Prime Minister Vladimir Putin meets with student organisations in Sochi


During the meeting, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said that student stipends will be raised by 9% as of September 1, 2011. The Prime Minister also said that the Olympstroy corporation will hold a competition to select 10 student crews who will work on Olympic construction sites. Mr Putin said the students will also be involved in the construction of facilities for the APEC summit in Vladivostok, the Universiade 2013 in Kazan and the 2018 World Cup.

Transcript of the meeting:

Vladimir Putin: Hello, everyone. Please sit downtake a seat. I'm using this mode of communication communicating like this so that we may can be feel closer to one another and so I could can see and hear each one of you and try to make be sure that you hear my answers.

I will make a few general, introductory remarks, and then we can just move onto a free discussion oftalk about the problems and issues that concern you and that you feel are priorities.

It was is not by chance that we have all metare meeting in Sochi – I wanted to show you the main Olympic venues. Last year, in August, I was here and met with the students who were workinged in the student teams at the various Olympic construction sites. We talked about the a continuation of this programme, the participation of students in construction teams in general and the construction of the Olympic facilities. And today, when as the new student teams are formingbeing organised, or should be organisedforming, we are gathered here specificallymeeting to discuss topics related to problems of organisationany issues related toof student construction teams and, of course, any other issues that interestquestions you might have.

I want to remind you, while we're on the subject, that Olympstroy is going towill hold a competition among the leading universities in Russia. The competition winners should be announced sometime in May. And in by June, 10, the student groups that will work on at the Olympic venues should be formedorganised. But you know that in addition to the Olympic venues, we still have venues associated with the preparation of the Universiade in Kazan. and This is a major programme in the Far East in preparation for the APEC summit. But now, we will soon start a no less ambitious project than the Olympics –a programme of preparations for the World Cup. It will affect many regions of the country, it will be in 10 out of 11 regions – it will be in 10 regions for sure. These will be significant undertakings, large construction projects with more funding and, of course, with major recruitment for construction, including student teams.

If we are talking about education in general, you do know that we are very actively discussing issues related to a new law on education. Recently, we approved a federal programme to support education. In fact, each of our major federal programmes, in one way or another, addresses the issues associated with youth, support of the educational process and demographics.

So let's talk about these issues. I'll “be quiet now – a monologue is always tedious, so let's just move on to the problems and issues that interest you. Please begin.

Andrei Andriyanov: Andrei Andriyanov, Student Union at Lomonosov Moscow State University. First let me thank you – and here we have convened the leaders of student and youth organisations from Russia's leading universities – for the serious organisational and financial support that the government has provided to our universities' development programmes.

Vladimir Putin: Andrei, may I ask you something? Were you taken around to all the venues yesterday? Did you see everything?

Answer: Yes, we're very impressed…

Vladimir Putin: So you were high up in the mountain development, and down below?

Answer: Yes, they showed us everything.

Vladimir Putin: You know, when I first came here, at a time when these venues first started being built, it made a huge impression on me. The main arena – they probably told you about it – is five times larger than the Colosseum. I've never seen such a majestic building. It's impressive. And they showed you the railway tunnels through the mountains? You know that major international teams of engineers are working on this? There are experts from all over the world – Europe, North America and Russian experts, of course. It is good training for all of us, and I'm very pleased that it made such a strong impression on you.

Remark: Thank you.

Vladimir Putin: Don't mention it. And now let's move on to the issues that interest you. Let's begin, if you please.

Andrei Andriyanov: Yes, and while we're on the subject of the development programme, we would like to ask questions at the beginning of the meeting and to focus attention on graduate students. As you know, graduate students are the driving force in science, and their status is the same as a student’s, and in fact they only receive a stipend, but they are not paid for scientific work as employees. And there is a need. Maybe the new law on education should change the status of some graduate students, so they can be both employees and students so there can be more substantial support for this foundation of science.

And in conclusion I would like to take the initiative here. Together with the Ministry of Education, we have many years of experience in holding the Lomonosov Forum, the world's largest youth forum, and in using the experience gained. I would like to propose the creation of a nationwide research and education programme to support undergraduate and graduate students, and young scientists, which would also be very important for the development programme being implemented. Thank you.

Vladimir Putin:  So we have now moved directly from student teams to issues of material prosperity. This is quite natural, I understand. Regarding graduate students and stipends, I may be mistaken, but, I think they are now receiving stipends of somewhere around 2,500 roubles, right?

Answer: That is the enhanced stipend, but there are others.

Vladimir Putin: Yes, around 2,500 roubles, and it is planned to be 3,500 roubles as of September 1. Doctoral students get 3,000 roubles and this will go up to 4,000, and as of January 1, 2012, they will respectively receive 5,000 and 10,000 roubles. Some students at universities in Moscow get up to 25,000, and many of them work.

We could, of course, think about some sort of separate programme, but you are probably familiar with the different programmes that already exist in the field of education. We can either adjust something there or think about a separate programme. But I think that we can think about it in the framework of existing mechanisms, including during the drafting of the law on education.

If we are talking about how to improve the regulatory framework to enable this, then certainly it must be done. But I honestly do not see that there are now some kinds of limitations. The most important and most difficult thing was to pass a law to allow both students and graduate students – and, accordingly, doctoral students

– to work at smaller innovative enterprises set up under the higher education institution. This is a key decision. According to the ministry’s statistics, a third of all seniors are working, and an even a higher percentage of those who have taken post-graduate and doctorate courses. Almost a third! In some universities almost 100% of senior students are working, but there are only a few universities like that. These students are paid an average of between 10,000 and 15,000 roubles. Naturally, we need to expand this work.

If I’m not mistaken, 700 small innovative enterprises have been started at 158 universities. We need to consider ways to expand this programme. Certainly, we also need to think of increasing allowances for students and post-graduate students.

Margarita Kozlova: My name is Margarita Kozlova, I’m head of the students union at Nikolai Chernyshevsky Saratov State University. It too is a national research university. And Andrei was right raising the issue of post-graduate students, but I always say that a university’s priority is its students. This is why I would like to raise the need for devising a programme for student academic mobility. This is a proposal rather than a question. We have seen in the development programme how professors can move within the country and abroad. These kinds of opportunities are just as important for students because seeing how different research centres work in this country can be a powerful impetus for a student to continue his or her research work.

In preparing for this meeting with you, we have visited the research centre at Moscow State University of Civil Engineering and today we are here, in Sochi. This is why I believe you are right to update the legislation. New education legislation is being developed and I believe that we, along with the related government bodies, need to devise a programme to enhance student academic mobility.

Vladimir Putin: Can you put it in simpler terms? How do you understand this?

Margarita Kozlova: Student exchange is very important, as is the opportunity not only to study but also to work – in different academic years and in different research centres at different Russian universities. Naturally, exchange with foreign universities is also very desirable. But I would like to point out that Russian universities have much to offer, too. Yesterday we visited the university in Moscow, and I realised that there are also many wonderful research facilities at my university. When you study only at one university it becomes routine. But when you visit another university you understand that in fact you are using very good facilities and that your university is simply the best. A very good feeling to my mind.

Vladimir Putin: There are two issues. But first of all I would like to say that your proposal is important. This will help increase the quality of education. And professors will have to meet the highest standards from within the country and abroad because they will have to be at least as good as their counterparts.

So, there are two issues. The first one is easy to solve. We can do this at the ministerial level. We will need to ensure that the legislation allows students to choose courses they want to take and universities that they want to get an internship at or study at for half a year. Basically, we will need to adjust the legislation.

The second issue may prove a bit harder. It is the accommodation issue, and it is quite topical. In this respect we will have to pay more attention to the construction of student dormitories. Those who are better off can afford renting an apartment or a room, but those who cannot afford this should be provided a room in a dormitory. About 86% of dormitory needs are met on average, though different regions have different figures. It may sound fairly good, but first, many dormitories are old and need renovation and, second, this housing requirement must be met by 100%. We will work toward this goal.

If we want to implement your smart idea – and I believe we should – we need to build new dormitories. This year we plan to commission eight dormitories at different universities which will provide accommodation to about 4,500 students. But this is not enough. I must confess that in 2009 due to the economic crisis and to the fact that some resources were to be for crisis response, including fighting unemployment, we even had to slightly reduce the hostel programme, but we'll restore it.

Remark: Incidentally, during the 2009 crisis, our funding was not suspended – probably in honour of 100 years of our university. Thank you for this! We have completed two new hostels.

Vladimir Putin: We didn't cut your funding, but the programme as a whole was cut.

Remark: Thank you!

Vladimir Putin: We will fund it though the federal government, based on co-financing, and the regions can help, so this programme will continue. And the idea itself is absolutely right.

Remark: Thank you!

Alexander Blagov: Mr Putin, my name is Alexander Blagov and I'm the Chairman of the student union at Samara's Sergei Korolyov State Aerospace University. In the development programmes of national research universities, more than...

Vladimir Putin: You're from Samara? Then you're Volga River folks, yes?

Alexander Blagov: Yes.

Vladimir Putin: And why don't you have a drawl? All Volga River people have a drawl. Or maybe you weren't born and raised in the Volga River region?

Alexander Blagov: No, I was born in Togliatti.

Vladimir Putin: Volga River people have started speaking in exemplary classical Russian literary language.

Alexander Blagov: Perhaps.

Vladimir Putin: Excuse me, please.

Alexander Blagov: In the development programs for national research universities, more than 60% of the funding is provided for the purchase of scientific equipment. This is quite logical, I think. But, in my opinion, the tax burden imposed on universities in the form of profit taxes on the equipment is illogical. These same funds could be spent on training, for example. But then you must pay this profit tax. Tell me, please, can we somehow reconsider this issue, perhaps even abolish this burden of profit tax?

Vladimir Putin: Profit tax when buying equipment?

Alexander Blagov: Scientific equipment, that's right.

Vladimir Putin: We are entitled to take any action. It is a question of the validity and implications of a decision. Such an exception, any exception, usually leads to an escalation of demand. And straight away, other industries will start to demand this – cancel the tax on profits for us, and for us, too! And we will have no profit tax at all! I think that in this case, we should not the repeal the profit tax, but increase funding.

Alexander Blagov: That's also possible.

Vladimir Putin: But we nevertheless will think about it. Although this programme here, I think it's one of the most important aspects because the material component is often very important for young researchers – it is clear that young people need to build a family, have children and so on. But for people who are passionate about their work – and young researchers are like that – sometimes self-realisation or the possibility of self-realisation is more important, and this cannot be done without modern technical and laboratory equipment.

So there several paths we can take – we are already on the way. Firstly, we will create a database for specific educational institutions – help them do so – and secondly, we will create inter-institutional centres, including those with the involvement of the Russian Academy of Sciences.

Alexander Blagov: Thank you, Mr Putin.

Konstantin Savichev: Konstantin Savichev, chairman of the student union of St. Petersburg State Polytechnic University. Mr Putin, I would like to revisit the issue of stipends.

Vladimir Putin: You and I “fed at the same trough,” as they used to say.

Konstantin Savichev: Yes, that's absolutely right. Mr Putin, as you know, the basic rate of a stipend is currently 1,100 roubles.

Vladimir Putin: You're at it again!

Konstantin Savichev: Well, excuse me. It is clear that at this meeting, all students and the entire country, I think, are waiting to have this question aired and have some more or less specific resolution be adopted.

This rate has not been indexed for several years, and we would like to know about the future of stipends – will they be indexed to inflation and will they ever reach subsistence level. And also it would be very interesting to know – how much of a stipend you receive as a student, and what were you able afford on it?

Vladimir Putin: I received an enhanced stipend; it was 45 roubles. The average salary then... The young industrial professional started at about 110 roubles. I had the second enhanced stipend at 45 roubles You can imagine what I was able to afford, bearing in mind that a young professional started at 100-110 roubles when he finished college. Military personnel got a little bit more. Therefore, engineers started at 110 roubles and lieutenants at 180. So I was getting 45 roubles.

As for today's situation, you know that in many universities in many countries, the positive example to which we often refer and reference is that in many countries there are no stipends. Moreover, tuition is charged for all education. This is the case in some developing countries, but also in large and rapidly growing countries such as China or the developed market economies and many European countries. Stipends continue to be paid in Russia. And, in my opinion, we will have to keep on paying them, keeping in mind the modest income of our citizens and our choice in favour innovative development. Resolving the issues of innovative development without the support of education is impossible.

Nevertheless, the stipend fund is still limited. And along with you, I want to stress the following – together with the students, we need to think about how to effectively dispose of the stipend fund.

First, of course, we need to help those people who are: A) really in dire need of support and B) very good students, regardless of their material well-being. But I reiterate that in order for this to be effective and transparent, we need to involve student community organisations.

And I have a suggestion... Just before we entered the room... I asked for the minister's opinion on the matter. He agrees. The suggestion is that the student community organisations participate more actively in the various government education management bodies, including the Education Ministry itself. This means participating directly in the work of the ministry's board, the public council and various evaluation committees.

As for the current state of affairs, you probably know about the plans for indexing from September 1, right? I understand; I take the hint. From your eyes I see that 6.5% – it's not enough, you say, at least in terms of inflation. This is a fair statement of the problem. Inflation last year was 8.8%. So now let's agree – we will not index it at 6.5%, as planned, but to inflation – a little bit more. So from September 1 of this year, we will index at 9% for all students.

Remark: Mr Putin!

Vladimir Putin: Yes, go ahead.

Karina Sitdikova: Hello, my name is Karina Sitdikova, Kazan National Research Technological University. As we know, Kazan will host the World Games – the Universiade – in 2013. A huge number of venues have already been built, including the very important Universiade Village. The government of our Republic of Tatarstan, as you know, gave the Universiade Village to the students; in other words, students can now live without worry in the Universiade Village. This solved the problem of a shortage of beds in hostels in Kazan. Plus it created a kind of inter-university centre that just might solve the problem of mobility, which we have already talked about.

We would like to propose establishing the same kind of inter-university centres as Universiade Village. Is it possible in other regions of Russia, especially in ones with major national universities, to establish inter-university centres such as Universiade Village? Thank you.

Vladimir Putin: It's possible. But in order for it to be effective, notable and significant, each of these regions would have to have a Universiade, which is what we will strive for. If not the Universiade, then major nationwide and international competitions. But, I do not remember the number, but I think 19 different venues will be transferred into the education system in Kazan as a legacy of the Universiade. This is a very good example.

After the APEC summit (of the Asia-Pacific region countries), we will build a huge complex there on the island of Russky, and this entire complex will be transferred to the University. In fact, we are building a new university, including hostels. This is a student-friendly, modern, state-of-the-art – even for the future, one might say – institution.

I have already mentioned our plans for the World Cup. In each of these cities – and there are at least 10, should be 10-12 – stadiums and other infrastructure, including hotels, will be built. Incidentally, I just thought, besides hotels, we could build something similar to what is being done in Kazan. Build good accommodations for the athletes and guests of the world cup and then give these facilities to universities. This is a very good idea! Thank you for the tip.

Anton Kalyuk: Mr Putin, good afternoon. Anton Kalyuk, student union of South Urals State University, Chelyabinsk. Continuing with the subject of hostels – after all, this problem remains in many cities. Having communicated with my peers here, I wish to make a specific proposal. There have been positive experiences in some areas – for example, Chelyabinsk Region, Saratov – where the construction of hostels is carried out together with the municipal and regional authorities. That is, I will not make any startling revelations – 30-40% of the cost of building a hostel is land allotment and infrastructure. So, again citing the experience of the Chelyabinsk Region – it was very good to work with the regional authorities when land concessions were allocated and the municipality took over the allotment for the entire infrastructure, and with the university already built, strictly speaking, this tower. Is it possible to legislate for other entities and regions to prioritise or give some part of the land to universities when land is being allotted, for example, federal land? Maybe universities would be granted priority bidding to buy on favourable terms and, accordingly, recommendations would be made to say, municipalities, if the university is ready to invest the 50%-60%, to provide a concessional allotment of infrastructure and communications. That would be very useful in the context of all of the other hostel programmes.

Vladimir Putin: Anton, look here. We could do this, of course. I'll just recap what you said. You said if you can grant regions the right to provide free federal land? Of course, they would be happy to distribute all the federal property! Just give them the right! They'll distribute everything!

As for federal lands, we have a specially-designed structure, which is designed to make practical use of the land owned by the Russian Federation or the federal authorities, so tell this to Braverman (Alexander Braverman, head of the Housing Development Fund). You remind me that I need to issue the appropriate directive, and I will do that. So they will use these lands not only for the purposes of housing construction, in order to implement various programmes, but also for the construction of hostels for students. This is absolutely right. We will do this.

As for infrastructure, it would be good if the constituent entities handled this on their own, but it will be difficult for them, it is very difficult work. We'll think about working with the regions in this way on a variety of programmes. But the land – exactly. This is a very good idea, especially as a process already exists for housing, we just need another section for construction of student hostels. Absolutely! Let's do that!

Anton Kalyuk: We need political will from the leadership…

Vladimir Putin: No, no, it's not even will that's needed here, everything there will be alright. I will issue such a command – and they'll execute it. No, true, there are no problems here. There are no problems with land. Go ahead.

Anna Mazhugina: Anna Mazhugina, Omsk State Transport University, the director of the regional office of All-Russian Student Construction of Sochi 2014. We will return to a topic that you have already talked about. Reviving nationwide student construction was after all made possible with the support of the Russian Federation Ministry of Sport and Tourism. And our people worked not only at facilities in Sochi, but also at nuclear power facilities and the tourism centres in our region, the Altai Territory.

But for two years now the issue of recruiting students for the construction of facilities at APEC-2012 is up in the air. For example, if in Sochi students have worked at Russian Railways sites, as well as at Olympstroy sites – only about 1,600 people – then we were able to send only 60 to Vladivostok, although the scale there is massive. Please help me resolve the issue of recruiting students to those sites, which were commissioned by public corporations Perhaps not only APEC, but also Industrial Urals – Polar Urals and other objects.

Vladimir Putin: Well, it's a fair assessment of the problem. But student teams are working at APEC sites – they were working last year. I do not remember the number of students, but I do know that they worked on the construction of the bridges on Russky Island, and at the sites themselves. I do not remember how many, but there are groups of students there – that's for sure.

Anna Mazhugina: There is much work to be done there, but few students are being recruited to go there. Only Mostovik and SK-MOST.

Vladimir Putin: We will expand this. I will definitely talk to the contractor, we will do it for sure. Andrei (referring to Andrei Fursenko), do you remember how many people were working there?

Andrei Fursenko: A little over a hundred, I think.

Vladimir Putin: We'll increase it. I will definitely talk to the contractor. This is interesting work.

Anna Mazhugina: It's just that the number of applicants wanting to work is growing and we don't have enough placements available.

Remark: I just wanted to clarify the situation with the student teams. A maximum of 200 people were working on each project, I just know it, whether it be an airport or a bridge. I want to say thanks for the university. I was there, and you just have to see it. It's just tremendous! Since you are here in Sochi, you simply need to go there and see it. Simply tremendous!

Vladimir Putin: Exactly. I think the whole country can be proud of it. Such a project to create a major educational and scientific centre in Russia, I think, has never been done. Never – from scratch, and with the most modern technology with regular, and in fact, huge financing.

Remark: Students do not want to build a bridge or an airport, but a university. Our students in Primorye believe that they should contribute. Let them do little jobs, but students, in particular, must build a university.

Vladimir Putin: I will for sure speak with the contractor, though the airport is also a very important infrastructure project. We are building an airport in Vladivostok with growth potential, because the volume of traffic so far, for such an airport, is on the low side. But I am sure that when the new airport opens, the volume of traffic will increase, all the more so since Russia and its neighbours, foreign countries, are constantly growing.

But students have worked not only on the construction of the airport, but also on the construction of the oceanarium. This is a very interesting project, which will be a well known intellectual centre. The Far Eastern Branch of the Academy of Sciences will also operate there. There is a research campus, where professionals from the Far East who qualify will be able to work. And it will also be a tourist attraction. We have no such place on the ocean in Russia. There is an oceanarium in the Arctic, but it's cold there, and for much of the year. There is no bio-diversity of the sea there like you have in the Far East. The oceanarium is an absolutely in-demand project and very interesting, in my opinion.

Mikhail Kiselyov: My name is Michael Kiselyov, I'm the deputy director of the central office of Russian student teams. I would like to especially thank you on behalf of the entire movement, because it just so happened that with your support, a law on tax incentives passed for employers to recruit the student teams. This is the 428th federal law that was passed, and it has great public support. We understand this very well and appreciate it very much. But we have some slight apprehensions. We know that the Education and Science Ministry is drafting a document on law enforcement practice.

Vladimir Putin: That's where the main robbers sit...

Mikhail Kiselyov: No, you have the best people there…

Vladimir Putin: So what are you worried about?

Mikhail Kiselyov: We're not worried, we ask you to issue instructions on the drafting of this document so that it adheres to Federal Law No. 98, which was adopted in 1995, on state support for youth and children's organisations. The gist of the law is such that the federal level (Rosmolodyozh) and regional level (Youth affairs bodies) keep a register in which there are youth organisations that can benefit from such public support. Accordingly, this is government control, not the discrediting of the movement of student groups and it will prevent other organisations from making up fake student divisions and using tax exemptions. We ask you take into account Federal Law No. 98 in these instructions.

Vladimir Putin: In other words, your fears are that, if I understand correctly, are that if we do not do this or clearly prescribe this, various fake student structures may appear and they will discredit the student construction movement itself?

Mikhail Kiselyov: Yes, it's scammers who would use the benefits, but we don't want this to happen.

Vladimir Putin: Unfortunately, these things already happen and there are statistics on that. Naturally, we need a firm legal structure to prevent this from happening. We will try to do that with a reference to this federal law as you said. Everything is fine on this issue, isn’t it, Mr Fursenko (Andrei Fursenko, Minister of Education and Science)?

Andrei Fursenko: There are certain limits. An organisation has to have at least 3,000 members to be listed in the registry. If it is smaller is doesn’t get listed.

Mikhail Kiselyov: This can be a requirement we can agree on because at the federal level our organisation...

Vladimir Putin: The Federal Agency for Youth Affairs keeps a registry, and there are registries in Russia’s regions. I believe that this is necessary because otherwise we will face many problems and then the students will face them. Contractors will be suspicious and check and then double-check and so on. New bureaucratic barriers will rise under the pretext of preventing fraud. Do we need this? I agree with you, we will try to do this as you said.

Mikhail Kiselyov: Thank you.

Vyacheslav Loginov: My name is Vyacheslav Loginov, I’m head of the local office for student construction teams at the facilities of the Russian State Atomic Energy Corporation being built in Zheleznogorsk. I would like to point out the Chelyabinsk Region once again because they have another positive example. Budget funds are allocated to rebuild various social facilities or to build new ones under the condition that student construction teams are involved. Thus, the regional authorities kill two birds with one stone. The social facilities are being built and new jobs are created for student construction teams. A contractor that wins the bid is obligated to include student teams in the construction. We suggest you consider the region’s experience and apply it at the federal level and in other regions.

Vladimir Putin: Do you know the saying that you cannot have your cake and eat it too?

Vyacheslav Loginov: Yes, we can in this case.

Vladimir Putin: Basically, you can’t. But let’s assume this case is different. What associations do you get? You spoke about social facilities, including schools, hospitals, outpatient clinics, kindergartens and others. You know that the construction of these is not seasonal; construction works need to be carried out on a regular basis. It is also true that the construction of the Olympic venues requires the same approach. The question is one of putting an additional burden on the contractor. If we put this burden on the contractor then the contractor will have to delay the commissioning of the facility.

We can recommend this but not require it. And we will recommend this to all Russia’s regions with a reference to Chelyabinsk’s positive experience. Contractors at the Olympic venues, at the Unversiade venues in Kazan and the facilities for the APEC [summit in Vladivostok] try to adjust their construction schedule by increasing the number of projects in certain seasons. We probably can do the same thing at social facilities, but we need to be very careful. We should not force them; we can only recommend the use of student teams. And we will request the regional heads to recommend this approach to their contractors.

Vyacheslav Loginov: Thank you.

Vladimir Putin: You’re welcome.

Anastasia Grishnyova: My name is Anastasia Grishnyova, I’m head of the student union at the Nikolai Ogaryov Mordovia State University, a national research university. I believe that all my counterparts will agree with me that very important programmes to build sports and fitness facilities at universities were supported recently and are being implemented. The programme to build 500 swimming pools for universities is being carried out at an incredible pace. I believe we should be really grateful for this because this will create a platform to realise the sports potential of our universities. Moreover, Russia will soon host many significant sports events, including in the Republic of Mordovia, and you are one of the masterminds of this. I also believe it is symbolic that we meet in Sochi today.

But student sports face certain problems. There is no targeted funding for student sports. Will this situation change in light of the upcoming events or does the government plan to look at the issue from a different angle?

Vladimir Putin: I think you are wrong in suggesting that there is no targeted funding... The Ministry of Sport and Tourism...

Anastasia Grishnyova: But this funding is not singled out as a separate category. It is included in the funding of educational activity as a whole.

Vladimir Putin: In the budget for last year we singled out sports as a separate item. Before that it was listed in the healthcare section, now it is an individual budget item. It is unlikely that student sports will be singled out as a separate item. If we become this detailed, budget spending classification gets too complicated. But we can think of singling out student sports in the funds provided to the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Sport and Tourism. I believe this is possible and reasonable. We will discuss this option. This is my first comment.

My second comment will be that this initiative to build swimming pools is indeed very useful. The United Russia party has put forward yet another initiative, called A Thousand Fitness and Health Centres. And the swimming pools programme was first presented to me by Boris Gryzlov. The initiative found support and the party began pushing it through the State Duma and the Ministry of Finance. If I’m not mistaken swimming pools at five universities have already been built and those at a further eleven universities are to be built this year. So this programme will be continued. They found good, up-to-date, cost-efficient and fast technology. We will continue this project.

As for singling out the funding for student sports, we will consider it, but within existing programmes.

Anastasia Grishnyova: Thank you.

Mikhail Vdovin: Good afternoon, Mr Putin. My name is Mikhail Vdovin, I’m from the Andrei Tupolev Kazan State Technical University. Let me relax the atmosphere a bit and ask the following question...

Vladimir Putin: Well, we are not too tense yet.

Mikhail Vdovin: Then I’ll relax it even more. What mascot for the Sochi Olympics will you vote for?

Vladimir Putin: We discussed this with Dmitry Medvedev yesterday. This is true, he will tell you about his preferences. I like the leopard. It’s a very strong and fast animal. And above all, it is very beautiful. Moreover, leopards in the North Caucasus were almost extirpated in the 1950s and now we are restoring the population. And if the Olympic project is in any way related to restoring an element of nature lost because of human activity then this will be very symbolic.

However, according to opinion polls – and this is what we are guided by – other mascots are in the lead. In the end, the decision will be based on the opinion polls. So, if people support a particular mascot, the organising committee will make the decision based on the opinion of the majority rather than on what I or Dmitry Medvedev think. Many beautiful images were nominated.

Vladimir Gaivoronsky: May I ask a question, Mr Putin? I’m from the Southern Federal University at Rostov-on-Don. I would like to go back to our student problems.

Vladimir Putin: Right, let’s get back to business…

Vladimir Gaivoronsky: My question is as follows. Unfortunately, not all universities in Russia are accessible for people with disabilities. But every Russian citizen has the right to an education. Universities lack access ramps; libraries do not have special education materials for the blind or the deaf mute. What is being done to address this problem?

Vladimir Putin: We have adopted a special programme called Barrier-Free Environment. I can’t remember the exact figures but it runs into the billions of roubles. And by 2016 the number of public places, including universities, accessible for people with disabilities should increase dramatically. The situation should improve significantly. I believe a university cannot claim it is top class if it does not provide services to people with disabilities. It’s no secret that almost all facilities built in the past, especially in Soviet times, did not take into account of the needs of people with disabilities. This is why we cannot redo everything overnight. It’ll take time and significant resources. I would like to emphasise that billions of roubles will be allocated for this purpose in the next three years. By 2016... I hope that by 2016 we will make significant progress on this issue and that the situation will improve.

In addition, this programme includes amending the existing standards, requirements and construction regulations to consider the needs of people with disabilities.

Vladimir Gaivoronsky: It is always more difficult to redo one’s life.

Vladimir Putin: It is indeed more difficult to redo things. This is why new projects should be drafted according to new standards. Rebuilding is always difficult. But if we are set to accomplish this – and I believe that my counterparts and colleagues in the regions and at the federal level can get enthused enough to accomplish this – we will see that the programme is not so costly. It doesn’t cost a fortune to build a wheelchair access ramp next to entrance stairs.

Vladimir Gaivoronsky: Elevators are the most expensive.

Vladimir Putin: We can reequip elevators and it does not cost so much. But we need to do this consistently. The programme has been adopted and we will be implementing it.

Pavel Dermer: Mr Putin, my name is Paul Dermer, and I am chairman of the student council at Bauman Moscow State Technical University. My question is the following. In 2001-2005, the Youth of Russia federal targeted programme was in progress. In 2005, it ceased. A new federal programme was considered, but has not been adopted. As far as I know, now there is even a concept for a new federal programme for 2011-2015, and many regions have their own programmes. At the outset, you said that many youth issues are addressed in one or other of the existing programmes. But still, in your opinion, do we need another such common targeted programme like Youth of Russia and will it be adopted in the near future?

Vladimir Putin: I think it wouldn't hurt. It is practical and popular. The issue is how to build this programme, what to identify as priorities. I mean that many issues and problems associated with youth are indeed covered under other programmes. Here the demographic development programme is designed for young people who experts say are in their reproductive years. I will not recount all the parameters of the programme, but there are subsidies for mothers and housing separately. The “Domicile” programme deals separately with young families. In many regions it does. But general guidelines for youth policy priorities should be clarified somewhere, and a separate programme is called for.

Yevgeny Strugov: Yevgeny Strugov, chairman of the student union at Ural Federal University. Today we discussed the Law “On Education in the Russian Federation,” and at a meeting with the Education Minister on January 25, St. Tatyana's Day, we were told on behalf of the leaders of student organisations of leading universities that we would draft our proposals. We have them here, and I'd like to hand them you at the end of the meeting. We believe that social stipend students are required to maintain and also to record their hostel costs.

Vladimir Putin: I already answered the first question at the beginning of our talk.

Yevgeny Strugov: And information on the availability of state scholarships should be made public, so that students can apply for them and receive state aide.

Vladimir Putin: That's absolutely correct. You mean to tell me that's still not the case? I thought it was.

Yevgeny Strugov: It is, but there is a specific article in the new law that specifies the list of documents that should be made public. But this document is not included in this article. It needs to be included.

Vladimir Putin: That would be an absolutely correct amendment, 100%. This is not an activity that is related to state secrets, but rather the work of the various administrative structures, which should be as transparent as possible for people. All this should be posted on the internet, and this should happen in real time – a vacancy should immediately appear on the screen. Absolutely, no doubt, you're right.

Dmitry Bogaturov: St. Petersburg State University, your home university, Bogaturov, Dmitry. I have the following information – the rectors of leading universities have formed an association which brings together leading universities. We would like to create our own similar association.

Vladimir Putin: A student one?

Dmitry Bogaturov: A stundent one. And in fact, we would like to thank you for this, because it is taking place in such beautiful surroundings with a real community atmosphere. I would like to ask you this: you studied at St. Petersburg State University, which I represent here. Did you participate in the activities of student organisations, and what interests and hobbies did you have?

Vladimir Putin: To be honest, I was not very active. I did a lot of sports, and it took up almost all of my spare time. I studied and played sports, and I also took part in student construction crews. Starting in my sophomore year, I went regularly every year, mainly to the Arctic, the Komi Republic.

Yelena Povarnitsina: Yelena Povarnitsina, leader of the Tomsk regional branch of the Russian student crews. In 2011, United Russia initiated allocations from the federal budget for improving the areas surrounding residential blocks. Student crews would be quite capable of doing this work. We know that the Russian Regional Development Ministry is currently drafting rules for spending these funds, and we would like to ask for your recommendation to recruit student crews for this work. This will not only improve the financial situation of our students, but also recruit new supporters into our party. I am a party member myself and the elections are coming up, and so I was worried about this issue, so that this party initiative would not, to put it bluntly...

Vladimir Putin: She doesn’t want to put it bluntly, and she is right!

Yelena Povarnitsina: Hopefully our contractors will not hire migrant workers but will involve our students, so our grandparents would enjoy their courtyards.

Vladimir Putin: I agree completely. You asked for my recommendation and I will give such a recommendation, and moreover, I think that is absolutely the right thing to do. We are allocating sizable funds to address these issues – 22 billion roubles. I say “sizable” because we were not planning to allocate any funds for this purpose from the federal budget. This is the direct obligation of the regions and municipalities. But in some places, in some cities, budgets went into decline and they need support. This is United Russia’s initiative, I support it and we have allocated funds in the budget. And as for recruiting student crews for this work, well...

Yelena Povarnitsina: Young people will have a more caring attitude to the fruits of their labour after doing all the work.

Vladimir Putin: Yes, I agree. When they make something with their own hands, they'd be sorry to destroy it – that is absolutely correct. And plus the young people will make good money. I absolutely agree.

Yelena Povarnitsina: Thank you.

Vladimir Putin: We're transferring this money to the regions, and they are disposing of this money. But – no joke – we will give them our recommendation to engage student crews.

Mikhail Ivanov: Mikhail Ivanov, Tomsk State University. I apologise for going back to the issue of stipends, but I would like to ask a question about the stipend fund. According to a government resolution, 25% of the stipend fund can be directed to social benefits in the form of financial aid for full-time students. So the question is – are stipends subject to personal income tax, since the Treasury and the Federal Tax Service currently diverge on their treatment of this issue. In other worlds, I would like your help in clarifying the issue.

Vladimir Putin: What's the difference if both agencies say that stipends are taxable? It differs only from the opinion of those who believe that this tax should be rescinded.

Mikhail Ivanov: But this is the stipend fund and according to Article 217 of the Tax Code…

Vladimir Putin:  Misha, I agree. Let me explain the logic behind the reasoning of the Finance Ministry and the Tax Service, and then I'll tell you how, in my opinion, we can proceed in the future. Students receive a stipend, and then can still receive various bonuses and payments that are not part of the stipend from the stipend fund. What are the tax authorities' concerns? This doesn’t apply only to students, and it doesn't affect only payments to students. We have just talked about abuses committed by construction crews. What is the potential for abuses in this area? Let's say, an organisation is paid from the total wage bill – this is subject to a single tax, but if you pay bonuses – let's say we make these bonuses tax-exempt – then the bonus amount can increase dramatically, and the amount paid in other areas is dramatically reduced, which results in tax evasion. This is very difficult to track and administer. Nevertheless, for students, it seems to me, keeping in mind that these funds are not that large, making an exception is quite possible. I will certainly issue such a directive to Finance Ministry and the Tax Service, and we will think about this. If this is done for the students, then I see no problem here. And this could be administered in the proper way. We'll think about it, Misha.

Mikhail Ivanov: Thank you.

Vladimir Putin: And your Tomsk State University, of course, is showing very good results, and we must give credit where credit is due. And not only the university but the whole science and technology cluster in general. Tomsk is the undisputed leader in many areas.

Ruslan Krymukov: Ruslan Krymukov, student construction crew PSTU-10, Pyatigorsk State Technological University. Our student crew movement is widely represented in the Central, Northwestern, Urals, Siberian and Southern Federal Districts, but is virtually undeveloped in the North Caucasus. We need support to begin to organise student crews in the region. We have experience and achievements in this endeavour. But if the state, for example,  Federal Agency for Youth Affairs or regional leaders would be able to provide the means for organising and conducting training seminars and schools for student crew captains, to teach them new skills, then we could help everyone establish student crews this year and take them to the national and local construction projects around Russia.

Vladimir Putin: So we are talking about timely training of captains of student crews according to skill sets?

Ruslan Krymukov: That’s right.

Vladimir Putin: And what is your skill, apart from management, of course.

Ruslan Krymukov: Industrial civil engineering.

Vladimir Putin: No, I mean as a captain of a student crew.

Ruslan Krymukov: As a captain, I worked this year as a leader of a student crew.

Vladimir Putin: That is to say, you're a manager.

Ruslan Krymukov: Yes, an ex-leader.

Vladimir Putin: You know, I'm a Class 4 carpenter, I even have a certificate, and I'm really proud of that. I learned this skill in the construction crews. This qualification is high enough to make a decent living.

Ruslan Krymukov: Let it be a small project, but still, the important thing is to start. After the first year of operation, each region will assemble more new crews, which will help launch the development of student crews in the North Caucasus. This will provide an opportunity to involve young people in the North Caucasus in interesting and useful activities. This will further allow us to establish interethnic and interregional friendships. We are ready to work in this area. We need your help.

Vladimir Putin: It's a good idea. I will certainly take up this issue with my colleagues and ask them to organise this work. It's a very good idea, and, most importantly, the efficiency and quality of student crews on construction sites will be considerably higher. I totally agree.

Remark: Can I still ask a different question? Mr Putin, though I'm not a student myself anymore, but I work with student initiatives almost every day, and they are not always unambiguous. What did you think of the, shall we say, expressive rally by the students of Moscow State University Journalism Department, which everyone has been discussing?

Vladimir Putin: Ah, so this is what you're on about, what you think is important!

Remark: Not important, but interesting. A different question.

Vladimir Putin: Well, the girls goofed off a bit. So what? But, you know, people always criticise the authorities. And it is very profitable for those who do it because it triggers no response. But it always raises the status of a person who does it, because he is such a brave spirit, so courageous – he's criticising someone in power. And when something positive is being done in regard to those in power, it always requires special courage. However, this form is, of course, very peculiar. I reiterate – the girls goofed off a bit, and that’s okay. You know what thought just occurred to me? Last year, we celebrated the 65th anniversary of Victory in World War II. And then veterans – incidentally, with whom I often meet – started worrying that they may be forgotten when the anniversary celebrations are over. What’s my point? If there's someone – girls, boys, young people who want to somehow express some support in any form...

Remark: Show some creative initiative?

Vladimir Putin: Yes, creative initiative. I would like to address everyone – these girls, and everyone else. Let’s choose a form of support together, and together let's call attention to those who need our help and our attention. Victory Day is coming up again soon. Let us choose such social groups and individuals and show them that we have respect for them not because of the holiday but because we appreciate the results of their life's journey. Let us hold such a joint rally on May 9 throughout the country.

Remarks: We support that!

Chulpan Galiyeva: Chulpan Galiyeva, Kazan Federal University. It seems to us that an important issue has been ignored: how do you see the specific functions of student governments at universities in the context of the newly forming education system in our country and in the context of what you said at the beginning of our meeting about the participation of student governments in making specific decisions and participating in the work of industry-specific bodies of the executive branch of government? Do you have an idea of some form of participation? That is to say, in your view, how will they be involved?

Vladimir Putin: Are you inviting me to enrol in a university somewhere?

Chulpan Galiyeva: What kind of plan will there be for participation? How will these student government bodies participate in the work of these government bodies?

Vladimir Putin: As I've already said in the beginning, I think that the students themselves should determine the form of self-organisation of students at individual schools. I don't even have any recommendations. Enterprising people need to get together and agree on how they will structure this work, and do it.

As for the interaction with the authorities, I have already said – I suggest that student governments interact directly with the university administration and ministries up to an including working on the boards, examination boards and the public councils of ministries. We recommend the same thing to our colleagues in the Russian regions and in specific schools.

Chulpan Galiyeva: More specifically, what, in your view, are the functions of student government bodies in today's reality? What should they do?

Vladimir Putin: As a colleague of yours said earlier, first, you need to check the transparency of information provided to the administration about the various fields of higher education. You need to take responsibility for the distribution of the stipend fund, you should promptly establish job training for captains of the student construction crews, I mean their professional training for the summer season. And there are other areas. I would think that sport, patriotic education, a positive attitude toward veterans – which we just talked about – are a lot of activities. This is just scratching the surface, but surely there are other issues.

Sergei Sorokin: Hello, my name is Sergei Sorokin, I'm chairman of the union of the Northern Arctic Federal University, in Arkhangelsk. My question is about a major concern for all students – future employment.

Vladimir Putin: Your university will soon celebrate its anniversary.

Sergei Sorokin: Yes, it will. Today, many universities have contracts with companies to train professionals for the future. That is correct, logical and good. But what about those who will work for the state, that is, those who will go into the public sector? Is it possible to adopt a federal programme to support young professionals who come to work in the public sector – in other words, doctors, teachers, cultural workers and so on – so that graduates will be more interested in going to work for the state?

Vladimir Putin: We have started to implement such a programme, and last year 750 people, I think, went to work in remote regions – in the Arctic, in rural areas. True, it happened with substantial financial support from the state: 250,000 roubles per year for two years each – that's half a million roubles. This allowed us to assemble such a large cohort of professionals – good, young professionals who have gone to work in outlying areas.

Such programmes can be developed further. As for the economy, I think that we need to follow the path of expansion of innovative small businesses in cooperation with higher education and training and internships at the leading major companies. Such work is already underway, and we will continue to expand in cooperation with the business community. And, of course, we will try to engage public institutions in this work.

Sergei Sorokin: Thank you.

Remark: Can I ask one or two quick question? Let's come back to the Law on Education. We have discussed it with the minister. The Law on the Police Force was not given a second public reading online, and we would like, due to the fact that there are so many amendments, and the procedure of introducing amendments through the internet was very undemocratic at times...

Vladimir Putin: Undemocratic in the internet?

Question: Yes, there was deletion of comments and so on. Is it possible to enlist your support so that the draft bill on education has a 100% second discussion with all the amendments in place? It is very important to the public in connection with the systemic aspect of this bill.

Vladimir Putin: Sure thing. Go ahead.

Remark: I would like to propose, and I'm sure everyone will support this idea, that we take a photo of you and us together as a memento.

Vladimir Putin: Of course.

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