a commodity economy. And since it has no future, this means that we have to invest in technological change, in an innovative economy, in what many people are now talking about on television, writing about in newspapers and discussing on the Internet and other media channels.
I am naturally ready to answer any questions and I hope they will be interesting. And I am pleased that you appreciate my brevity. (Laughter.)
I will keep it very simple: since I don’t know you all personally, I will point at a person and say ”you ‘. Ok now, please raise your hands. How about you.
Question (Ye. Yemelyanova): You’ve been talking about innovation today. I am a student participating in a project-based learning group. We develop our own projects and ideas. Then our draft is sent to the business incubator. But unfortunately there is no business incubator for technology. At one time this project was supported by the government, the necessary equipment was purchased, and there is even a place to install it. But unfortunately the 90 million rubles advanced so far is not enough …
Dmitry Medvedev: This is great! I thought you would formulate something. Well, what is it?
Ye. Yemelyanova: … to lay the necessary communication lines to the building where this equipment could be installed. Is it possible to further support this project?
Dmitry Medvedev: Of course it is possible. Is the Minister of Finance here? He’s hiding. There is the Minister of Education. Where is it located?
Ye. Yemelyanova: Tomsk State University of Control Systems and Radioelectronics, Yuzhnaya Square, a new building.
Dmitry Medvedev: Mr Fursenko [Minister of Education and Science], please take note. You can discuss this with the Minister of Finance and with your other colleagues.
As you know, last year we witnessed some very important, I would say dramatic changes in our economy. On the one hand, this created the need for strong, innovation-based growth but, on the other hand, many projects were simply frozen. I don’t know whether this is the reason in this case – probably, it is, but we will get back to financing issues, perhaps not immediately, but step by step [in English]. In any case this is something we will have to deal with.
But you spoke on the subject so you can mark this test ‘passed’ both for yourself and your colleagues who apparently have discussed it with you.
Now it’s the men’s turn. You, please.
Question: Mr President, during perestroika many outstanding scientists left the country and are now our competitors. What do you plan to do to avoid such a situation in the future? Thank you.
Dmitry Medvedev: Make those who left return by force and then put up an iron curtain so they can’t get away again. (Laughter.)
Well, what do I intend to do? You know yourself what we can do: create an attractive environment for living here. And this is our common task. It’s not just my job. Here is the Governor, the Presidential Plenipotentiary Envoy [to the Federal District], the Rector, the Minister, other colleagues involved in dealing with all this. We need to create the sort of living conditions that normally attract people.
Yesterday we were in an airplane, and my colleagues and I were discussing the subject of innovation, and there were some key people there from the Government Cabinet and the Presidential Executive Office. What we were talking about was a very revealing example for me: one of our truly outstanding young women left the country and ended up working abroad. Apparently she got sick of it and returned to Russia. On the whole, she is quite happy with everything here: the money is more or less acceptable, we’re about to resolve her housing problem, but there is one outstanding issue – the infrastructure she needs for her work, that is the infrastructure for scientific research projects. This is a huge problem. The following was offered as an example. She says: ”Let’s imagine I want to order something. The problem is not that there’s no money for it in Russia – now there are funds available. But in America I would simply turn on my computer, fill in an electronic form and send it via the existing Internet-based order placement system, and they’d send me everything the next day, 3–5 days maximum. Here I have to go first to the accounts department, then to the logistics, then clear it with the provost and deputy director of the institute in charge of economic issues, then with the institute director, and only then do we send the request, and perhaps six months later I would receive what I need. That's the difference.
You see, the problem is not that we get lower salaries or that it is impossible to solve the housing problem — it is already being dealt with, although not as fast of course as we would like it to be. It’s just that people cannot get on with doing what they want to do. Quite frankly, for me this is more worrying than our inability to pay high salaries. Let me say again: given the current state of our finances and good relations with business, this problem can be solved. The same is true for the problem of housing. But infrastructure is a mentality problem. And as long as we allow such a system of decision-making to exist, for example, for the purchase of equipment, refusing to give, say, a young scientist or laboratory director access to some sort of basic funding which he or she can use in any way they see fit, these people are going to go abroad. And those who come back are going to think about leaving again.
Okay, I’m going to change sectors here. Please, go ahead.
Question: First, I want to thank the government for its support of such initiatives as UMNIK [Russian abbreviation for Participant in Youth Science and Innovation Contest] and Start. In Tomsk, we have more than 200 UMNIK participants and over 100 small innovative companies opened under the Start programme. Some of them are already operating as per the law No. 217.
As you know, young innovators in UMNIK receive 400 thousand rubles [over $13,000]. They can then set up a business and get 6 million rubles under the Start programme. The problem is that there is not enough money for large-scale, big, ambitious projects. On the other hand, there are projects that the country really needs but they are difficult to commercialise. For example, my company is developing a 3G Internet project for Tomsk. We are grateful to the regional administration, the local university and the Tomsk Scientific Centre for their support, but this is not enough. Please tell me how we can go about getting access to other resources. Whom should we contact? How should we proceed? Thank you.
Dmitry Medvedev: Mechanisms of the sort you just mentioned, programmes already up and running, this kind of supernatural, brand new mechanism does not yet exist. But I actually came here with a large number of officials and businessmen to discuss precisely such new mechanisms. After this exchange with you, there will be a meeting of the Commission for Modernisation and Technological Development, where we will be discussing precisely how to get the private business sector to fund such projects.
Not so long ago I met with the major public companies and now I’m meeting with private companies. It should be of interest to them to take part in all these projects. But figuring out exactly how to involve them is not so easy. On the other hand, we are well disposed to business, we respect it, but it must understand its responsibilities to the country and the future of our nation.
What is the nature of this responsibility? Not only, for example, to pay adequate wages or to make certain investments, but to correctly identify priorities. There are major companies: they are all here, by the way, in the university building; you might run into someone, Mr Alekperov [President of LUKOIL], for example, walking down the hall and his colleagues as well. They have invested a lot of money in developing their businesses. This business, oil and gas, for example, can be a highly profitable, but they have to be involved in technological change and, in my view, work at developing other projects perhaps even in non-core areas. This is happening in other parts of the world. This is a kind of corporate social responsibility; it is a burden that they have to accept. But this burden cannot be imposed by the government. We cannot simply tell them what to do. Sometimes you can recommend something, but that is not very effective. This desire to help simply has to come from within. That is the first thing.
Second and equally important is that we must have a system of tax incentives; we will discuss this today as well. Tax incentives, customs incentives, and investment incentives in relevant fields.
Regarding how to finance projects that are difficult to commercialise: you know, I think that we sometimes exaggerate these problems, or in any case hide behind them in order not to provide funding. Because in my opinion virtually any project, if it is based on an interesting idea, can be commercialised. You just need to find the right people and the right way to present this idea.
You talked about financing 3G Internet. It seems to me that this issue is quite urgent: it’s not something other worldly, it's not beyond the range of fundamental science and may only be launched in 50 years; although, you know, sometimes predictions change, scientists are wrong, and businessmen are wrong. But you can already find money for this specific purpose. If it’s hard to find you have to ask first in one place and then another.
Response: 3G Internet is just a tool for developing and implementing the innovative economy, which many people are talking about.
Dmitry Medvedev: Of course. I can tell you frankly that when I talk with private business, I campaign for almost all of them to invest in new areas and in our new economy. Funnily enough, some are amenable to persuasion. Recently the representatives of big business (I will not make publicity for anyone now) have, right before my eyes and with a little encouragement, invested hundreds of millions of dollars in our country and in Internet technology. I would stress that these are our businessmen, who have never operated in this field before. They are not people who have been working on it for ten years, but rather companies engaged in traditional areas and sectors of our economy: the oil industry, metallurgy and so on.
Let’s hear from some of the ladies. Please, go ahead.
Question: We have a great motto: “Tomsk is the student capital of Siberia” and so building a student campus in Tomsk has been on the agenda. The students here are developing design for such a campus. I would like to know what steps need to be taken to turn the design into reality. How can we attract financing to build these facilities in Tomsk?
Dmitry Medvedev: I think it is all in your hands, the hands of the regional authorities, and the hands of the authorities of corresponding universities.
As far as the campus is concerned, I recall we examined its layout design several years ago and reviewed the scale model. It is a major project, and a fairly expensive one, thus, I think it should be implemented piece by piece. We are unable to launch construction for the entire campus all at once.
In order to begin construction process, a public-private partnership should be established first, attracting potential investors from the private businesses as well as the state funding that we have available for such purposes.
No doubt, we cannot do wonders overnight, but if we start building some facilities, things should gradually fall into place. What’s most important is to do something. I think that’s about all I can say. What needs to be done? Certain energy and the will of the authorities must be applied. I hope [Governor of Tomsk Region] Mr Kress will agree with me.
Question: My question is really important…
Dmitry Medvedev: While all of the previous questions were useless and just a waste of time… (Laughter.)
Question: One of today’s major problems is affordable housing. Mr Medvedev, why don’t you offer, as a cornerstone of some national idea or policy, ensuring affordability of moderate but still convenient housing to our citizens nationwide?
Dmitry Medvedev: What do you mean? That is exactly what I have been doing through all means available. You somehow confused me. Years ago when I was still a member of the Cabinet, I was constantly talking to all authorities about the need for affordable, moderate single-family housing, private one-storey or two-storey homes. The state has been insistently dealing with this matter, but unfortunately, it’s something that takes time.
In recent years, there has been a major shift in the way that people in our nation think. Some five to seven years ago, everyone wanted to buy apartments. Now, many people are interested in buying their own homes, although they cannot always afford to. Perhaps you recall our previous efforts, and if not, I will tell you about them.
Some while ago, we began implementing the Affordable Housing National Project which I personally supervised, and continue to do so now.
True, we were not able to provide housing to everyone in need, but we made some major progress nonetheless. First of all, we created an instrument to help acquire housing – home mortgages – and although it somewhat failed last year because of the crisis, the instrument nevertheless exists. When I was launching this [National] Project, the very word and very concept of mortgages were totally unknown, while now, everyone knows what they are. Yes, it’s true that the interest rates are high, but overall, everyone understands that housing problems can be resolved with the help of a mortgage. Today, Mr Governor and I discussed the possibility of subsidising mortgage interest rates from the Tomsk Regions’ budget, which is another potential method for approaching this problem.
We need to ensure that in the future, mortgages have the same interest rates as in the rest of the world, although clearly, this problem is currently complicated by the global crisis and the current loan interest rates. We will strive diligently to lower the mortgage interest rate. Clearly, it is very high right now, but I think that if we are able to lower it at least to the pre-crisis level, the mechanism will revive.
I think the rate of 10.5 or 11 percent may be reasonable in our nation for now. Still, to be frank, optimal mortgage interest rates throughout the world are between six and eight percent. Interest rates depend on macroeconomic conditions in our country, including inflation. Last year, our rate of inflation decreased quite significantly, and I hope that this trend will continue this year as well.
If the inflation rate goes down, we will be able to lower the refinancing rate offered by the Central Bank, and hence the lending and mortgage interest rates will also drop to a more acceptable level. Certainly, this is not the only instrument at our disposition, but it is an important one. Another instrument is preferential mortgage rates, wherein part of the interest rate is subsidised from the budget. I think that these are the most important steps we can take.
As for programmes for affordable housing and programmes for building single-family houses, I think they are priorities for nearly every region in our country, although there are some mixed results. For example, in some regions, most construction is centred on individual houses, as opposed to large apartment buildings. In the Belgorod Region, almost all of the new housing, about 70 to 75 percent of the total construction, are single-family homes. This is very good, because we need to implement this type of housing on the national scale. We have an expansive country, so we shouldn’t all nestle together in apartment buildings. We should certainly spread people throughout the territory.
Response: I would like to add something: our parents proudly lived their lives in ‘Khrushchev-era flats’ [tiny flats with absolute minimum of conveniences but intended for a single family use] they were offered when Khrushchev led the country. I would like to see our generation one day living in ‘Medvedev Apartments’. (Laughter.)
Dmitry Medvedev: I agree.
By the way, when large scale housing construction was first launched under Khrushchev, those tiny flats were not really something to be proud of. Furthermore, you probably don’t remember this, but when people compared their housing standards, the ‘Khrushchev-era flats’ were always considered the least attractive.
But indeed, we have to give credit to Khrushchev and the decisions he made, because at the time, we had almost no individual, single-family housing in our nation. Everyone was living in communal apartments. After all the [massive cheap housing] construction in the late 1950s and early 1960s, a significant proportion of our people were re-housed in single-family flats, which were small and inconvenient but nevertheless provided individual housing for families. Distribution was conducted according to the principles of those days.
But today, we are not going to distribute apartments [for free]. Thus, in order to obtain comfortable housing – Medvedev Apartments – people need to put in their intellectual resources, to choose their career, to come up with ways to earn an income to pay for their homes. I am confident this is absolutely fair and just. Still, the authorities must create favourable conditions allowing people to get educated and subsequently earn money and get access to loans in order to buy housing. That is the government’s responsibility, and we will progress with it.
Question: Mr President, you listed medical technology as one of the five key [priority technological modernisation] areas for innovative development of Russia’s economy. Currently, this area is being developed as part of the [Priority] National Project on Health. Through this project, we have seen renovation and re-equipment in our hospitals and clinics, but this project also requires well-trained personnel and specialists who are capable of working with the modern equipment.
Dmitry Medvedev: That’s right.
Question: We are seeing the same problem in the pharmaceutical industry, whose challenge is to substitute imports with affordable domestic medicines. I suppose that this challenge may be resolved by competition between national research universities. One medical school was a recent finalist in such a competition, but unfortunately, as a professional in the field, I was disappointed when the school was looked over in favour of technical institutes. Indeed, it doesn’t seem fair for medical and technological specialists to compete against one another. What are the prospects for the medical sector in terms of re-equipment?
Dmitry Medvedev: You know, the competition can be quite fierce. I don’t know how appropriate it is for medical schools to compete with technical institutes [for government funding and status] – in some ways, it’s good, and in some ways, it isn’t. Still, it is unlikely that we can solve the problem you spoke about with the help of national [research] universities; the problem is so vast and complicated that even if we create five or seven more specialised national medical universities, we will still be unable to resolve it. The reason for this is that solving the problem of technical re-equipment depends on other factors besides personnel.
Clearly, we need well-trained personnel, but when we began to deliver equipment to clinics and outpatient facility networks as part of the National Project [on Health], we had the same personnel all around: young doctors, as well as older physicians. But I was really happy to see – and was even somewhat surprised – that they all quickly learned to work with the new equipment.
Whenever I visited a small town or a rural area, I would see the same thing: sophisticated equipment and little old ladies who, it might seem, had only ever used thermometers and other simple tools, but who were now very adept at using all these new technologies. This means that our people are intelligent, talented, and open to new training.
Thus, this is not just a personnel problem, although I do agree that we need to give personnel training the utmost attention. National universities are an important resource, but not the only one. Moreover, I am sure that even if a medical school does not have the status of a national university, it can train brilliant specialists and physicians. After all, you personally did not study at a national university, did you? But you still consider yourself an excellent specialist. This means that everything is going well. Thus, it is important to have well-trained personnel – perhaps, this is the most important component for success – but we also need to create proper conditions to ensure that our medical facilities are adequately re-equipped with new technology.
You mentioned replacing imported pharmaceuticals with national brands. This sector is very important.
In the USSR we produced many medicines of our own; they were mediocre in quality, but they were distributed throughout USSR pharmacy networks and sold at fixed prices, and there were large government procurement orders.
Then, the Soviet Union collapsed and the prices began to change, because these pharmaceutical companies entered the free market and our domestic pharmaceuticals market saw a huge influx of foreign medicines. Some of those medicines were of high quality, and others weren’t, but the fact is this influx essentially destroyed our own drug market, and our pharmaceutical companies began to fall apart.
Today, our goal and priority, and I thank you for bringing this up, is to inject funds into our pharmaceutical industry within the national technological development [project] and to create the proper conditions to build advanced, innovative companies that can produce modern pharmaceuticals.
When I first paid attention to this issue, I was shocked by some quite unexpected statistics. First of all, I did not know how many fundamentally new pharmaceuticals are produced every year. As a layman, I had thought that drug companies produced hundreds of them, if not thousands. But in fact, that’s not the case. In reality, pharmaceutical companies around the world produce only ten or so new drugs annually with each of those drugs costing about one billion dollars to develop. I was just floored by these numbers.
I am bringing this up because we need to learn to be competitive in this field. A very good and very important first step for our country would be to simply begin producing modern drugs as so-called international unpatented medicines or generic drugs. You know what this means: these are drugs whose chemical formula corresponds to the original drugs, but which are released under a different brand name, and which generally cost less than the corresponding better-known medicines, because currently they are mainly manufactured in countries hardly recognised as leaders of high quality production.
Incidentally, I met with the Minister of Public Health yesterday, and she told me that we already have a list of the fifty most strategically important medicines that must be produced domestically. We will ultimately have 56 such drugs on this list.
There is also a list of 500 medicines that we must also produce in our country – these are the so-called key medicines that every family should have access to. New companies will be founded to answer to the demands of these lists. I hope that this will alter things significantly.
We need to ensure that our nation is independent when it comes to providing key pharmaceuticals to our citizens. Of course, I am referring to the essential drugs. When it comes to the more expensive, rare drugs, we do not need to produce them ourselves; we can buy them from abroad.
You know, we even have a system to provide assistance in purchasing expensive medicines, based on seven so-called nosologies. Drugs for these medical conditions are quite costly: treatment for individual patients can cost tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars per year. But the government is assuming this responsibility – as is done throughout much of the world – because most people just aren’t capable of paying that kind of money for medicines.
Question: If we want to use science to modernise the economy we first have to modernise science. I think it is an unacceptable situation when students studying radio physics, say, are practicing with equipment that is 30–50 years old. If it is innovation we want we need to have innovation in the universities, we need to have students studying it as part of the learning process. What is the solution to the problem?
Dmitry Medvedev: What is the solution? Investment is the only recipe. We cannot take modern equipment from one to give to another, and so the only solution is to invest money.
But to be objective, you have to admit that we have made some progress in this area of late, through the national project and various recent measures. Overall, universities have received more than one billion dollars for modernising their technical resources. This is already quite a lot of money. But this does not mean that all the outdated equipment has gone. This brings me back to my starting point.
Of course it is not possible to study in a modern university using equipment that is 30–50 years old. This is not a recent problem. When I was a student, I was in the humanities, but I worked at one point with my father at the technological institute and saw what the situation was like there for students in the late 1970s-early 1980s, there was already a lot of obsolete equipment around, so we should not idealise that time either. But today, of course we need to invest in modern laboratory equipment.
The authorities will continue to allocate budget funds for purchasing modern equipment, but I hope that along with this, we will see the development of university endowments, on which we took decisions not so long ago, and private sponsors and alumni of the universities will start investing in laboratory equipment and in universities’ assets in general. This is an important resource for universities all around the world.
Just yesterday, on our way here, we discussed this idea of endowments, how they work in America, for example. Of course, we are far from being able to compare, but we have to start somewhere. I do not remember where exactly, at Harvard, I think, endowments came to a total of around 30 billion [dollars].
What does a 30-billion dollar endowment mean? If you take even just five percent annual interest – endowments are not usually spent but create a financial base that generates revenue in the form of interest – you can calculate that five percent of 30 billion is 1.5 billion dollars. So, you already have 1.5 billion dollars simply earned as interest on the endowment.
If our leading universities were to establish endowments of even just 100 million dollars this would already be an excellent thing. I think this is a very important matter and I have appealed and continue to call on our big businesspeople to invest in their alma maters, and they are doing so. Every university has a community of former students scattered throughout the business world, and I think it is an absolutely normal and decent thing for these people, who love their alma maters, to come and invest in them, not necessarily millions, but some money at least.
As I have said on past occasions, we have a kind of complex about making donations. In other countries, former students see nothing wrong with putting a dollar in an envelope as a donation for the universities they once studied at. But try doing that here and someone would say to you, “Are you crazy, giving them a dollar! Is this a joke or something?” In reality, though, philanthropy starts with the little things. Universities need support, and not just from the budget.
The question is one of proportions. Financing for modernising universities’ material resources should probably come primarily from the state, with a lesser share coming from private donations. But there is a need for private donations too. The same goes for small businesses under the universities. Visiting this university just before, we got a look at the operation of these small businesses set up after the recent law was passed. I was really very happy to hear that quite a few small businesses have already opened. How many do you have here? Ten. Yes, and three of them opened this year. If universities establish these businesses it will create additional possibilities for modernising laboratories. Universities need to draw on various sources of support.
Well, let’s move over to this side now, seeing as no one on this side has asked a question yet.
You have such a wonderful smile. Yes, you.
Question: Mr President, which personal qualities would you say helped you achieve success in life? Thank you.
Dmitry Medvedev: Good question. My contrary nature. I’m just joking of course. I’m not contrary really; I’m a decent sort. (Applause.)
Seriously, one of the obvious qualities that helps anyone achieve success is perseverance. Sometimes perseverance becomes stubbornness, though I do not see much wrong with this if this stubbornness is put to good use. I think that perseverance is an exceptionally important quality for achieving success in life. At the same time, you need to put thought into everything you do, try to foresee the consequences of your acts. I think if you follow this road everything will turn out well, and this is my wish for you.
How about the young man there sitting above our Minister of Education and Science.
Question: Thank you, Mr President. As a medical and biology student, what interests me is your personal view on the future of biotechnology research and development in Russia. Thank you.
Dmitry Medvedev: I would like to see our biotechnology research reach world levels, because judging by the publications for the general public that I have read on this subject and analysed, biotechnology is going to shape our planet’s scientific future this century. I therefore hope we can put work in this area on a more systemic footing. This is why we have made biotechnology one of our work priorities.
To put it in specific terms, again, what we need here is investment, and I think we need to get business interested in this technology. It is all very well to place hopes on the state authorities, but it is important too, that big business, pharmaceuticals companies, and companies seemingly engaged in other areas altogether, make their contribution and invest their pennies in this work.
This also has a nurturing effect in that whoever puts money into a business process is going to want to try to see it through to its completion. Why do I have such hopes for private investment? The state is a rather lousy investor: it can operate on a big scale and concentrate big money, but it is no good at keeping tabs on what happens with this money next. Our experience, at any rate, is generally negative. A private investor, on the other hand, even if he put in only 5,000 rubles, will nonetheless keep close watch on what happens with his money. Building a synthesis between public and private investment is therefore the right road to take, I think, whether in biotechnology or in other priority areas.
As for which particular areas of biotechnology to invest in, this is not easy for me to answer. You would know better than me what to invest in and what to do with it. If we get the chance you can tell me later.
Question: Mr President, I am from Vietnam and am a masters student at Tomsk Polytechnic University’s computing and information systems department. I know that our chair carries out research under economic contracts, but unfortunately, we foreign students are unable to engage in employment during our studies. Could you do something to sort out this situation?
Dmitry Medvedev: Thank you for this interesting information. First, I want to say that you speak excellent Russian, and this is always a pleasure for those for whom this is our language. It shows too that you are a hardworking student and that you have precisely the quality I was asked about before – perseverance in achieving one’s goals.
As far as the situation with the economic contracts is concerned, to be honest, I was not aware of this problem. Does this arise from restrictions set by the laws, Mr Fursenko?
Minister of Education and Science Andrei Fursenko: (without microphone) …
Dmitry Medvedev: I think this is absolutely the right way of looking at the issue, because our foreign students are just as much students of Russian universities, and face even more difficult conditions than our own students in the sense that they are in a foreign land.
Let’s give an instruction to change the immigration rules in this area for the specific case of students, who, I hope, are looking to work on these projects under economic contracts, and not to open parallel businesses selling mass consumer goods. (Laughter.)
The case of economic contracts for research through the university is not the kind of area where the state should set restrictions. This is something for you to sort out together with the Interior Ministry, the Migration Service, and the Foreign Ministry too.
Let’s move up the rows. Who wants to go next? It’s hard for me to just say “you” because three people jump up all at once. So, whoever gets up first gets to put their question.
Question: I am Darya Lobanova, studying at the paediatrics department at the Siberian State Medical University.
Dmitry Medvedev: There seem to be only medical students here, or is it just that medical students are the most active? Well, that is only normal really.
Go ahead, Darya.
Question: Mr President, wherever there are a lot of students…
Dmitry Medvedev: Is surely a good place.
Question: You soon end up with quite a few babies on the scene.
Dmitry Medvedev: Bravo, that’s exactly right. (Applause.) This is not so much a question as a statement of fact.
Question: Russia has been implementing a programme to encourage people to have more children, but problems have emerged with pre-school establishments. There are not enough of them, and the existing ones are not in a very good state, especially in Siberia. In other words, we have cold kindergartens, and many buildings that previously housed kindergartens have been taken over by organisations that have nothing to do with children whatsoever. What is being done now to improve and increase the number of pre-school establishments?
Dmitry Medvedev: A lot of effort is going into convincing governors to tackle the problem of returning buildings previously used by pre-school establishments to their original purpose.
Your diagnosis is correct. Unfortunately, these buildings used by pre-school centres were sold off during the 1990s. Those were difficult years and I do not want to point the finger at anyone. But this was hardly in the country’s interests of course, and was done without any consideration to the prospect that we could start taking serious steps, students too, to address the demographic problem.
So, what are we doing now? I always try to tell my colleagues responsible for these matters in the regions that whenever there is a chance of restoring legal justice, in cases, say, where buildings were sold or privatised not in full accordance with the law, we need to do this. We need to get the prosecutors and courts involved and get back these pre-school institutions.
Second, we need to construct new buildings too, of course, modern and warm buildings adapted for specific children’s needs. This work is also going ahead. But we have indeed run up against what you could say is the fortunate problem of having a population that is now growing faster than we can build pre-school facilities. The thing is, in the 1990s, probably because people had so little money it even became quite common for people to see no point in sending their children to kindergarten and decide to keep them at home instead. Now people are much more involved in pursuing their careers, especially during their student years and the first years of working life, and kindergartens and day care centres become essential. Simply, we need to build more of them.
Many regions have adopted special programmes funded by the regional budgets to set up networks of pre-school facilities, refurbishing existing buildings, and constructing new ones.
Finally, something that is also important in my view, I think that large companies could also get involved in this work. The social sector should not be the state’s sole responsibility, all the more as these pre-school establishments are often managed by companies themselves. They should therefore take part in these efforts to build day care centres and kindergartens. This is a good way to help attract well qualified staff too, because people who join the company expect it to become an important part of their lives, and this means providing staff with day care, educational and medical facilities. These are three areas to work on, and we need to take action in all three.
Let’s hear now from the ruddy young man with the beard next to you.
Question: First of all, on behalf of everyone here, I want to thank you for giving us this opportunity to speak with you.
Dmitry Medvedev: Thank you too.
Question: My name is Mikhail Pronkin and I am a student at the Tomsk State Pedagogical University.
Dmitry Medvedev: Wonderful.
Question: As a future teacher, I am interested to hear what means you propose for raising the prestige of teaching as a profession in Russia.
Dmitry Medvedev: When you say ‘means’, is it money or mechanisms you have in mind?
Dmitry Medvedev: Understood. We are spending considerable sums of money on education. If you total them up these are colossal sums. I think they reach the trillions, a total of around 1.6 trillion rubles [55 billion dollars], as far as I know. In other words, there is money in the education system but it is often spent not rationally. The same goes for medicine – there is plenty of money but it is sometimes spent very foolishly indeed.
What mechanisms should we use? Some of these mechanisms have already been created and now we are trying to implement them in practice, in particular standardised funding based on actual student numbers. This has produced some good results as a means of funding teaching work in a number of regions. We had 31 pilot regions and in most of these regions introduction of this system along with sector-based wages led to what in some cases was a very considerable increase in wages. This is still not such a lot of money overall, but when you think that, compared to the miserable 5,000 rubles [170 dollars] a month teachers were getting, they are now getting 15,000–20,000 rubles, and in big cities 25,000–30,000 rubles monthly, this does represent certain progress, and it will not end here.
The second important area is housing. It is no doubt especially important for young teachers to have the prospect of being able to obtain housing. There are special mortgage programmes that are to be implemented in each region. We realise that teachers are not well off people and cannot afford to pay the high interest rates at the moment, and so there needs to be co-financing from the regions.
Mr Kress, how much do you provide in co-financing? Do you subsidise the mortgage interest rate in full for public sector workers?
Governor of Tomsk Region Viktor Kress: We subsidise the interest rate payments for three years, but right now we are looking at the possibility of making the initial downpayment as well.
Dmitry Medvedev: This is one example of how every region needs to develop its own system for subsidising mortgage interest rates. Of course, we also need to build cheap housing, whether in towns or in rural areas. In the rural areas the employers need to be involved in these efforts too, because this all ties in with the separate problems of creating jobs and developing new production in the rural areas. Traditionally, it was the state and collective farms that built housing in the countryside, that is, the employers developing their business there.
The sector-based wage payment system, housing, a comprehensive system of health insurance and medical services guaranteed for teachers – these are all ways to attract a new generation of teachers into schools. As you know, this is an urgent task today, with young teachers making up only around 10 percent of the workforce in our schools. This creates real problems, as we are forced to keep on staff who would perhaps rather have long since retired, and at the same time we have had difficulties getting young people working in our schools.
I think that if we take the necessary measures in these three areas we will see real progress. In any case, the [priority] national projects that you have already mentioned several times today have injected some new vigour into school life and have made it more rewarding.
I remember what the situation was like when we started this work. Schools had no laboratory equipment of any kind then. All the retorts and test tubes, physics instruments and so on had all long since been broken. What are you studying? Psychology? In that case, you don’t need retorts, you need to look others in the eyes. But the situation with laboratory equipment was absolutely dreadful. We have re-equipped schools since then, giving them modern and quite decent equipment. Practically all schools have received these new supplies now, and this is a good thing.
Then there is the transport issue. This is particularly important for rural areas. We have carried out the School Bus programme. At first, I feared all sorts of problems, lack of money, poor quality buses. But we came up with the funds, and the regions deserve praise for getting involved in the programme, so that now practically every region has its own buses, its own programme, and a large number of schoolchildren use these buses to get to their schools.
This is extremely important for rural areas, all the more so as they face the problem of schools where there are not enough pupils. In some cases we are forced to merge these small schools into one larger school. This is a good thing because it improves the teaching standards. If you have one and the same teacher teaching physics, singing, chemistry and drawing you can hardly expect them to have the same high level of skill in each of these areas, whereas in big schools this is not such a problem. It is better to transport children to the nearest big school, even if it means spending half an hour in the bus, than to have them attend the local village school that has practically nothing to offer.
This does not mean that we should close down all schools with few pupils, however. This is a separate issue and I will not tire you with it now. It is something for us to work on.
You three young ladies sitting together there, you can ask a question, but not all at once. Yes, you over there.
How long have we been talking so far?
Response: About an hour. There is still a little time left.
Dmitry Medvedev: Alright, let’s keep going a little longer.
Question: My name is Anna Guskova and I study at Tomsk Polytechnic University. I am not going to ask you any questions.
Dmitry Medvedev: Is that so.
Anna Guskova: Yes, I just wanted to say thank you for your support for science.
Dmitry Medvedev: Thank you.
Anna Guskova: And not just technical science but the humanities too. We all realise, after all, that a developed country has to be developed in all different areas.
Dmitry Medvedev: Of course.
Anna Guskova: We are very happy to see this support.
Dmitry Medvedev: What are you studying?
Anna Guskova: Management of companies.
Dmitry Medvedev: I see.
Anna Guskova: My fellow students and I won a presidential grant for our research.
Dmitry Medvedev: My congratulations.
Anna Guskova: We are very happy to see this support and we hope that it will continue to be provided not just for the technical sciences but for the humanities as well.
Dmitry Medvedev: Thank you for these kind words. They are very important to me. Thank you. (Applause.)
Let’s go a little higher. You young people up there, whoever is first to his feet gets to speak.
Question: I am Yevgeny Sevastyanov from Tomsk State University. Mr President, everyone is talking a lot about economic modernisation today. There is the Presidential Committee for…
Dmitry Medvedev: Presidential Commission.
Question: …on economic modernisation. I wanted to ask you, are there plans to get university research work involved in these projects? Various ministries and organisations are responsible for carrying out these projects. If we are talking about the Education Ministry it is clear that universities’ research potential will be involved in one way or another. But if we are talking about, say, the Russian Space Agency or the FSB [Federal Security Service], how can our young research teams get involved in their programmes? Are there mechanisms in place?
Dmitry Medvedev: I think it depends on how well we coordinate our work. Of course young teams should have the opportunity to take part in university-based programmes and in sector-based research projects too. This is what you have in mind, isn’t it?
Yevgeny Sevastyanov: Yes.
Dmitry Medvedev: I think that in this respect we need to come up with a mechanism that will make it possible to attract promising young scientists into this sector-based research, including those from universities not connected with the sectors in question.
Yevgeny Sevastyanov: This is exactly what is required.
Dmitry Medvedev: But this is an issue that probably would need to be decided at government level. Mr Fursenko [Minister of Education and Science], could you look into what kind of programme we could coordinate in this respect? Perhaps you would need to draft some kind of joint document with the main organisations working in these areas outside the Education and Science Ministry system, issue some kind of joint order opening up access. It would not be possible to give access to research in absolutely all areas of course, because there are some restricted areas, but it would be right to give our students access to research work in all the areas where possible, and you could establish an instrument that would enable them to take part in project tenders and propose their ideas.
Minister of Education and Science Andrei Fursenko: We are already cooperating in this with ROSATOM [State Atomic Energy Corporation] in the area of supercomputers.
Dmitry Medvedev: Well, if you are already working with ROSATOM on supercomputers you can organise similar work with the ROSCOSMOS [Russian federal Space Agency] and the FSB. I will pass my instructions on to the FSB personally. (Laughter.)
Yevgeny Sevastyanov: Thank you very much.
Dmitry Medvedev: What is your name?
Yevgeny Sevastyanov: Yevgeny Sevastyanov. (Laughter.)
Dmitry Medvedev: Let’s move on to this sector. Let’s hear from you.
Question: Mr President, we have heard so much about innovation today that I wanted to mention culture and its development too. I think that the first step to take in developing culture in Tomsk Region would be to build a conservatory. Could you set the cornerstone in the foundation of our conservatory, the way Alexander I once laid the cornerstone of Tomsk State University?
Dmitry Medvedev: If we first decide where the money will come from it would be my pleasure to set the cornerstone, today if need be. Let’s first look at where to get the money for building a conservatory. This was not something I discussed with the governor, but I will be meeting with him again after this discussion with you. I am very pleased that you have raised this question because our life is indeed not made up of innovations alone, although we certainly do need more of them. Our economy is still rather backward and we still need to do much to develop our science. But culture is no less important a part of our lives. If you do not have conservatory let’s think about where to get the money. If we come up with the funds then you can be sure I will come and lay the cornerstone. This is no problem.
In fact, I think these kinds of initiatives are very useful. I was talking about endowments before, and someone said that one of the universities has registered an endowment. You have just registered the account?
Response: The account was opened the day before yesterday…
Dmitry Medvedev: Is there any money in it yet?
Response: We are waiting.
Dmitry Medvedev: Well, following my conscience, I publicly declare that I will make the first donation to your endowment from my next salary. (Applause.)
Thank you. Let’s hear from someone up there. You have the floor.
Question: My name is Vadim Nikitin, I’m a fifth-year student at Tomsk Polytechnic [University]. My question is: are any exemptions for newly established small innovative companies being considered?
Dmitry Medvedev: There are such exemptions, but in my view they are not very substantial, and to be honest they are not very numerous. So, strictly speaking, our large team is meeting today in order to talk about a whole package of benefits: tax and other advantages, economic benefits in the broadest sense, to support innovative enterprises, including small innovative companies. We’ll be discussing this and then we’ll be in a better position to answer your question.
Question: For the last two years I have been involved in developing a high-tech company, a new start-up.
Dmitry Medvedev: Good for you.
Question: We have reached a certain stage and are now keen to enter the international market, but we are facing certain obstacles. I would like to know whether there are any mechanisms to help out young companies willing to export their products, in the international market?
Dmitry Medvedev: Can you tell me what sorts of things you need?
Question: For example, we visited several countries and saw how in such [research] centres as Singapore and Silicon Valley they have created special business incubators to support projects from their home countries, providing some consulting support and so on.
Is it possible to create such agencies operating on behalf of Russia in major centres of international trade, to help our own young companies?
Dmitry Medvedev: Domestically or internationally?
Dmitry Medvedev: Okay, I understand.
I think that anything is possible. The only question is what sort of market we may enter. Just creating something for its own sake probably doesn’t make much sense.
If we have in our portfolio a set of business proposals that we are thinking about marketing, then maybe we could consider establishing such a centre. All you have to do is figure out what sort of specific companies, for example, will be interested in what you have to offer. This could be the Russian Corporation of Nanotechnologies [RUSNANO] or something else of that kind. I don’t know what you’re working on. But in principle terms, maybe we do need to create such centres to promote our products.
But let me say again: it seems to me that to do this we need to know what is the potential market for our products, what are our goals, and what we have in our portfolio, so that we don’t end up simply producing more bureaucrats which is so customary for Russia, as you know. Once a new agency operating in Singapore is mentioned, you’ll instantly have a dozen people who are happy to go to Singapore to spend budget money. But that’s not what we need — we need people to want to buy what we have to sell. In Singapore, by the way, the business climate is absolutely unique. Have you been there?
Dmitry Medvedev: I was there quite recently. I can assure you that it made a very powerful impression on me, because what they did was very quickly transform their country from a backward, corrupt place, which in effect produced nothing, into an important [global] financial and technology centre. And they did this using the appropriate legal channels, the rule of law and the conscientious motivation of public servants. They perfectly succeeded in everything.
For example, I was shown how their system for the registration of new companies operates. Well, it’s just phenomenal! While I watched, in literally seven minutes a restaurant serving Russian food was registered as a company. To do this all you have to do is sit at a computer, enter some data, and submit a request for a license to sell alcohol, because it is not reasonable to run this sort of restaurant without alcohol. But if you don’t need that [license], you don’t have to put in any requests. And within literally ten minutes you have the result. Since you engage in business ventures, you know how much time it would take to do the same thing in Russia.
So if we want to create something it should be based on a specific set of ideas and on support by special government agencies designed to help in implementing these ideas. That’s something we haven’t had to this point. We need to move forward.
Question: Could you please tell us, in your view, what sort of graduates in a range of disciplines will be most urgently needed in Russia’s labour market over, say, the next five years, in light of the modernisation and technological development of our country’s economy?
Dmitry Medvedev: I would like to see major demand first and foremost for representatives of the technical, engineering professions and for specialists in the natural sciences. These are precisely the sort of graduates that are currently in short supply. But in order for them to start their careers in absolutely up-to-date conditions, of course we have to change the current state of affairs in the labour market.
As for lawyers and economists I am best familiar with being a lawyer myself, while you’re an economist, of course there will also be some demand for them, even though in recent years we have founded a whole bunch of new universities that specialise in producing graduates in the humanities and social sciences, primarily lawyers and economists.
I always cite the figures: when I graduated from [Leningrad State] University in 1987, in my city of St Petersburg at that time there were two schools where you could take law: St Petersburg State University, or Leningrad State University as it was then, and the Higher Police School. By the time I left St Petersburg to go to Moscow in 1999, there were already fifty such schools, while the population of St Petersburg was the same. Of course it goes without saying that national business had changed and instead of large government enterprises there appeared a whole bunch of small companies that needed economists and lawyers. That was all well and good and everyone was making money. Nevertheless, the development of our country depends upon other things as well.
So we need engineers, experts in computer technology, biologists, physicists, chemists — these are the professionals who in my view are needed to create an innovative environment. Please do not get me wrong, I don’t want to offend anybody, and we also need doctors, and teachers, and others.
Question: I have a question. I often encounter the following situation: you invent something that is good, promising, cost-effective. You approach someone who wants to buy it from you but he says: I won’t buy what you have to sell me at the moment. When it’s ready [for commercial operation], come and see me and I’ll try it, and then maybe I’ll buy it… And in order to do this, we need to do research, which costs money. There are two ways out: either you turn to an investor or you register in a programme such as UMNIK [Youth Scientific Research and Innovation Contest] or Start [both offered by the Foundation for Assistance to Small R&D Businesses]. But the investor will only lend money at interest and may sometimes refuse to get involved, while UMNIK and Start programmes are only available with some periodicity. So my question is: how can we change this mindset and convince the would-be buyer that he should invest now and earn a profit on his money? Thank you.
Dmitry Medvedev: There are various ways of changing this mindset, to use your words. Some of them are not worth discussing in this forum, but in all seriousness of course this is perhaps our most important problem, the problem of the psychological rejection by our businesses of the innovative ideas, the lack of their willingness to risk their own money, precisely the circumstances you just described.
You have some innovative idea and go to someone and ask him for some money. He says: “No, I’ll give it to you only when your idea is up and running, when it’s commercially feasible – until then, sorry, I’m not interested.” And you have to fall back on a government programme, but there aren’t enough of them, and of course they don’t cover everything. So the only thing in my view that we should do in this regard, the main thing we have to do is change the psychology of national businesses, not only large but also medium and small businesses, perhaps it’s this that is most important.
Particularly large businesses, because in effect they have responsibilities to the nation, to our society, to our country, because our major companies were created out of the ruins of the Soviet economy. Generally speaking, 95 percent of them emerged from what had previously existed. And in my view now is the time for them to repay their debts, not in the primitive sense of that word, not by sharing with the government their revenues or assets. No, I mean by investing in high-tech, complex and risky ventures. That means changing the way people think, which really is the most difficult thing to do. Several components will contribute to such a change.
First, we have to create the appropriate legal environment, and at some point amend legislation and adjust taxation rates, although this process is always very complicated. I don’t want to prejudge anything: we are going to discuss these issues, because all sorts of changes in taxes, changes in tax rates, or declaring tax holidays – as you understand, all of these things involve the loss of government revenues which is very painful for any government, as we have public sector employees, we have retirees who must be paid their full pensions. That’s the first thing.
Secondly, this involves creating the right clusters, where the money can quickly get to work. This is precisely the sort of challenge that government and business have to face together. That’s the problem.
Question: I wasn’t finished, I want to ask your advice about what to do. I may approach someone and offer him my innovative idea, but he would say that he already has everything he needs, that he is producing something that people want to buy, that he doesn’t need anything else.
Dmitry Medvedev: My answer to that is to find someone else. You’re not going to make any music with that person. If you have some specific idea, perhaps there are people here who might be interested. Anyway, tell me what’s at stake. If you write out what you need, maybe we can arrange for your idea to get into the right hands.
Question: Right now there is a shortage of electricity which will grow as national economy advances, therefore resolving this problem will require launching new generating facilities. Will a nuclear power station be built in Tomsk Region to deal with this problem?
Dmitry Medvedev: With the energy shortage?
Dmitry Medvedev: Is that what you yourself want?
Response: Yes. I’m a student at the [Applied] Physics and Engineering Department [of Tomsk Polytechnic University] and in two weeks I’ll be presenting my diploma work and will soon become a nuclear power station operator, so that is exactly what I want.
Dmitry Medvedev: That’s terrific! (Applause.)
The demands are growing greater. First it’s “help me find a sponsor”, which may seem somewhat reasonable, but now it’s “build me a nuclear power station when I graduate”. Well, I can’t exactly promise you that. But in regard to nuclear power generation I will say that this is an absolute priority in the development of our energy network, the development of our power generation capacity and the development of all our energy options. We have purposefully put nuclear power on the list of priorities for our Commission [for Modernisation and Technological Development of Russia’s Economy] and a great deal of money will be invested in it. We have started to build nuclear power stations again after not doing it for quite a long while. As you know, we plan to build quite a few stations in Russia and of course we are building them overseas.
As for the Tomsk nuclear power station, it’s on the agenda and hence will be built. The only question is when. What sort of time frame do we have?
Governor of Tomsk Region Viktor Kress: Initially, two first reactors were scheduled to be launched in 2015 and 2017. The first nuclear reactor block will be ready in 2015. We were planning on launching construction of two reactors a year, now we’re thinking of one.
Dmitry Medvedev: The deadlines have shifted a little, but in any case, if it’s in the plan, we will certainly build it, because without nuclear power there is no future for all of our energy sector, especially because Russia is part of various green initiatives and initiatives aimed at reducing emissions of hydrocarbons and greenhouse gas emissions more generally. Nuclear power is simply one of the best ways to combat this negative phenomena, including global warming, although I have to say in all honesty that here in Tomsk this does not seem to be a problem. When you come here, you start to think that all the talk about global warming is a clever campaign devised by a number of large commercial enterprises in order to facilitate some business projects.
Question: I have many friends and acquaintances in CIS countries who would like to study in Russia, because our education system is respected for its high quality.
And so I would like to know if there are any prospects for expanding the number of CIS nations whose citizens could receive education in Russia for free?
Dmitry Medvedev: That is a very good question indeed.
I’ll get right to the point: of course we have such plans. And when I meet with leaders of the CIS states, most of them ask if we can increase the number of scholarships for their students, either non-fee paying students, or those partially funded by Russia’s budget. In principle, we agree to do so.
Of course in the past year our possibilities were strained, but I am sure that these are investments that will pay off a hundredfold, because these are our students, our people in the broadest sense. They graduate from Russia’s universities, and then go back to their native countries, and our bonds with them remain strong, so in the future they will help us build relations with their nations and help us solve the challenges that Russia faces. These are people who in a literal sense speak the same language and have the same educational level, the same higher education qualifications. So this is an extremely important issue.
We will proceed with this without fail. And incidentally not only for students: we have been asked to assist in training military officers for the CIS countries. This is also very important, because we share common borders, we have integrated associations, and our military organisations work together. So all this absolutely has to be done.
How long have I been answering questions? Who can tell me honestly?
Response: For an hour.
Dmitry Medvedev: No, I think it’s been longer. Let me ask the people in charge how long it’s been.
Response: An hour and twenty minutes.
Dmitry Medvedev: An hour and twenty minutes. Then let’s be fair: another ten minutes and we’re done.
Question: My question is the following: we’ve talked a lot about innovation today. How do you feel about the idea of designating Tomsk as a centre of innovation?
Dmitry Medvedev: Great idea, but you already are a centre of innovation, as I’ve been telling you. (Applause.)
In all seriousness, what I have seen today, here at the [Tomsk] Polytechnic University and elsewhere, what I was told at the [Tomsk Electromechanical] Plant we visited – all of these involved innovative projects. I have to say frankly that this is very impressive. I very often visit exhibitions, and touch base with young scientists, and with those who are still students. They are involved in creating things that really work and many of them have already been manufactured and are broadly used. What was that last thing? What was it called? I’m sorry – I’ve forgotten.
Response: It’s a high-vacuum breaker, over 100,000 pieces [sold].
Dmitry Medvedev: That’s it, a high-vacuum breaker, more than a 100 thousand of them have been produced – that’s pretty cool. As far as I remember, this is work done by students, isn’t it? It began as a student project and now 100,000 pieces have already been manufactured and sold both in Russia and outside Russia, as I understand it. This shows just what a classy operation you’re running here. Okay, who’s next?
Question: As you’re aware, Tomsk is a city of the young people, but it is also a sports city, which is confirmed by the fact that our athletes are defending Russia’s colours in international sporting arenas and at the Olympic Games. But at the same time Tomsk is suffering from a lack of modern sports facilities. We have no track and field stadium and no swimming pool.
Dmitry Medvedev: What? You don’t have a single swimming pool?
Response: No, we have swimming pools, but we don’t have a state-of-the-art, 50-metre long pool.
I would like to ask: what are the general prospects for the development of sports facilities in Tomsk?
Dmitry Medvedev: I don’t believe that recently nothing good has happened insofar as sports in Tomsk are concerned. Almost everywhere in Russia and here in Tomsk as well new sports facilities are being built.
What do I think is most important for student sports? We need to create the sort of campus that we were discussing earlier, and face these challenges within the framework of such a campus. Student sport is something very special. Throughout the world student sport serves as the starting ground for those who go on to play professional sports, because those who excel in sport at university go on to compete at the Universiade and then at the Olympics and other competitions. Therefore these facilities, these sites should be built close to universities. This is extremely important.
How can we do this? Only by building such campuses everywhere. As I just said, these are the sorts of campuses that we need to build. This is a difficult challenge but we’ll succeed.
In any case, I once remarked at a meeting that in my view a university, even if it’s brilliantly conceived and has excellent faculty and staff, is not a university if it doesn’t offer sports. Some of our newest universities where there are tables and chairs but no laboratory facilities and no place for playing sports – I’m sorry but in my view the prospects for these universities are dim. They should be required to build their own sports facilities. The future of universities is in their own hands. They have to seek out sponsors and compel them to provide the endowments needed for such things.
Question: It has been said that a lot of valuable human resources are leaving the country. I want to address the problem of attracting staff from abroad. What policies does the government have to stimulate this sort of immigration?
Dmitry Medvedev: You asked a very rightful question. How in my view shall we go about this? As I have said, we can only do so by persuasion, and persuasion involves creating an attractive environment. Let me repeat, in order to get people to come we need to provide not only housing and decent salaries, although these are obviously very important.
The truth is that this process of coming home has already begun in earnest: many of our professionals who left the country are coming back. But of course many of those who have gone abroad have made commitments and started families. They work in a university environment in which they can interact and, most importantly, they are fully aware of the enormous problems facing those interested in pursuing scientific careers in our country.
In my opinion, this should be a full-fledged government programme, if not a federal programme, then at least some sort of government programme that will create the mechanisms for encouraging the return of our first-class experts from abroad. But, to be utterly frank, anyone who wants to work in their homeland will eventually return. It’s a sort of internal compulsion.
In my view, it is far more important that fewer people go abroad because if this powerful outflow continues, that would indicate that we are doing something wrong, that we are not creating the necessary conditions.
Question: Can I ask the last question?
Dmitry Medvedev: Why the last? Do I look as if I’m about to leave? Go ahead, please.
Question: As an ordinary citizen I’ve been bothered by this question for a long time: why has Mikhail Saakashvili not been put on trial?
Dmitry Medvedev: Wow, now you’re talking sense! (Applause.) Now I know what matters to the ordinary people of Tomsk. It’s too bad that Mr Saakashvili doesn’t know this but I hope, given the fact that out meeting is televised and broadcast, that he’ll learn about your question tonight.
Question: It’s just because something crooked has happened: everybody has to face justice, and yet Mikhail Saakashvili, who is responsible for a genocidal attack on our people, is allowed to get off scot-free.
Dmitry Medvedev: Of course you have asked your question ironically but funnily enough I agree with you 100 percent: everyone must answer for his deeds, and by his deeds ye shall know him. So if you have done something, especially as President, for which you must answer, you have to take responsibility sooner or later. What kind of responsibility? I think that first and foremost Mr Saakashvili should answer to his own people, since he plunged them into war, condemned them to great suffering, and in the final analysis all this led to the collapse of his country. (Applause.)
But this is such a serious subject. Perhaps we could talk about something a little less serious?
Question: What is the presidency for you: a hobby, a mission or a duty?
Dmitry Medvedev: That is a tricky question. You know, it’s definitely not a hobby, because I wouldn’t want you to have such a hobby – it’s much too difficult for that.
It’s wrong for just anyone to talk about the presidency as a mission. Only analysts with a particular angle on it can talk about it in this way.
As for its being a duty, of course it is a very difficult duty, very complicated, an onerous responsibility, but it’s very interesting job. So if one of you wants to become President of Russia, I can only wish you every success in your endeavours, because you will not regret it. It’s the sort of work that repays all the effort you put into it. It’s interesting work.
Question (without a microphone): …
Dmitry Medvedev: I can’t help personally, only the voters, your programme, your desire to achieve your goals can help. For all intents and purposes, generally speaking I think that career planning is very important for everyone, no matter what you want to be. Whether you want to be a successful scientist, teacher, doctor, lawyer, or to make a political career, you still need to plan your career in advance in order to achieve success. Stories that you read in the papers or in various blogs about someone who goes off like a rocket and ends up somewhere – it doesn’t happen like that, believe me. When a person ends up in a more or less developed set of circumstances, it is always the result of some very serious effort. And this is the sort of thing that applies in one’s own life.
That is why I hope you will all persist in your attempts to achieve your goals. (Applause.)
Let’s carry on. How about this: three more questions, to be fair, and that’s it. Okay?
Question: I have a question about transport. You have been talking about economic development, but there may be no developed economy without developed transport corridors.
The idea of building a tunnel under the Bering Strait dates back to Tsarist Russia. What do you think of this idea? The construction of the tunnel would cause a big inflow of tourists, obviate the need for sea routes, and make Russia an intercontinental transportation hub. That’s my first question.
Dmitry Medvedev: Look at that! The first person who thought of asking two questions.
Question: And the second question. How can Tomsk, a centre for innovation, be connected to the rest of Russia via a single-lane railroad which only ends at Taiga station [the town where Tomsk Railroad joins the Trans-Siberian Route]? (Applause.)
Dmitry Medvedev: As for the Bering Strait tunnel: you know, I approach it like everything else in life, purely pragmatically: how much does it cost? Now if you explain and demonstrate the effectiveness of these investments, then I’ll push this idea through the Cabinet. But if this is just a reflection on the subject, then I’m sorry but the project has no future. Of course there is no doubt that the idea is beautiful in and of itself. But ideas can be implemented only if we put a price tag on them, if they are feasible and the income they will bring our country is guaranteed, because in any case this would cost, as you realise, billions of dollars.
Now about the single-lane railroad. This is a sad fact and there is no point to argue. A normal railroad should be built. But as you Siberians know perfectly well, roads are really one of our major national problems. This was the case one hundred, and many hundred years ago and, unfortunately, will continue to be so for a long while.
Our competitive advantage, our huge territory, is our objective disadvantage. After all, roads on this scale require immense investment. For example, our railroads are the longest in the world. So what? There are not enough of them even at that. They are of poor quality and often do not go where they need to get to.
We need big money for this! Of course, we will find and invest it, but do not expect this to happen in one year, because even building a road between two large cities in Siberia requires huge investments. We have drafted a strategy for developing transport in our country through to 2030 – these are very serious plans, very serious ones, and I hope that we will implement them.
Question: Mr President, I would ask the following question. In our country, private entrepreneurs and private companies build even municipal buildings and apartments. Is it possible to go back to the old practice in which the government ran large construction corporations? They would build a lot of housing and offer lower mortgage rates as people would be buying at fixed government prices incorporating minimum profit margin?
Dmitry Medvedev: I still do not believe that it makes sense to have public construction companies and we have repeatedly discussed this [within the Government].
Of course the problem is that private [construction] companies are not working as they should. But if major government-owned companies are set, they will eventually overwhelm all the others, they will dictate prices and not be interested in developing innovations or using new building materials. So we need diversity.
I am not opposed to the idea that the public sector has a role to play in [housing] construction, but it should be commensurate with the involvement of the private sector. If again we put too much emphasis on the government component here, this would just be a losing strategy.
Moreover, in most regions we are in fact now building more housing than in the Soviet period. The affordability of such housing is a different matter, but the scopes [of residential construction] are very high, and it is to be openly admitted that the quality of [newly built] housing is much, much higher than what it was [in the USSR].
Question (without microphone): …
Dmitry Medvedev: Could someone perhaps ask a less formal question? No doubt, student construction teams [operating over summer vacation] are an important subject, but I promised to take three questions.
Question: Can I ask an informal question?
Dmitry Medvedev: Informal? Please go ahead.
Question: The Olympics are about to begin, so my question is: who do you think will win the most gold medals?
Dmitry Medvedev: Excellent question allowing to thank each other for this conversation. I hope you are a sports fan?
Response: Of course.
Dmitry Medvedev: And everyone here will be rooting for Russian national team.
Of course, like any other team, we always have problems. For example, I checked how many medals we won at the Winter Olympics in the Soviet period and the post-Soviet period. It was very different.
To believe that the Soviet Union always beat everyone and won first place is incorrect in the case of the Winter Olympics. We have witnessed some declines, even failures, and some good results as well. By the way, we often forget that we had very good results immediately after the disintegration of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s, but at that time the old system of training athletes was still functioning.
With regard to medals at the Vancouver Olympics, I still sincerely hope that our athletes will show their best qualities. We have problems including, shall we say, generational conflict, the succession between generations.
On the other hand, in recent years we have invested quite a lot in sports, winter sports in particular. We have built facilities for the [Sochi] Winter Olympics which we never had before. Never before in either the Soviet or the post-Soviet period. It is necessary to build as many as possible, because the more sports facilities and sites we have, the better the results.
This is too evident to discuss. As I was reported, in Russia we have never had a normal ski-jump, for example. Hence we have respective results in jumping and downhill skiing which are still very modest. But if we invest in these sports, the results will certainly follow.
Again I would like to mention that I have tremendous hopes for student sport. We will host the [World Summer] Universiade in Kazan. If we can establish the proper infrastructure for sports in universities, and there are all the prerequisites for that, we will have better results. Most medals, especially in countries like the United States and some others as well, stem from student achievements.
And the last thing. I would really like to see no bias towards our athletes, but sometimes it happens. Sport is not just sport, it is politics too, and sometimes manipulation of certain interests. On the other hand, I hope that our athletes will be impeccable in their behaviour. You know what I mean. During the Olympics one has to engage in proper training and then with the support of fans the results will be good.
Of course, I can tell you how many medals I am hoping for, but I won’t because I’m afraid to jinx them. I have some idea of an internal calculation; our [National] Olympic Committee and sports minister told me about it. It is not an otherworldly number, but if we do get that many we will have done well. Let’s keep our fingers crossed, as they say, and cheer for our team at the Olympics. (Applause.)
Dear friends, I am delighted to have had this chance to talk with you. You know, I would like to point out at the end of our meeting that you have asked some very good questions, and not because you could not ask about other more frivolous issues; you asked serious questions and this shows that you are looking at life equally seriously. In this sense I am quite sure: each of those sitting in the audience will achieve their goals. I sincerely wish this for you.
Thank you. (Applause.)