The plenary session was dedicated to the development of the national higher education system, in particular to ways of improving the quality of teaching and upgrading the facilities of higher education institutions, as well as support for university research.
The Russian Rectors Union is a national public organisation that unites more than 700 heads of higher education institutions. The Union’s anniversary meeting took place at Lomonosov Moscow State University.
Prior to the meeting, Vladimir Putin examined the new supercomputer centre at Lomonosov Moscow State University. University’s Rector Victor Sadovnichy briefed the President on the way the centre operates and how the Lomonosov supercomputer is being used. Mr Putin had a look at how the supercomputer simulates climate change, builds spacecraft models and performs space technology calculations.
Moscow State University currently has the largest supercomputer complex in Russia. Its main computer Lomonosov is based on innovative technologies developed by Russian scientists. The machine’s performance peaks at 1.7 petaflops.
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President of Russia Vladimir Putin: Mr Sadovnichy, colleagues,
It is a pleasure to welcome you at the tenth anniversary Congress of Russian Rectors Union. Attending are the heads of practically all higher education institutions in our country, and the system now employs more than 300 thousand people, with over 5.5 million students – an entire army.
The system of higher education has always been and remains the country’s powerful intellectual resource, generating new ideas and – this is what it was designed for, of course – trains staff for all areas of life in Russia.
In the past years we have done a lot to make national higher education institutions develop to meet the needs of our time, so that they become competitive and serve as milestones for technologically advanced branches of the economy.
We already have a network of leading universities and we are working on their further development; funds have already been allocated from the budget for the purpose.
University research is at the focus of attention, thus the Government has established grants to support research led by prominent scientists. We are also strengthening the cooperation between universities and production facilities.
We are taking measures to raise the salaries of the faculty. In accordance with the May 2012 executive orders, by 2018, their salaries – we all keep this in mind, including myself – should make up at least 200 percent of the average salary in each given region of the Russian Federation. We will do everything possible to implement these plans, despite the existing difficulties.
I would like to note in this connection that in the first six months of the year salaries at higher education institutions have reached an average 45,000 rubles. Somewhere the numbers are higher than the region’s average, while in some places they have not reached that level yet. Thus, in Moscow, the average salary for the region is rather high and not easy to match, but there are also quite a few institutions of higher education here as well, you know what I mean – we have 250 higher education institutions in Moscow. The experts among us here understand that quality and quantity are in this case proportionate.
I would like to stress that both higher salaries and the upgrade of university facilities are primarily instruments that should help to develop and improve the system of higher education, they serve as an investment into the achievement of the main target – training professionals that are in demand on the labour market.
We have to admit that there are still quite a few complaints regarding the level of higher education, the content of education programmes and the quality of teaching, as you may all know. Not every higher education institution is ready to function in a modern way and teach students in such a way that after graduation they are left not only with a diploma, but also with the corresponding knowledge and professional skills that they can apply after graduation.
I am convinced that higher education institutions should be more open; they need clear mechanisms that would promote change. The introduction of systems – by universities, government agencies and independent ones – for assessing education quality may play an important role here. Corresponding instructions were given in spring to the Government and specifically to the Ministry of Education and Science.
I believe the Rectors Union should also be involved in their implementation. Your expert opinion is respected both in the regions and at federal agencies. You know better than anybody else how to arrange this work most efficiently and carefully, you know what needs to be done to ensure that the assessment systems, including independent ones, do not become mere formalities and are thorough, unbiased and of real use to the entire sector. Besides, the assessment of the quality of training should be taken into consideration in the course of state accreditation of a higher education institution.
Our system of higher education should be powerful and should give a truly adequate modern education. Naturally, not every person can master such advanced knowledge. Therefore, when some institutions take on applicants with clearly unsatisfactory knowledge, this does more than raise questions. Such attempts to lure in applicants, which would mean greater funding for the institution, clearly reduce the institution’s value and prestige. What kind of experts can we expect? Obviously, nothing worthwhile. Universities should take on students who are capable of studying there. This applies to both state-funded students and those who pay for themselves.
I believe you mentioned these figures in the course of your discussions, but I would nevertheless like to remind you that, based on the 2014 National Final School Exam (EGE) results, Moscow ranks first among Russia’s regions where school graduates got between 80 and 100 points in maths. However, among those who were accepted to universities with specialty in Aviation and Space-Rocket Technology, Aero Navigation, Information Security, Machine Building, and Electric and Thermal Power there were applicants who got only 24 points in mathematics, which is the major, principal subject in this case. There are other examples, confirming my point.
Colleagues, the executive orders of May 2012 that I have already mentioned, in the part where they concern higher education, are being implemented in every region and at every higher education institution. I have no doubt that you know the main areas of modernisation and the targets we are all working towards. However, I would like to reiterate the importance of establishing direct ties with the future employers of your graduates. This is a priority requirement for higher education institutions, especially those that train engineers.
Today, given the complicated economic situation, when we need to rapidly develop manufacturing industries, bringing education into direct contact with production, with real life is acquiring primary importance. Our common goal is to create breakthrough technologies and provide the industry with staff, which makes this close connection with production a priority. The Russian Rectors Union, with its 72 branches in various regions of the country, can and must make its contribution to achieving this strategic goal. I expect that you, colleagues, will become concerned participants in this effort.
In conclusion, I would like to touch upon a topic that is directly linked to the creation of a modern image of higher education. As you may have seen on TV, I recently met with students’ sports clubs, and here is what I would like to focus on. As you may know, the physical health of our citizens and their healthy lifestyle are of great importance. I would like to ask you to support the students in this effort. You know, when we met, I recalled some materials from the archives that I read: wherever and whenever we were, at any stage of the thousand years of our state’s history, in one way or another we always spoke of the physical condition and health of the nation, and in all times this was always seen as an important component of this country’s development.
This is a national task, not just for fun, but a truly important matter. This is not about saving some material resources or saving money on medicine – this truly is about the future of our country: if we are healthy and well educated, we will manage everything. This is one of the components of our common effort. I would like you to pay attention to this and to help the young people who are organising this work locally at their institutions of higher education.
Thank you for your attention.
Vladimir Putin: Colleagues, I would like to make a few comments that occurred to me during the presentations made by our colleagues regarding head hunting.
This is a very important job and it is just as important to help young people to find their bearings in the enormous flow of information and direct them to the most promising area for each specific person, this is just as important as finding the right talent. Besides, you need to make sure in advance that the heads stay; you need to agree on the future of young people together with their employers. This is a kind of three-in-one task.
Now over to one of the most complicated issues – the incomes of teachers at higher education institutions. You may be aware of the plans and the entire programme to raise schoolteachers’ salaries. I believe you all see why this was done and why we decided to begin with schools and have their salaries match the regional average. This, of course, leads to a certain imbalance in the system of labour remuneration, which also applies to institutions of higher education. At the same time, this is what I would like to focus on.
It would not be right to refer to Moscow all the time – the situation here is special, living standards are very high, but even here school teachers’ incomes are becoming not only comparable to, but sometimes even higher than the average salary in the higher education system. This, of course, may be referred to the imbalance, and we will work on it, of course. At the same time we need to think about optimisation of the higher education system, I already mentioned the 250 higher education institutions we have in Moscow. However, how many people are actually working on a single student? There are certain norms that we have to strive for; we have to optimise our system of education.
We have to look at how much the university rectors earn, how much average teachers earn, how they spend the rest of the money that a university makes. All this needs serious assessment, and here the role of the rectors’ council is very important, if your work proceeds the way your colleagues described, with maximum openness.
This applies not only to the education system, to defending dissertations, which is also very important and needs to be taken care of. It also applies to the very sensitive material sphere. However, as I said in my opening remarks, we will undoubtedly work to achieve the figures we made public back in 2012, and the Government of the Russian Federation will insist on it.
My comments are not systematic, because I was making notes as our colleagues made their presentations.
Regarding the complicated processes underway in Ukraine, in Novorossiya and Donbass. I would like to ask the rectors’ council not to make anyone take any obligations. I know we all want to do what is best; I know how people feel about these tragic events. I am certain that all who can will do everything possible to support the people out there in any case. Especially when we are talking about such a noble cause as the restoration of educational establishments and helping young people.
Regarding the spread of the best practices. Clearly, here I fully agree with Mr Kropachev [Rector of St Petersburg State University] that the Rectors Union could play a very important role in arranging this work in a timely fashion, wisely, delicately and professionally. This is very important.
Over to collective use centres. Mr Sadovnichy and I spoke about it before coming here; he told me about some of the achievements of Moscow State University in this area, which are obvious. They have a very substantial base here, in terms of research laboratories. I know that both the Academy of Sciences and the country’s leading institutions of higher education spoke in favour of developing such collective use centres. This already exists, it is working and I hope to see it develop.
Next over to university research. I mentioned this as well. What I would like to draw your attention to is that research is very important for higher education institutions, and this is exactly why we passed the resolution pertaining to innovative work at higher education institution. This resolution was directed not only at giving these institutions a chance to earn money and involve their under and post-graduate students and teachers in this type of activity. It also had to do with the desire to somewhat elevate university research. However, the principal job of a higher education institution is to train professionals.
The same is true of another topic raised here by our colleague from a private university. They are allowed to earn a certain amount, but they can make more. An institution is set up not to make money but to teach students. I do not insist on the 10 percent, it could be 25 or 50, I do not know, as long as we do not miss the most important thing.
Concerning the return of professionals currently working abroad. We will, of course, welcome and support this; this is happening and it is gaining momentum, and without anybody feeling hurt, because life is complicated and varied. Remember all the problems athletes and people of the arts, science and education had in the 1990ies. People felt that their country did not need them. They left, but such is life, and there is nothing terrible about it.
We will welcome all those who would like to return, but we will reward people not for deciding to return, for not making it in another country, but for what they can do. This should be done fairly and objectively and be aimed at raising the level of our education, rather than result from some trend. Trends or fashion is not what we are after here.
A very good thesis was put forward: universities must become development centres in the regions. This is absolutely right. You know, universities should become a kind of intellectual groundbreaker for regional development. That is precisely why we made the decision some time ago to transfer a set of buildings and facilities that were built in the Far East for the APEC summit, the Asian part of the world, to the university. You know, we thought long and hard about what should be done with all those facilities next. The easiest option would be to make them into a hotel, then transfer it into the region’s ownership, or perhaps into residential buildings, which is extremely important, since we are working to resolve the housing issue. But ultimately, we decided to give them to the educational institution.
One important point: this thesis, “The university should be the centre of regional development,” should be backed by specific content. Each individual region faces both national and regional problems, which are actually a reflection of the national ones. What do I mean? I will explain using the Far Eastern University as an example: we should not just be happy that the university has received this venue, or lament that something there is unfinished and or not working (I hope that ultimately everything will work as it is supposed to), but what’s most important is for this university, like universities in other regions, to meet the needs of the region’s development.
For example, what is important for the Far East? Despite all the difficulties (and I will look at them more closely in the near future), we will be developing shipbuilding, the Far East shipbuilding cluster. As you know, we are building a space launch centre there. We need experts working in those areas. Aircraft manufacturing is already at a fairly good level there – both civilian and the military cluster. We need experts in that area as well. You see, when an individual leaves for Moscow or St Petersburg, it is difficult to get him or her to come back, even to a very good company in Komsomolsk-on-Amur. We need to train people locally, and this is very important.
Evaluating the quality of education. These questions are constantly at the heart of our discussions. Do we need to pay attention to international rankings? Yes, we do. We should not isolate ourselves under any circumstances. But we must assess them properly. After all, they have their own criteria, for example, endowments, which were mentioned here. One of their main criteria for universities is the endowment level. We do not currently have this practice, but this does not mean the quality of our education suffers as a result. They have a slightly different system, because an endowment allows them to attract the best professors from around the world. Is this reflected in the quality? Of course, it is. But is an endowment the main criterion to assess the level of education? No, it isn’t. But over there, it is among the most important.
Many factors in our education system make us different from others. But we cannot withdraw into our shell and fail to observe what is happening around us. Do we need our own ranking? Of course, we do. Can we achieve recognition within the framework of these international rankings? It is unlikely. Do you know why? It is all very simple and basic. Because those rankings are one of the instruments for competition on the education services market. Who would change that instrument to their detriment and in our favour? It seems highly unlikely that we can expect this. We could expect it, but we will not get the expected result. We must carefully select our own criteria. Can we develop objective criteria? Of course, we can, 100 percent.
With regard to the attention to the Russian language, I have nothing to add except that I am a very fervent supporter of this work and will certainly help and support it in various ways.
In conclusion, if we cannot train good experts, then we have no future. This is an obvious fact. We need people with special knowledge and skills. But if we cannot educate an individual and impart broad, deep, comprehensive, objective knowledge in the humanities, if we do not teach people to be self-sufficient, and at the same time, a part of a larger multi-ethnic and multi-faith society, if we do not do this, we will not have a nation. You face an exceedingly important challenge in the humanitarian sector as well.
Thank you very much. I want to wish you success.
Rector of Moscow State University Viktor Sadovnichy: One moment. Mr President, Moscow State University, the Russian Postal Service and Teachers’ Newspaper have launched a nationwide competition for the best essay in the form of a letter.
Vladimir Putin: I will not participate.
Viktor Sadovnichy: One hundred thousand high school students have submitted essays. The topic was, “A person I trust.” We selected several essays on this topic, written by 9th and 10th form students. They write about you; they trust you.
Vladimir Putin: Thank you.
Viktor Sadovnichy: I would like to give you these essays, Mr President; maybe you will take a look. These also include happy birthday wishes. We agree with everything the children say. Thank you.
Vladimir Putin: Thank you very much. I say this without any sense of irony, this is a great responsibility.
Thank you very much.