President of Russia Dmitry Medvedev: Good afternoon, colleagues,
Before turning to our agenda, I would like to congratulate everyone present here on the 10th anniversary of the State Council’s establishment. Since the State Council’s inception, regional leaders have gained an additional opportunity to influence strategic decision-making in our country and to participate in determining crucial aspects of state policy. Many decisions that were subsequently made were the result of these joint efforts. In the final analysis they lay the foundation for laws, Presidential executive orders and Government resolutions, as well as the decisions you made in your regions.
Over these 10 years, the State Council’s objective has been the development of our country. It has considered over 100 issues of very different calibre, ranging from a discussion of state symbols to major programmes and documents on domestic policy.
I am glad to see here the current members of the State Council and all those who have worked in the State Council and participated in making vitally important decisions over this period. Our most important achievements have been the preservation of our nation’s unity, strengthening the legislation governing our activities and setting the guidelines for the development of the state in the future. These are our biggest priorities. We have ensured the recovery of the national economy and as a result were able to withstand the global economic crisis.
There has been a qualitative change in the lives of our people. I am confident that in the future we will continue to address these issues. That is why today we are going to focus on education, a subject that has paramount importance for the nation’s development, and the professional education priorities that affect the evolution of our state, the economy and the social sphere. That is why the meeting of the State Council is being held for the first time jointly with the Commission for Modernisation and Technological Development of Russia's Economy. This is especially relevant since it is taking place on the eve of the new academic year. All of you have been working to prepare your regions for the start of the academic year, you have been preparing schools, secondary vocational colleges and higher education institutions, so this conversation is absolutely relevant for these reasons.
I remind you also that the outlines of our professional education system were identified almost 10 years ago in the Concept of the Modernisation of the Russian Education until 2010. Later the State Council revisited this issue twice, in 2001 and 2005, but it is so important that we must return to it periodically, and today we will review it as well.
One of the targets within the Education Priority National Project was to raise the standards for professional and vocational education institutions. We established the fundamentals for the system’s development and, in my opinion, one of the most important principles here, apart from the teaching itself, the methodology, is the economic principle, the principle of co-financing. Because already back then we determined that without co-financing higher and vocational education cannot develop fully, and it is essential that apart from the state budget, the business community takes part in the co-financing because, in fact, it is the main customer of professional personnel.
Special laws have been adopted, which laid the foundation for the modernisation of higher and vocational education. In addition, more general legislative acts were passed that also directly affect the situation in this sector. I am referring to the law on autonomous institutions, on the National Final School Exam, the transition to a two-tier model of higher education and the establishment of innovative enterprises at universities.
In total, as part of the education reform seven federal universities were established, 29 universities have received the status of national research universities, modern regional and interregional resource centres have been set up, and a significant number of leading universities of our country have renewed their logistics and information bases.
Generally, when we talk about education today, we realise that it has changed dramatically. It is typical for the situation in education to complain about the lack of funding. Strictly speaking, this is not only our national characteristic. There are complaints on the lack of funding in education in virtually every country in the world. On the other hand, in recent years we have been able to concentrate enormous resources in the education system. Let me remind you that last year the consolidated education budget, without taking into account private contributions, amounted to 1.75 trillion rubles [$60 billion]. This is a very substantial amount of money, even for such a large state as Russia. This year it amounts to almost 100 billion more, which is over 1.85 trillion rubles. And it is crucial to dispose of that kind of money properly.
Nevertheless, the decisions that have been adopted are not sufficient. A full-scale modernisation of education requires further steps. We need to go back to the basics in advancing higher and vocational education and to integrate it in the ongoing development processes in our country, especially as regards modernisation. Moreover, high quality training should be a key benchmark at all levels: in the primary and secondary school, and in higher education. The business community must define the need for future professionals. To accomplish this, it is essential to complete the development of professional standards, establish a system of compulsory public and professional evaluation and supply the market with highly qualified professionals for whom there is real demand by employers and who are prepared to participate in the modernisation of our economy.
One important task is to create so-called chains in education, namely the school-college-university chain, whose members work in direct contact with employers. Many regions already have this experience. I would like to invite participants in our joint meeting to discuss this subject; the time has come to apply this experience throughout the country. I think that this will be an additional incentive for the creation and updating of many courses and programmes, as well as for the professional growth of our teaching personnel.
Of particular importance is, of course, the interaction between industry, universities and fundamental and applied science institutions, including in the process of setting up joint innovative small businesses. Incidentally, at present, since the adoption of the relevant law last year, the Education Ministry has received 507 notifications of new business entities established at 135 universities and research institutes. But I would like to find out which of them are currently operating, and I hope the Minister and other speakers will inform me of that.
We must also acknowledge the obvious: despite the fact that we spend a great deal of money on education, and despite the fact that we are used to being proud of the excellent foundations laid many years ago in the system of public education in our country, our education system is not sufficiently competitive. This becomes clear when one visits the leading universities and secondary vocational institutions abroad, but it is also confirmed by the international ratings of our universities, not to mention secondary vocational colleges. A great deal of work remains to be done.
The levels of our higher education system remain unbalanced and public spending is largely ineffective. There is an obvious imbalance that was formed in the early 1990s for a variety of reasons – social, demographic and economic – toward higher education. It is also apparent that there is a marked shortage of specialists who graduated from vacantional schools and colleges.
I remember I was much surprised by the situation when I visited one of the very advanced, modern vocational colleges, whose graduates service our pipelines. This is a modern professional institution. I looked at the people studying there, and one person in particular caught my interest. There was this guy, 27 or 29 years old. I walked over and asked what he was doing there. He said: ”I am studying, I already have a university degree but I don’t need it. I’m not that young any more and I want to get a degree from this vocational college. After I graduate from here, I will be able to make a good living to support myself and my family.” That's a perfect example of an irrational use of funds on training professionals who first get a university degree and then get an education in a completely different field. And secondly, this is an example of how devalued higher education has become, and, on the other hand, what should be done to strengthen secondary vocational education.
Education should take into account the real needs of the economy undergoing modernisation. In order to reorient higher education to the needs of promising industries it is also vital to get regional and sectoral forecasts for staffing requirements. That is, a clear order should be placed: how many specialists, of what level and which qualifications are required across the country. And it is the state together with the business community that should give the answer to this question.
One of the key development principles of higher education is its continuity. Today adult continuing education in our country seriously lags behind the countries of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development. It is also vital to create additional retraining programmes for teachers, including those based on international cooperation. Naturally, it is important to develop a system for training professionals at the best universities abroad by promoting practical training, internships and exchanges, as well as inviting leading academics to work in Russia on long-term contracts. This kind of experience should become standard practice rather than the exception. Foreign lecturers should not be something exotic that the entire student fraternity gathers to see. We must remember the way it was in pre-revolutionary Russia: a significant part of the faculty were foreigners, and not because Russian professors were no good but simply because it is part of the essential educational exchange system.
Yes, today we have the opportunities created by online education and distance learning. But as a person who spent quite a long time teaching, I can say that there is no substitute for direct contact with the students. It is the only way to inspire people, to explain some very complex issues that are difficult to grasp from books or even through distance learning.
I would also like to hear from you about the process of transferring primary and secondary vocational training institutions under regional subordination. This task has been set. Of course, it touches upon financial issues, but it must be done, because it is impossible to oversee primary and secondary vocational education institutions from Moscow. This is a matter for regions and municipalities.