President of Russia Dmitry Medvedev: I have signed the law on the status of the St Petersburg and Moscow State Universities. This work has been ongoing for quite some time. I also had conversations with the rectors in your presence, and they expressed their ideas. At a certain point, I felt it was right to support the idea of a special law on our major universities – the State Universities of Moscow and St Petersburg.
Now, we will need to begin implementing this document. Since the law is of course rather general, further to the law, a programme of developing these two major centres of university education should be drafted. I would like you jointly with the universities to submit relevant by-laws and organisational decisions, as well as proposals on appointments of executives and professors at these universities, because from now on some appointments will be made by the President of the Russian Federation or federal agencies.
Minister of Education and Science Andrei Fursenko: We have already begun working with both universities, since it was clear that this law would be passed once you submitted it. We will soon be ready to offer corresponding programmes, as well as suggestions on major appointments.
In addition, I would like to report that in line with your instructions based on your executive orders on establishing federal universities, we are concurrently working on structuring these universities’ curricula and on building national research universities. In this way, we hope to create by the year-end some hierarchy spearheaded by these two main universities, which will allow us to streamline our higher education system on the national scale.
Dmitry Medvedev: I believe this is the right way to go. I certainly do not think that these two universities should dictate our entire higher education system. It is true that they are our largest educational centres, and they are probably our best in terms of the professors they employ – that is just how things worked out historically. They are highly-rated, although unfortunately, as we all know, they are still far from the top of the rating scale. Improving their standing is a separate challenge.
By the way, I recently met with the Federation Council Board members, and they raised the issue that when evaluating our universities we should actively use ratings based on how often their faculties are cited, and assess the faculties’ achievements based on their frequency of citation. I told them that I have supported this idea for a long time. Surely, the idea is based on global experience, although it is not of a general application. It works fine for specialists in the field of fundamental natural sciences. For liberal arts, it is not that simple, because the humanities vary in each nation. But we must nevertheless implement this approach.
Why am I bringing all this up? Because these reforms are aimed at improving competitiveness of our universities, preparing better specialists, making university education more interesting and comfortable, ensuring educational mobility, attracting visiting lecturers from different Russian and foreign colleges.
So, we really must create a modern higher education system which will include two major education centres in Moscow and St Petersburg, federal universities that we have been promoting for three years now, new research universities that must also take their rightful places, and all the other universities whose performances must also be closely supervised. Our goal remains the same: to provide higher education of excellent quality to our people.
Andrei Fursenko: We are trying to work on this. With your permission, by the deadline, i.e. by the end of the year, I will report back to you about the steps being taken so that a final decision could be made then.
Dmitry Medvedev: We must have a solid programme [of the two major universities development] by then.