Vladimir Putin: I have just come back from Brunei. It is an interesting event, it is held regularly and it is not usually devoted to concrete projects. Such summits, as a rule, are devoted to the architecture of modern international economic relations. The event is focused on economic relations. Of course, it concentrates on the region, but not only the region. Because the region is so large (it accounts for 60% of the world economy). And this suggests some thoughts which I would like to share with you.
We are all aware of the challenges presented by our time. I am referring to the large-scale and rapid changes taking place in the world and in our country. This is particularly noticeable and important for our country because these changes are at their most dramatic here. I don’t think such changes are happening anywhere else in the world today. Experts say that the need for new knowledge, for renewing people’s knowledge occurs every 3–5 years (this is a person’s inner need) and technology changes four or five times during the lifetime of one generation. Naturally, the most difficult thing for you and your teachers, and what we should do above all, is to identify the key link. Undoubtedly, that key link is the creative worker. While previously we succeeded by producing a lot of engineers and manual workers, now the intellectual should take pride of place.
Furthermore, we should be ready in the near future to become part of a single international education space. That is undoubtedly one of the problems we must take into account and indeed adapt to. Already we should be thinking about what to do to meet the requirements of the new and rapidly changing times. We cannot allow our education system to lag behind the times. It is not only about allocating enough money at the right time, although that is of course very important and there is no getting away from the problem. We are going to discuss this today with the Governor and with the heads of other Siberian regions. But above alle must prevent a deterioration and obsolescence of the education system and a downgrading of its content. And yet, that system, like any other system, always calls for new ideas. Ideas that meet the challenges of globalisation in digital form. I think most of those present understand what I mean.
A 17th century French philosopher said: “Inequality of wealth and inequality of education are the main causes of all evils and all social upheavals.” Unfortunately, we have been exposed to some of these problems in recent years. And while outstanding education problems (more precisely, problems of equal access for young people to quality education) may have negative consequences today and lead to internal conflicts, in a very short time it may have dire consequences for the country as a whole, because it would bring our competitiveness in the world down to a critical line. If we allow that to happen, qualitative changes in the country will be beyond conjecture and one dreads to think about them. But one has to.
The economic situation in the country has improved, and this is reflected in the sphere of education (it cannot but be reflected because there is an awareness of the importance of that sphere). Education is the third biggest expenditure item in the federal budget next year. And the funding of school education is growing faster than of all other spheres. We are aware that what we have done is not enough. However, for the first time in several years significant funds have been allocated to renovate resources of educational institutions. The Government is also planning to use this money for computerisation, on-the-job training and replenishing libraries, because libraries are in a sorry state in many educational institutions and what is more, they do not meet modern requirements.
In addition to academic grants, the Government intends to introduce social grants to young people from disadvantaged families. An experiment will be staged next year. I know that representatives of higher education have mixed feelings about the experiment. But it will be carried out on a limited scale. I am referring to the Single State Test. Its aim is to enable a young person even in the remotest village to enrol in a prestigious higher education institution without leaving home, if he deserves it.
We have to establish a system of lifelong learning. That is another subject I would like to dwell on. Continuous education is a system that enables a person to constantly renew and replenish his or her knowledge. That would prevent many older people from becoming redundant. Young people easily take in new knowledge and adapt quickly. Older people find it more difficult. And of course the challenge facing your university and all other major educational establishments is to make new technologies available to the country’s population. So, higher education institutions, along with their core activities, should assume the role of centres for retraining and upgrading graduates’ skills. I know that your university pays a great deal of attention to this issue, and I would like to thank you for this. You are moving in the right direction.
I would like to repeat what I have already mentioned in passing. All of us – young people and older people – must be efficient. The state as a whole must be more efficient. It depends on how well we adapt to the new living conditions. We should remember what happened to the dinosaurs. They seemed to be unsinkable, powerful and invincible. But they failed to adapt to a dramatic change of climate. We know well from our history books that powerful empires and mighty states fell and simply disappeared from the political map of the world. Some of them vanished without a trace and only a narrow circle of scholars knows about them.
We must become aware of the challenges presented by the situation in which we find ourselves today. We must respond to the challenges of the times, the change of the environment — cultural, social, economic and international. And although basic training is important, but retraining our human resources is also a priority task.
But the main task of the education system is not only to fill heads with knowledge, but to teach people how to learn.
Question: You have more or less answered my question already, but I’ll ask it anyway. What do you think about the security of graduates in the new millennium? About their employment opportunities? Twenty years ago our parents, for example, had job placement for graduates. This was the case in the whole country, not only at our university.
Vladimir Putin: You are asking me whether we will return to a situation when certain things are guaranteed. You have mentioned your parents. They were guaranteed a salary of 120–130 roubles, and sausage cost 2.2 roubles a kilo. There was nothing else in the shops. But there was sausage at 2.2 roubles a kilo. Everybody was promised a state-owned flat, but nobody actually got one. But everybody had that promise. Everybody knew they were entitled to it. It reminds me of an old joke. An old woman comes to a lawyer and asks him: “Sonny, do I have the right?” And he replies: “You do, old woman.” She says: “I would like to know whether I have the right?” He replies: “You do.” She says: “Wait a bit, I want to know whether I can or I can’t?” He replies: “No, old woman, you can’t.” (Laughter)
For all of us to have the “can do” spirit, we must fight for ourselves. I have already mentioned it. We must learn to be independent, self-sufficient and competitive. There are areas in which the so-called state order must exist. And education is one such area. In such spheres there should be the so-called kazyonnye companies, like in Russia in the old times [companies wholly owned and operated by the state]. These include state-owned defence companies. There are spheres of activities in which no one and nothing can replace the state. In these spheres the state may order the training of personnel. In that case the state would be obliged to provide young graduates with jobs and housing. I agree. But I don’t think it should be a nationwide phenomenon in all areas of activity and personnel training.