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President of Russia Dmitry Medvedev: Hello, everyone!
Firstly, I want to thank Nastya and all of you for inviting me to this forum. Thank you particularly for giving me a chance not to wear a tie: that’s a special pleasure for me but one that I cannot indulge in very often. On my way here together with the Minister, the Presidential Plenipotentiary Envoy and the Governor, I told them: “Go on, take off your ties.” And they said, “We take our ties off and next we lose our jobs.” But the idea is absolutely right because it is best to discuss the key aspects of our nation’s development in a relaxed atmosphere, and I think we’ve got it here now. That’s great.
I try to keep in touch with students on a regular basis. Why? Because I have been interacting with students all my life. As you may know, I worked as a university lecturer for many years, and I think that any leader, a leader of a nation, especially such a large and dynamic state as Russia, has to talk with students simply because they are the future. The social well-being of our state, its development and its energy ultimately depend on the way you feel in our country.
We have heard many interesting ideas here today. I would like to comment on some of them, if I may.
I'll start with volunteering. This is a new subject in our country. When I was a student, nobody thought about volunteering. Or to be more precise, volunteering existed but it was compulsory. Lots of things were voluntary/compulsory: taking part in rallies, demonstrating our love for our country and its leadership, and our political preferences.
Today, volunteering is different. If you don’t feel an urge, a calling of the heart, if you wish, you don’t need to go anywhere or do anything because in reality you can’t force people to volunteer. But if you have that enthusiasm, I think it's great. You can use it in many different areas, in everyday life and at major forums, student forums, the APEC forum that was mentioned earlier, the World Student Game and the Olympic Games, which will be a major challenge. Don’t forget that after the Olympics we will host the FIFA World Cup. I am sure we will win some other bids after that and it will all go on for a long time and will be very interesting.
Therefore, volunteering is a form of public life that requires that the people involved in it are not indifferent. At the same time, I think the state must pay more attention to this social phenomenon and really think about drafting more modern legislation on volunteer organisations and volunteering. I will issue the relevant instructions with a view to everything that has been said here. This does not mean that we should bureaucratise it but there should be a legal framework in place.
At present, our social development certainly tallies with the term ‘modernisation’. I think that’s good because we have built up the momentum for development. But we must constantly improve our world, look at it through different eyes, make our country modern, efficient and strong, and this requires the modernisation of the economy, our manufacturing sector, our agriculture and science. Who can lead the way? Only the people who are not indifferent.
As I sat here in this hall earlier, I caught myself thinking that there are two common attitudes to life. The first one is easy and very widespread; we can observe it everywhere, from shops to social networks: ‘Do this or that for us, and do it immediately. There is nothing you can offer us. We can’t do anything, our lives are boring. We don’t understand how we will live in this country’. This is one position. Incidentally, it has always existed, in Soviet times too, only it was hidden, latent, and now it is expressed loudly and without hesitation.
The second attitude is the one I can see in this room: ‘Yes, we can and we want to change something. Yes, there are many things we don’t like but we realise that if we don’t try to change them, no one will’. I believe that only the people who have this attitude can achieve success in life. So I really hope that all of you here will be active students and active people, and top professionals in different fields. In this case, of course, our country will have a very good future. Please, be active. (Applause.)
Now about alma mater and some topics related to it. I just visited the Altai State University and met with students there. And it’s remarkable how your presentation mentioned endowment funds – it’s the same thing I said to the students, that it is very important for each university to create such an endowment fund. Never mind that it will not be the same size as Harvard’s or Yale’s. You’ve got to start somewhere.
Generally, I think that the desire to help your alma mater is a very noble impulse. Students give a little and faculty members contribute a little more. But every university has alumni who have made a lot of money – let them show their gratitude to their old school. These contributions will eventually promote the university’s development.
I have just asked the Education Minister, Mr Fursenko, “How many universities in our country have endowment funds? Unfortunately, Mr Fursenko could not give me an answer to this question. Why not? Not because Mr Fursenko is not well informed but for another reason: because endowment funds do not yet play a significant role in our higher education system. At present, universities are fully dependant on state funding. Naturally, universities will always receive state funding. In some cases, state funding reaches 80–90%, and not only in Russia but also in other countries. However, there must also be alternative sources. It is essential to have endowment funds and small businesses that work in cooperation with universities.
I don’t know if you have discussed this matter here today but I believe it is also a very important area. The law we have adopted applies to every university, although it works better at some schools than at others. In any case, such small businesses can be set up and they can earn money for the university’s development as well as for their own profit. I think this is a very important aspect of the presentation we have heard and I hope that you and most importantly, the rectors of your universities will continue to pay attention to it.
I would like to discuss some other issues with you. I don’t know if you have talked about it but student life is more than just studying, although it is very important. It is also recreation and leisure, the opportunity to spend time with like-minded people. Obviously, not every university has the essential facilities and I think we should speak about it at student forums and at other venues, and to plan the financing for the development of leisure activities and sports facilities at universities, because a normal healthy student environment cannot be built without that.
I would also like us to talk about the most troublesome aspects of student life, including the problems of dormitories. If you think that in Moscow we are so far removed from student problems that we have forgotten how students live, then you’re mistaken. In the past I always visited student dormitories on a regular basis, and just recently I’ve dropped by several dormitories and saw for myself what they look like in Moscow. Admittedly, those were good dormitories, nobody is going to take the President to a bad one, but I know that many dormitories are in a very poor state.
At the same time I think the condition of your dormitories should be a joint concern of the university administration and the Education Ministry, but also yours, because you have order wherever there are many people who want to maintain this order. On our part, we will certainly provide funding to universities so that on top everything they need for brilliant academic achievements they can also have interesting lives. It will probably not happen at once but I'm sure it will happen eventually. Why? Because our country has tremendous intellectual resources, and that is absolutely true.
Those resources were developed by our predecessors. I, for example, had the good fortune to study and teach at the Leningrad, later the St Petersburg State University. I'm sure that I felt the same as you feel when you walk around your university, when you go to class, and it doesn’t matter where that university is and when it was established. It is a sense of pride that you are part of this educational centre, where some very intelligent people studied before you, who later did a great deal for their country.
This feeling of being an integral part of the university, the feeling that you have an alma mater, where you come from, usually remains with a person all his life and helps him meet all kinds of challenges. I sincerely wish you to keep the love for your university throughout your lives and I hope you will help it and maybe some of you will come back to your university to teach, which is a very noble profession, and that our university education becomes one of the best in the world. I emphasise again, we have everything we need to achieve that; the main thing is that we have a creative nation and we are willing to change our lives in the very near future, to do it here and now.
I hope that your forum will convene again and many interesting ideas will be voiced from this stage. Good luck and see you soon.