25 july 2012

Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev meets with Open Government experts

The Prime Minister said the discussion was on one of the most important topics on the agenda of the Open Government and for the whole of civil society – the education law and the federal programme The Development of Education from 2013 to 2020.


Dmitry Medvedev: Hello everyone. Greetings, colleagues. I would like to discuss with you what is perhaps one of the most important topics on the agenda of our Open Government today and for that matter for the whole of civil society. That is the education law and the federal programme The Development of Education from 2013 to 2020.

This draft law is the fruit of some very complex and painstaking work that has been carried out by specialists and experts, by everyone who cares, because I saw how in the last few months a raft of various events and hearings have been conducted, but the main thing (I’ve already half-forgotten some of it) is that the draft law was worked through and on my instruction was posted on the website as long ago as 1 December, 2010. And now here we are at the end of July 2012. I cannot remember another draft law taking this long to discuss and approve. Perhaps that’s not a bad thing since we are after all talking about education. Education affects everyone, everyone thinks they’re an expert in the field of education, but then again health is another area which everybody thinks they know a lot about. But sooner or later the discussions have to stop, we have to put an end to it.

And however much we may criticise the various approaches put forward by one or other political force… I was talking about the education law with our political parties, there are various configurations and versions of this law but to date it has still not been adopted. I would like to thank everyone who has worked on this draft law recently: probably the most important and fundamental things have been incorporated into these documents. And today, in the opinion of most experts, this bill is now ready to be submitted to the State Duma. Of course there is likely to be a lot of discussion and debate there too but that’s not a bad thing. I hope that we will ultimately end up with a good draft law, at the very least a draft law that to a far better extent reflects the current state of Russian education than all the documents that are currently in force in the country. I won’t list out all the things that are contained in it because you all know that already, you’ve all read it. Most of the people present here have participated in discussions of this draft law so I suggest we get straight down to work, given that, as far as I understand, tomorrow at a government meeting we have to get this get this document, which so much effort has gone into, ready to be submitted to the State Duma. Unless of course today you tell me that there’s no way you can approve it, because in principle it can never be approved, but I hope that won’t happen.

Sergei Guriyev: (Rector of the NewEconomic School): Thank you very much, Mr Medvedev. I agree, let’s not waste any time, let’s get to work. Within the Open Government we have discussed both of these documents, both the education law and the federal government program on the development of education. You are quite right, they are several hundred pages long, but these hundreds of pages have been posted online for public discussion, including on the Open Government website. Our colleagues and experts have voiced many proposals. As I see it, all these proposals should be discussed, one way or another. They should be discussed in parliament and in line with the Open Government process. This is what we would like to discuss today. I would like to give the floor to Lyubov Dukhanina, a member of the Public Chamber and Director of the Naslednik (Heir) Educational Centre. Ms Dukhanina will tell us what Open Government thinks about the draft law On Education. Ms Dukhanina, you have the floor, please.

Dmitry Medvedev: Please, Ms Dukhanina.

Lyubov Dukhanina (Director of the Naslednik Educational Centre): Mr Medvedev, colleagues. Indeed, the contents of the education bill have been hotly debated by the public over the past three years. Replying to a question about whether the new bill should be passed, I would like to note that it had become obvious by 2000 that the 1992 law on education, which was quite progressive in its time, was no longer able to effectively regulate the new relations in education. And this gap is becoming wider each year. Indeed, there was a lot of discussion. The document was discussed all across the nation, online, by government bodies, including the State Duma, the Federation Council and a conference of the Russian Rectors’ Union. An ad hoc commission established by you was also involved in this work and set extremely serious objectives regarding the bill’s conformity to the constitutional right to education. So now, we are already discussing the third version of the bill. There have been many remarks, and numerous amendments have been made.

In our opinion, the law must accomplish three main objectives. It must ensure social justice and social stability in the sphere of education. Modernisation is the second objective. How can the education system be brought into conformity with the latest social requirements? How can a modern education model be formalised? And keeping ahead of the curve is our third objective. How can we keep ahead of the requirements in a new socio-cultural and technological environment? I would like to say a few words about how well the current version of the bill addresses these objectives.

Stabilisation is the prime objective. Despite numerous debates around this issue, the bill includes the entire range of basic principles and guarantees of citizens’ constitutional rights in the education sphere. The state legally recognises the special status of educators in society for the first time. We have talked a lot about this, and the bill emphasises the special status of educators. It is important that educators are entitled to every right and social-support measure, regardless of their place of work, whether at schools, hospitals or social security agencies. This provision had been lacking until now. Until today, these social-support measures had only applied to school-level educators. The entire education community supports the formalisation of wage control in the bill. An educator’s salary should not be lower than an average regional salary. The current law on education stipulated similar provisions until 2004, but they weren’t implemented each year for the lack of financial mechanisms. I suggest that we don’t make the same mistake twice. And I suggest legally formalising the necessary financial mechanisms which would guarantee the stated salary levels. And here is one more remark. While calculating the average salaries of educators it makes sense to base it on the average monthly rate, rather than increasing the average salary of a teacher by increasing the amount of work they do. That is exactly the way to reduce the quality of a teacher’s work. 

The bill has preserved long-standing benefits for utilities payments for rural teachers. For some reason there are some people who are questioning the necessity of such social support measures if salaries are going to go up. The primary effect of these measures is a stimulatory one: they attract more teachers to rural schools. I think excluding these measures from the draft law is unacceptable.  

The second task is modernisation. The law is designed to bridge the gap between educational practices and what is covered in the legislation: educational opportunities for people have been significantly enhanced, possibilities for choosing educational paths have been outlined, as have possibilities for tailoring educational paths for particular individuals. The bill actively introduces modern educational technologies into the legislative process, the rights of state-run and private educational institutions have been put on an equal footing, and provision has been made for the possibility of financing private educational institutions out of the state budget. However, the process is progressing rather timidly so far. 

The Constitution’s claim regarding equality of all forms of property in education has not been implemented in full, either in terms of taxation or in terms of equal access to resources, including state budget funding. This might simply be a technical error, but the draft law lacks any provision on state budget funding for pre-school education in private educational establishments. This provision should be put back into the bill. We adopted a federal law quite recently which gave the constituent entities of the federation and municipalities the powers to finance pre-school education in private educational institutions. 

The bill introduces the concept of networking between educational, culture and sports institutions for the first time. However, experience shows that the possibilities for networking are often limited by civil legislation in terms of joint use of property and joint funding of educational programmes. There are also problems with the licensing and accreditation of joint educational programmes. 

There is also the question of co-founding of educational organisations, especially municipal establishments. For the funding, mechanisms of inter-budget relations need to be set up and tested out, taking into account the distribution of powers between the different levels of public authority. There issues of inter-departmental interaction are also acute, so that no mechanism has yet been devised for joint financing of a single educational establishment by different ministries using the money earmarked for education, culture, sport and healthcare. Solving the issues related to networking will definitely lead to the consolidation and streamlining of the resources used. 

It should be noted that the draft law lacks adequate standards for ensuring access to additional education, which is a particularly high motivational resource for a child’s development as well as a resource for developing their talents and abilities. Maybe it’s worth considering approaches which entail personalised funding for receiving additional education, for example, by issuing certificates to children that cover all or part of the cost of acquiring additional education.

There is one more problem. For a long time additional education and preschool care services were financed jointly from the budget and by the parents. This draft law does not envisage such a possibility. The Finance Ministry wants the sources of financing for these services to be strictly separated. In the event the service is one and indivisible, like care of a child, such separation may reduce the amount of services paid for from the budget and increase the price of the service. Therefore codifying the possibility of co-financing of a service in law is important above all as a means to ensure the rights of citizens and broadening their opportunities.

Regarding proactive development, the draft law attempts to codify the mechanisms of continuous and proactive development of the education system –  through mechanisms that draw on internal innovative potential, such as experimental innovative activities (this is a new provision in our education law) and through self-regulation mechanisms, on the one hand, and through the mechanisms of feedback, external evaluation and assessment, on the other. There are grounds for thinking that this step could be broader and bolder. For example, there is no prescription concerning the implementation of the principle of public-private administration of education at the municipal and regional levels. Perhaps we should give some thought to a provision that would take into account the results of public, and public-private review during the certification of education institutions. One gets the impression that the state still does not trust society, and there are signs that it does not trust the schools either. The block of articles…

Dmitry Medvedev: You have doubts that the state trusts society? I for one have no such doubts about society, let alone the schools.

Lubov Dukhanina: Well, then, my proposals will be written into the law. Thank you very much. The block of articles on education quality control reveals a limited approach to state quality control that does not encourage reflection, self-development and internal change. There is a decidedly punitive approach to schools, whereas there is a consensus in society that development can only be ensured if the state and society trust the schools.

In accordance with this policy, external evaluation is seen as an element of support, as a kind of service the state renders schools, and not as oversight or supervision with the threat of a licence being revoked and the school principal being sacked.

In conclusion, I would like to stress the relevance and importance of the draft law as the main mechanism of guaranteeing the constitutional right of citizens to education, as a mechanism for shaping the innovative potential of society and the economy as a whole. It is possible that some of the provisions that relate to the merits of the draft will face some enforcement problems, that is a possibility. And of course, the forks in the road I have mentioned cannot be passed by just codifying provisions in law, so we should start thinking about enabling legislation and of course, about harmonizing law-making and the regulatory frameworks in all the regions of the Russian Federation. We have taken the first step, we must take the next one. Thank you.

Sergey Guriyev: Thank you very much.

Dmitry Medvedev: Thank you, Ms Dukhanina. Let’s proceed as follows: if I make comments after every presentation I am afraid it will take too much time and fewer colleagues gathered here will have a chance to speak. So I think it would be better – perhaps I will make some remarks – but I would like as many experts present as possible and all those who have dealt with this problem to speak. So let’s move on.

Sergey Guriyev: Very well. I’d like to hear from Isak Frumin, chief of research with the Education Development Institute, Higher School of Economics. He will fill us in on the state programme of education development in Russia.

Isak Frumin (chief of research with the Education Development Institute, Higher School of Economics National Research University): Mr. Medvedev, esteemed colleagues. A state programme is, of course, not as mature a document as a draft law. It started to be developed later, it is a younger document, I should say.

Dmitry Medvedev: It hasn’t yet gathered enough dust.

Isak Frumin: Yes, I’ll speak about gathering dust in a moment. I have to say that it reflects... It was in fact prepared by the Education Ministry with this draft law in mind, so our panel of experts assessed the state programme in terms of how it corresponds to the draft law and its main ideas. We used as the criteria, or the context, for our assessment the available experience, including the Education national project, the Our New School initiative, which implemented really innovative approaches, tender mechanisms and financing of the regions and education institutions.

We also looked at the state programme in the context of international challenges because, let’s face it, the share of GDP that goes to education is still not comparable to that of other countries. We have problems with quality in some segments, as shown by the relevant international studies. Not enough of our universities are among the world leaders. So we feel that the main goal of the programme as written is quality, achieving a new level of quality (not at the expense of accessibility, of course), and therefore is fit for purpose, because it addresses such current problems as the obsolescence of several elements in our system and the failure to meet expectations of employers and some segments of the population. We are competitive globally in terms of quality. I would like to stress once again that we are among the leaders in terms of accessibility, including of higher education, and that is an important achievement. The only problem we have with accessibility is in preschool education, but there are plans for solving it. So now we believe we should build on that the strategy for achieving competitive quality, and the state programme offers concrete solutions. This is pretty much the first document – and we were pleased to see it – which makes a serious assessment of measures like support for initiatives, innovation networks and competition as mechanisms for achieving this new quality. Meanwhile it is very important, and we have discussed this with you several times, that the objective is not only to help the leading educational institutions. The state programme provides special support for underperforming institutions, weaker schools, colleges and universities that are falling behind and so on. It is very important to adequately restructure these networks so that every child has the chance to attend not just any school but a good school or a good university. 

And now comes the “but”. Firstly, in our view the state programme is an optimistic document. Of course we can hold competitions, but do we have realistic potential winners? We can hand out prizes, but to be honest, some of our competitions are not of a high enough standard to award a first or even a second prize, because the overall potential of such competitive bids is often not strong enough. This issue needs special consideration within the programme, because when we are talking about the demand for innovation, we assume that the offer already exists, but it needs to be cultivated. It is also important in a document as long as the state programme until 2020, to include some kind of mechanisms for assessing the results. Currently they are not included and they need to be.  

Of course if we believe that initiative is the driving force behind the development of the education system, then the key issue is that of leadership – leaders at the regional level, at the municipal level, university leaders and so on. In this sense, the development of leadership potential should be reflected more explicitly.

And a number of very important objectives set out in the programme need to be more accurately described in terms of how they will be implemented. For instance, the state programme includes significant investment to raise the attractiveness of the teaching profession, but it doesn’t go into any detail on how new staff will be recruited. And this is not an idle question, it has to be treated seriously and honestly, because we can achieve, especially in the short-term, not new recruitment, but only staff retention, if we simply raise salaries. The same is true for restructuring networks: we have to provide clearer and more accurate models so that we don’t just merge things for the sake of it, or conversely, simply shut something down for the sake of shutting something down.

And finally a very important issue, what Ms Dukhanina spoke about. We really need – and the state programme is making attempts in this direction – to ensure we move from a culture of inspection and overview to a culture of self-regulation and transparency, but this has to be described in more detail in the programme, too.  

There’s one complicated issue – the question of adequate financial support for the programme; we saw the draft programme and it includes a lot of good things. But if we look at the budget projections now we can see that the proportion of GDP allocated to implement this state programme is declining in real terms. The explanation is very simple: in 2014, regional support for increasing teachers’ pay is coming to an end. In this sense, from 2014, the draft budget does not include any resources for conducting federal policy at the regional level. Given what we handed over a year ago, we concluded the handover of basic vocational education and special vocational education, so now we only have administrative tools of policy and they don’t work. So of course we can’t talk of competitiveness unless we provide financial support.  

So from our point of view, in terms of our key proposals, firstly – we have to understand whether enough resources have been provided. If we cannot afford something, perhaps we should be honest and drop the objectives. However, in our view, the objectives set out in the programme are fine, and what’s more they’re crucial for innovative development.

So now onto some less complex proposals in relation to the contents of the programme. The creation of a mirror system of monitoring has to be accelerated. In order to create a culture of transparency we need a breakthrough in supplementary education. Ms Dukhanina spoke a bit about this in terms of the legal aspects. We still view this as something secondary, which is wrong.

And we need to think about making a real breakthrough in innovation in education. Today, strange as it may seem, the very system that is supposed to produce innovation is structured as a system that isn’t based on innovation at all. Thank you.  

Sergei Guriyev: Thank you very much, Mr Frumin. I’d like to give the floor to one of the most consistent opponents of the draft law on education – State Duma Deputy and First Deputy Chairman of the Committee on Education Oleg Smolin. Mr Smolin, go ahead please.

Oleg Smolin (First Deputy Chairman of the State Duma Committee on Education): Colleagues, Mr Medvedev! I thank you for the opportunity to speak as an opponent of this major draft law. Since the Prime Minister’s time is very precious, I cannot afford to spend it on criticism, therefore I’ll focus on more constructive points.

Firstly. The draft law On Public Education was submitted to the State Duma on 25 January. It is often called the federal law On Education for All. It was developed as an alternative draft law but it was introduced first, so now they are alternatives to one another. 

Secondly. We are happy to acknowledge that the governmental draft law has been improved in the process of discussion, including by using some ideas from the federal law On Education for All. We think that around 12 positions were transferred in full or in part to the official draft law – we appreciate that. However we would be equally happy if the government took our draft law and introduced it as its own, in which case we would refrain from making any claims on co-authorship.

Dmitry Medvedev: We will give that some thought.

Oleg Smolin: Thank you. In terms of the Open Government we propose the following for the future: to discuss the main conceptual points rather than the enormous texts of draft laws. That is precisely what we have done: we’ve prepared a special table (here it is, Mr Medvedev), which includes 76 points comparing the two alternative draft laws. Our positions completely coincide on 10 points, and on 24 we try to give answers to questions that have not been mentioned in the governmental draft law, and on 42 points we hold differing positions: sometimes these are just minor differences and sometimes our stances are completely opposed to one another.   

It would be useful if the two proposals were posted on the Open Government website, together with the comparison table, and people were allowed to vote on them, just to gauge public opinion. We have done that on affiliate websites and our project received between 81% and 92% support, while the governmental draft law got just between 4% and 15% . But we realise that this is not a scientific study, we just want to understand what positions are supported by the educated community overall.

Fourthly. Why have we put so much effort into this draft law? Mr Medvedev, it saddens us to admit that our education system has fallen behind. I’ll add – we are continuing to fall back still further and the figures are getting worse. Foreign companies say that we are losing our biggest competitive advantage – a highly skilled workforce. In polls conducted in 2011, 32% of Russians said that the Sun is a satellite of the Earth, in 2007 a similar poll showed that 28% thought so – the figure is going down by 1% every year. Even my opponents admit that 20% of secondary school pupils are functionally illiterate, meaning they can read a text, but cannot understand it. Therefore we ask: are we carrying out the right reforms if the performance indicators are actually getting worse? We have used the experience of the law On Education of 1992, one of the most progressive laws, as well as social-democratic values like social guarantees and the value of freedom.    

My fifth point concerns financial guarantees. International experience shows that countries planning to modernise should spend at least 7% of GDP on education. Russia spends 4.2% of GDP according to official figures, and 3.5% according to the Audit Chamber (a report made several years ago). Brazil is currently spending 5.3%, and is planning to go up to 8% in the near future and have now decided to spend 10% of GDP. Brazil is a BRICS member, so it is roughly similar to Russia. This means that hopefully modernisation in Brazil will be successful. We do not propose as big a rise as in Brazil, but at least 7%, that is the minimum acceptable level of expenditure of GDP.

Taxes. At the beginning of the 21st century, tax concessions for education, nearly all of them, were abolished, now some of them have returned, but very few. Mr Medvedev, you have signed Federal Law No11 on the development of electronic education. Of course we welcome it. But I would like to be clear that according to our research, considering the tax policy, the customs policy and the middlemen, a Russian university has to pay almost twice as much for a computer as a German one, for example.

Financing mechanisms. Naturally, we propose tax breaks, like everywhere else in the world. World experience has shown that financing based on the number of pupils leads to the closure of small schools. In this country about 20,000 schools have been closed, the figure was 20,300 at the beginning of 2011, of which 15,000 schools were closed under Andrei Fursenko. This was not just about a reduction in the number of students; it was above all because of the principle of financing based on the number of students. We propose a more complicated formula, financing based on the number of students plus the funding of costs that do not depend on the number of students.

Sixth. Social guarantees. The fact that the latest versions of the law contain provisions on social guarantees marks great progress. But I would permit myself to make several observations. First, it is great that teachers’ salaries are being raised to the average wage in a given region because until recently it was less than two-thirds of the national average. Salaries have been raised in a number of regions, but note that we equate a highly qualified teacher’s work – as a rule a teacher works time and a half – to the regional average wage. I support Lyubov Dukhanina who argues that in equating average salaries one should proceed from a prorated scale based on time, and not simply the earnings figure.

Also, the salaries of teachers in higher education are passed over in silence, and yet this theme has been raised, including in Vladimir Putin’s articles before the election. The salary of a university professor in Russia is about $700, compared, for example, with $5,000 in Turkey. We suggest that Vladimir Putin’s proposals be included, perhaps not all at once, that is, it should be at least twice the average wage in the Russian Federation.

Regarding student grants, it is good that student grants are now guaranteed, but they are pegged to the minimum wage. Almost ten years ago the government and the Duma decided to peg these grants not to the minimum wage, but to the subsistence minimum, which is a more objective indicator. We propose that this provision be included in the umbrella law.

Seventh. The information educational environment. We all know that Russian television is primarily concerned with what Ilya Ehrenburg would call the lower portion of the human body. There is very little educational television despite the fact that there is demand for it. Our colleagues from the Culture channel told us that while the channel’s overall ratings average 2%, the ratings for its Academy programme where scientists give lectures, is 7%, in other words, much higher. The government draft says nothing about this. We propose an educational channel in the one-metre band.

Eighth. Electronic instruction and information technology, an area recognized as key in the world. Once again I thank you for signing Federal Law No11, but we believe we should go further: first, transfer everything in Federal Law No11 that is connected with e-instruction into this big umbrella law. Second, set up a working group at the Ministry of Education and Science to peg by-laws to Federal Law No11. Third. Many countries have special legislation on the electronic education industry, and it would be very useful if we created an interagency working group under the government for promoting electronic education and include this in the legislation.

Ninth. School standards. The stormy debates continue to this day. The latest version of the standards practically forces a kid in grade 9 to choose a specialisation: either you get a full education in the humanities, but a truncated version of natural sciences education, or you get a full-fledged education in the natural and exact sciences and a truncated education in the humanities. Sociological surveys show, however, that one in every three students made the wrong choice of majors. We propose that the law include a mandatory list of subjects, the so-called gold standard, and let the student choose between a basic and a specialized level in an area. In our opinion, that would be quite sufficient for a specialization.

Tenth. Primary vocational education. This is one of the most urgent issues. The government draft law would liquidate this level of education, lock, stock and barrel. And yet, Mr Medvedev, almost everyone, except the drafters and the Ministry, object to eliminating primary vocational training as a distinct level. I personally have letters from Gazprom, from the Kuzbass coalmines, from the famous inventor of the Kalashnikov automatic rifle, and from Viktor Sadovnichy and many others who have spoken up about this. Experts are worried that most of the children who now study at vocational training schools (PTU) will only learn a trade without any education and only a minority would be able to acquire secondary vocational education. That would bring down the general education standards. We propose preserving primary vocational training, but also introducing a single professional organisation to manage primary and secondary vocational training programmes.

Eleventh. Higher education institutions. The initial draft proposed abolishing academies. After some protests, they decided to discard the division of higher education institutions into different categories and leave simply universities. Make a note of this: the university does not exist as a category of higher education institution, there are no categories of higher education institutions, but the university, as such, has remained. Most of the higher education community is somewhat confused about the accreditation criteria. Unfortunately, the reply to my query on this issue from the Ministry of Education and Science did not make things any clearer. If university criteria standards are used for accreditation, the majority of institutions would simply not pass the test. In general, Mr Medvedev, there is no evidence to prove that big higher education institutions invariably offer a higher quality of education. The best quality education in the world is usually available at medium-sized institutions while major universities are typically average in terms of the quality of the education received.

I have spoken about social guarantees, but now a few words about freedom. We fully share your view, Mr Medvedev, that freedom is better than non-freedom, so we propose expanding the freedom of choice in our education in several areas.

Twelfth. Make the Single State Examination (EGE) voluntary. Of late EGE tests have been improved, but the root problems have remained and many teachers are still complaining that they are forced to prepare students for these tests instead of educating them. President Obama has allocated funds to curtail the test system on which our EGE is modeled. Apparently the experts there have explained to him that the system should not turn normal Americans into a “Zadornov” caricature. We too don’t want to turn normal Russians into Zadornov’s caricature of Americans, and therefore, we propose the softest solution, EGE on a voluntary basis. Opinion surveys show that this is backed by 70% of those with a higher education, and we are not proposing the abolishment of privileges that are conferred by passing an EGE test. Incidentally, we may offer a compromise version, to keep the name EGE, but scrap test-based assignments, like for mathematics, and introduce elements of oral examinations in the humanities, like the proposals for foreign languages. Indeed, how can you tell if a candidate will make a good lawyer or journalist if you don’t know whether he can speak well?

Thirteenth. The Bologna process. We propose free and voluntary participation in the Bologna process in full accordance with the spirit of the Bologna Declaration. Incidentally, such a law was in effect in this country between 1996 and 2011. At the time about 10% of graduates chose the baccalaureate while the rest preferred the traditional system. A BA is sufficient for many specialities, but when it comes to high-quality education, the holder of a BA degree who gets 40% less specialized instruction, loses out to a full degree specialist.

To sum up my proposals. . First, post both drafts and a table for voting on the Open Government site. Second, integrate all the socially-oriented proposals contained in the incumbent President’s pre-election articles, even with deferred execution, into the law. Third, after the first reading set up a group comprising members of all the parliamentary parties on a parity basis to include a comprehensive list of needs for the education community. Fourth. Set up a special interagency group for the development of the electronic education industry and seal it under the law.

Lastly. Mr Medvedev, there are some things that can be done without any extra spending. The ideology of the education policy, its underlying philosophy, if you will, has been a very unpopular subject in the education community recently. If we think in terms of education not as part of the services sector, but as part of the production sector, and the most important part at that – the production of the individual; if we say that education is not simply a rendering a service, that teaching is not simply shoe shining, but a mission and a calling; if we say that the spending on education is not a burden for the state but an investment, as your favourite Wassily Leontief and Edward Denison used to say; if we declare openly that we have returned to the classic notion of the goals of education, i.e., fostering a rounded individual and not, as Andrey Fursenko was telling us, bringing up a qualified consumer; if we speak about the pedagogy of cooperation and better still, pedagogy of joint creative endeavours; if we declare that our aim is not elitist but egalitarian education for all; if we recall Jan Kamensky, or Komensky (which is closer to the Czech) whose motto was “first love, then teach,” I assure you the atmosphere in the education community will change dramatically.

And then, I think the current or the next President will be able to say to the members of the Federal Assembly: Ladies and gentlemen, or comrades, if you still prefer to be called that, we are gradually moving toward an advanced status in education. Thank you, and we are handing over the table.

Dmitry Medvedev: Thank you.

Sergey Guriyev: Thank you very much, Mr Smolin.

Dmitry Medvedev: Thank you. Frankly, I said that I would wrap it up at the end of our meeting, but considering Mr Smolin’s interesting speech and, to be honest, he represents an alternative position, I will permit myself to say a few words so that you don’t fall asleep, and then others will have a chance to speak.

First, I would like to say that I absolutely understand many of the things that Mr Smolin said. I can simply subscribe to many of the things he said. I’m not sure that I fully identify with the remedies proposed, but I have no doubt that Mr Smolin has correctly pinpointed the existing problems.

Let me begin with some general items. Is the situation in education getting worse? You know, I don’t think any intelligent person could give us a flat answer to that. It is getting worse in some ways and improving in others because we all know that just 5-7 years ago there was much less money in education and, let’s face it, the situation was much more difficult. In terms of the morale among teachers, the opportunities for schools to acquire teaching tools and equipment, to set quality standards and to use that equipment – in that sense the situation is getting better.

In referring to various indicators and indices, things get more complicated. It is another matter that we do not fully trust all these indicators and indices. You mentioned Brazil. I’m not sure it’s appropriate for us to compare ourselves with Brazil, even though we are BRICS members, for a variety of reasons. Let’s be frank: the levels of education in Russia and Brazil at the start of reconstruction and economic revival were markedly different. But our education and general background is head and shoulders above that of Brazil. That’s number one.

Number two. They don’t have the same need to maintain the high level of security that we do. I don’t need to offer proof; you know what I’m talking about. Russia is a nuclear power, a large country, and we have our allies to take care of. So, all these figures depend to a large extent on the country. But I absolutely agree that we should not reduce the rate at which we finance education, that we should consolidate a clear position and preferably move forward.

Now regarding the ideas you have put forward. I absolutely agree that your draft law should also be posted on the Open Government site. This would be absolutely appropriate, and I would like to ask Minister Abyzov to arrange all that.

Should there be a vote or not? We were correct in assuming that a vote would not be quite the right approach because the sample would not be representative, but if you insist, we could still put it to a vote. Clearly, the costlier the law, the more proposals it contains and the more attractive it is for the majority of people. Anyway, they will be able to take part in discussing this draft law. I think that would be proper.

Regarding tax breaks. I agree that there must be tax breaks in one form or other. All we need is to determine the amount of these tax breaks. Many of them exist, but perhaps there should be more, especially as regards the import of equipment and some elementary teaching tools. Whether or not we should provide financing based on the number of pupils – I am not of course a specialist on the issue, but frankly speaking I have a feeling that we do not have per capita financing in its pure form, things are much more complicated than that. And the proposed model is not so crystal clear. But I agree that it could probably be improved.

As for wages for university staff, proposals to increase their pay, I am going to be with you for another 30 to 40 minutes and then I am off to a much less enjoyable meeting on distributing money. It won’t be the education minister in the starring role there but the finance minister, and his speech will be much more mournful. I will have to make a choice. I would like to be frank with you, this is not an easy choice, you understand that if you make cuts in one sector, you cannot put the money back into another sector, especially given the very complicated international financial situation. Nevertheless, we have already conducted a series of consultations, I have supported most of the proposals made by the Education Ministry¸ and they will be included. 

Why am I telling you this? All this concerns the salaries of university staff as well. We are going to do everything outlined both in the president’s executive orders and what we actually should have done a very long time ago. But, naturally, this will not be a one-time increase, but as outlined in the respective documents the increases will be ongoing until 2018. Regarding the rate of the increase, this is exactly what the argument is about, to be honest with you, because the Finance Ministry wants to move as slowly as possible while the Education Ministry wants to progress much faster. But in any case we will settle on a certain pace and we will reach the programme’s targets by 2018, please do not be in any doubt about that! 

Next. I absolutely agree that the adoption of the law, no matter what the version, needs to be accompanied by the amended by-laws coming into effect at the same time. The is a mandatory condition for passing such a fundamental regulatory piece of legislation because otherwise it will just hang in the air and we will forever be having to deal with the contradictions that exist between the basic document and its implementation by the executive authorities. 

As to inter-agency groups, I agree, let’s set them up, including one on e-learning.  We will have to have further discussions on school standards. What needs to be included in the mandatory list here? Is this a basic set or a professional level?  But on the whole there’s a lot of good sense in what you’re saying. 

Concerning primary vocational training. I am not really sure how important it is to state this in the law, if primary vocational education should remain as a level, but I have no doubt whatsoever that it should be preserved as one of the areas of education, one of the stages of education. In what legislative model should its description be formulated? This could be done by the government, and the description should be made in a matter of fact way. 

Concerning accreditation of universities. I agree that the size of a university is no guarantee of its quality. Although, to be honest, in our country it still does guarantee it, in principle it shouldn’t, but in our country it still does, for now. As a rule, the larger the university in this country, the higher the level of education, due to the fact that the largest institutions are classical universities and classical engineering colleges. But of course, every rule has its exceptions and a number of good new universities have emerged which, though small in size, offer good quality education. But to my mind, it is absolutely obvious, and I hope you will not argue this point that we have far too many universities. We cannot compare ourselves to the Soviet Union, which had a population of 300 million and 600 universities.

Yes, the country has changed, it has become smaller but at the same time the demand for higher education has risen sharply. When Isak Frumin, if I am right, said here that our education had become completely accessible, and the accessibility of higher education is our achievement, I made a special note for myself that I am not convinced this is a total achievement. But we cannot return to the Soviet perception of higher education when 30 to 40 percent of people went to university, even 20 percent, while the rest of the population was distributed between secondary vocational education or just went into employment. People want to enter higher education in ever larger numbers. Nevertheless, Carthage must be destroyed, and a significant proportion of universities that fail to meet the required standards need to be reorganised and ultimately closed down, of that I am absolutely convinced. 

Next, from what you said about voluntarily sitting the Unified State Examination. This is an eternal topic for our discussions with the Communist Party of the Russian Federation and with some other colleagues.  You know, my opinion of the State Unified Exam is also changing. When it was introduced, I had my own ideas, then diverse information started coming in, it started being criticised. I talked with teachers. They say no, everything is fine, we like it.  I talked to, for example, parents, they say yes, it’s great. Especially when I come to the regions, in the overwhelming majority of the schools they say the introduction of the Unified State Examination has been a good thing, our children started going to universities in big cities. 

This year my son took the Unified State Exam. My attitude towards it also changed, it has become less straightforward because when you experience it personally and see all the drawbacks and faults of a system… It is quite obvious for me that the Unified State Examination needs to be improved and perfected, and the introduction of new elements, in my view, is absolutely inevitable. The verbal component you talked about, I think it should definitely be used. And not only in foreign language exams, I believe it can and should be used in exams for a number of the humanities subjects. But that does not mean we are giving up on the structure of the Unified State Examination. We are just improving it. As you rightly said, we can leave the overall umbrella and just fill it with different elements. And ultimately it will be a complex set of tests, on the one hand, and oral examinations, on the other. And it will be good if it turns out that way.

I have different impressions of the Bologna process in this country. While this is the mainstream and we can’t avoid it, I agree with you that quite often specialist training gives students better skills than even Bachelor or Master’s degrees. However, this does not apply to all professions, it applies mostly to engineering and natural sciences.

To sum up regarding Mr Smolin’s speech, I’d like to say that I’m ready to establish any inter-party or inter-departmental groups, if this helps. Moreover, I’m even prepared to submit the Communist Party draft instead of the government draft, but only if we all ultimately vote for it in the State Duma.

Sergei Guriyev: Thank you very much. I think one of the important principles of the educational process is not to claim the copyright of someone else’s texts. I don’t think the government will claim it has written your text, Mr Smolin.

Dmitry Medvedev: Incidentally, as far as I remember, under the law, drafts do not have authorship and there is no copyright issue. Therefore, we can easily take the laurels for the text drafted by our colleagues from the Communist Party and they can do the same with the government draft.

Sergei Guriyev: This is true, but not everything is regulated by laws in the process of higher education. Ethics and morals are important as well. I’d like to make another important remark. I think that many of the measures that we will take now will affect the quality of education in the long term. Not everything in education changes quickly. We know that changes do not happen as quickly as we would like.

Knowing that Mr Medevdev is pressed for time, I’d like to give the floor to this teacher, Mr Ovchinnikov. Let him tell us whether salaries have been raised or not, and what problems teachers are facing. We’d like experts of the Open Government to reply to the critical remarks by Mr Smolin, but I think Mr Medvedev himself has replied to them in detail. Of course, we will pass over to you the table with Mr Smolin’s critical remarks and our proposals on how to account for them. Mr Ovchinikov, go ahead please.

Alexei Ovchinnikov (biology teacher at a secondary general educational school in the village of Balovnevo, Lipetsk Region, winner of the national contest Best Teacher of Russia in 2011): After winning the competition, I've met with a number of key figures…

Dmitry Medvedev: Has it helped you in everyday life?

Alexei Ovchinnikov: In fact, it has. I got a raise after the win.

Dmitry Medvedev: That’s good.

Alexei Ovchinnikov: The issue is salaries. It has been rightly noted here that the majority of regions have brought or almost brought the salaries of teachers up to the average for the regional economy. For instance, in the Lipetsk Region, where I live and work, the latest reports put the economic average at 18,826 roubles per month. Teachers receive 17,700 roubles. These are comparable figures. But it was also noted with good reason that quite often this is achieved because teachers work extra hours, which does not improve the quality of their work. Thus, as a teacher in the highest category, I earn 8,275 roubles. It is easy to see that to reach the economic average I will have to more than double my workload. Or there is another option – payments from the teacher incentive fund, but this option is a…

Dmitry Medvedev: Mr Ovchinnikov, I need this simply for orientation. Doubling the job rate – is it realistic for you? And how many hours per week is this?

Alexei Ovchinnikov: This is 36 hours per week and another 36 hours that I must spend on preparations for this work.

Sergei Guriyev:  36 hours in class.

Alexei Ovchinnikov: Yes, 36 hours with the pupils, plus another…

Dmitry Medvedev: That is quite a lot.

Alexei Ovchinnikov: Plus preparing lessons and grading homework.

Dmitry Medvedev: But you really spend 36 hours in class per week, right?

Alexei Ovchinnikov: Yes, six classes per day, so it is rather difficult.

Dmitry Medvedev: This is a big burden.

Sergei Guriyev: It is incompatible with the quality level mentioned by Mr Frumin.

Alexei Ovchinnikov: Indeed, it is very difficult to ensure quality here, especially in an urban school with full classes. But in the city it is still possible to pay teachers more from the bonus fund, whereas in the countryside there are few children in each class and there is no opportunity to pay any bonuses because there may be no such fund at all.

Of course, large integrated schools have been established in recent years in line with the modernisation of education. Children are brought there from several nearby villages or towns to fill out classes. But I think bussing them to such schools is not enough.

I think we should promote distance learning. The draft law on education gives a clear-cut account of the principles of distance learning, but, unfortunately, no detailed mechanisms for it have been elaborated. But it is not the absence of these mechanisms and not even the absence of funds that create obstacles in this respect but the prejudiced mentality of both teachers and heads of educational bodies. Quite often when I suggest we organise some experimental site for distance learning, they say: “How come? How can education be outside a lesson, outside a class and without staff?” These prejudices prevent the introduction of distance learning technology. And, besides, the second problem…  

Dmitry Medvedev: Who are these people? Tell me please.

Alexei Ovchinnikov: I’d rather not.

Dmitry Medvedev: Just tell me in general – are they your school colleagues or heads of a higher body?

Remark: Judging by how the minister of education and science has blushed…

Alexei Ovchinnikov: Well, this was a conversation, so to speak. I don’t want to let anyone down.

I also wanted to say that apart from the regulatory framework, we don’t yet have any programmes for distance learning. I think the programme for the development of education in 2013-2020 contains a provision on creating a national educational portal for work with talented children.

I think it would be useful to create a distance module on this portal with courses on all subjects of the school programme. This would be very helpful for teachers and also for children, say, in the countryside, where special education could be organised for them remotely. Or, say, if there is no teacher for a certain subject in a rural school, children can get the necessary education on this portal so that they don’t have any gaps in their education and wouldn’t lose out to their urban peers.

So, this is my proposal. And I would like some expert teams to provide distance education courses in line with federal standards. This process should be expedited to the greatest extent possible. As I see it, this would make it possible to preserve rural schools and to ensure the overall development of Russian territories. To my mind, our territories lose the positions that they have achieved when children are bussed to basic schools. I believe that we have to develop them, and that we must focus on accessible school education, so that children studying and living in rural areas will have access to the best educational resources, as well as the same initial opportunities as students in urban schools.

Dmitry Medvedev: Indeed, you represent a real school environment. So, may I ask you a question about bussing children to schools? We had spent a lot of effort and money on this issue some time ago, and we continue to do so today. This is absolutely correct. To be honest, I have always believed that this is a blessing, especially when you watch all those foreign films showing yellow buses picking up pupils at some well-to-do Western town and taking them to a big modern school. Do you believe that this is not very good? I have always thought that it would be easier to gather proper teachers at some big school and provide proper education standards.

Alexei Ovchinnikov: Actually, the Russian administrative division traditionally differs from that of the United States. Russian villages and towns differ somewhat than their US equivalents. A chain of secondary schools was established in virtually every fairly large village, right? Supposing the buildings are there …

Dmitry Medvedev: In fairly large villages, without a doubt. This is absolutely correct, I wholeheartedly support this.  What I mean is a school with 15 pupils, for example.

Alexei Ovchinnikov: Yes, there are schools with five, ten and 15 pupils, but such schools are becoming obsolete. Parents often agree to take their children to larger schools.

Dmitry Medvedev: Yes, but, incidentally, it is precisely these schools that were shut down, for the most part. Mr Smolin has reproached the former Minister of Education for shutting down many schools, but there were a lot of schools that were under capacity. This is so.

Alexei Ovchinnikov: Yes, but, in my opinion, a normal educational process, including distance education technologies, can be organised at a school with 40 to 50 pupils, or so.

Dmitry Medvedev: By the way, I would like to agree with you on this issue because, speaking about the future of the entire countryside, any village lacking a school is doomed to extinction. I have already learned this.

Alexei Ovchinnikov: Absolutely.

Dmitry Medvedev: On the contrary, a village with even a relatively small, but viable, school continues to exist. As for distance education, we should finalise this issue. I believe it would be a good idea to think about the web portal and about the more active use of distance education mechanisms, especially with regard to the countryside.

As for the 36-hour workload, this is quite excessive. I remember a time when I lectured four times a day at a university. This made for a total of eight hours. It was absolutely impossible to do anything after that, and that was really difficult. If you teach six hours every day, this is a truly heroic feat.

Natalia Astafyeva (Head of the Tambov Region’s Education and Science Department): Excuse me, may I speak? My name is Natalia Astafyeva, and I head the Tambov Region’s Education and Science Department. My colleague is from the Lipetsk Region. I would like to point out that, as for remuneration, this is an exceptional case regarding this specific school principal. Indeed, this is not so, the new remuneration system is based on entirely different principles.

Dmitry Medvedev: So, is this the school principal’s fault?

Natalia Astafyeva: Yes, this is the right of the school principal, and therefore I can unequivocally say that this practice is not widespread, and that this is an exception. This situation should be assessed by the head of an education department. I will tell my colleague.

Alexei Ovchinnikov: This is not an exceptional case. We hear many such complaints. This is a real problem. Yes, this problem does exist.

Natalia Astafyeva: This is an unexpected mistake.

Dmitry Medvedev: You should sort things out. And I would like to ask one more question before we take the microphone from our teachers. Please tell us, do your graduates find it easier now to enroll in Moscow’s higher educational institutions?

Alexei Ovchinnikov: Yes, absolutely.

Dmitry Medvedev: Well, thank God.

Alexei Ovchinnikov: After improvements in the Unified State Exam procedure, our pupils began enrolling at leading higher educational institutions in Moscow, St Petersburg and other cities, including Lipetsk and Voronezh, which also ensure fairly good education standards.

Dmitry Medvedev: This is probably the main merit of that version of the Unified State Exam, which we are always criticising to some degree.

Alexei Ovchinnikov: You have noted correctly that the Unified State Exam is like a living organism, which requires constant development and renovation. It cannot be preserved in one and the same form over many years. This exam must develop and improve all the time. As a result, it will effectively accomplish all of its objectives.

Dmitry Medvedev: All right, thank you very much.

Sergei Guriyev: Mr Medvedev, your son has also enrolled at a Moscow-based higher educational institution.

Dmitry Medvedev: Not yet.

Sergei Guriyev: Not yet?

Dmitry Medvedev: He is considered enrolled after they entered him on the student list. He took several exams.

Sergei Guriyev: I see. Did he pass the exams?

Dmitry Medvedev: It appears so.

Sergei Guriyev: I would like to give the floor to Marina Voronova, chairwoman of the Krasnoyarsk-based “Beloved Children” Public Foundation. She will discuss her experience in the area of education at the kindergarten level.

Marina Voronova: Friends, colleagues, and Mr Medvedev, I would like to tell you about our organisation, which has been trying hard to eliminate the shortage of places at kindergartens since 2005. In all, 2,500 places for children have been created at kindergartens of various organisational-legal forms over the past seven years. I would like to mention some current statistics, to give you a clear idea of this issue. It's easiest for me to deal with statistics for the Krasnoyarsk Territory. Fifty six percent of children attend state-owned kindergartens; 54% of children don’t attend anywhere. In effect, our family kindergartens accommodate about 10% of children. One vacancy at family kindergartens costs 34 times less than vacancies at state-owned kindergartens.

Dmitry Medvedev: Thirty-four times less? 

Marina Voronova: Yes, 34 times less, if we build new facilities. One vacancy at a family kindergarten costs an average of 15,000 roubles, and one vacancy at a state-owned kindergarten costs 1.5 million roubles during the construction stage. All forecasts concerning the negative impact of the demographic slump of the 1990s are not coming true today. The Krasnoayrsk Territory’s population has increased by 11% to date. Our family kindergartens account for 130 educational institutions of different organisational-legal forms. The creation of similar places at state-owned kindergartens would require two billion roubles’ worth of federal allocations. Consequently, parents are quite happy with the results we have achieved.

Secondly, this helps save budgetary allocations and new jobs are being created. What problems are we facing today? We are unable to find in our legal environment any family kindergarten that would provide “supervision and care” for children. In effect, we don’t quite understand what “supervision and care” means for two-year-old or three-year-old children. If we teach them how to tie their shoe-laces and to use a handkerchief, then does this amount to educational services or supervision and care?

Dmitry Medvedev: It depends on each particular case and on how much they pay you for this. In some cases, this amounts to a service, and in other cases this is considered caring for children.

Marina Voronova: I am mentioning this deliberately because such concepts are unclear. We have been mailing letters to agencies at every level for the past five years, and we have received the relevant legal status because this obviously top-notch service is in high demand. We have been listed as “family and pre-school groups and other similar institutions of various organisational-legal forms” in the Sanitary Regulations and Standards. This is where we stop. In order to be able to ensure public-private partnership relations… What is a family kindergarten? It is completely financed by families, which order their children’s education, and which oversee this education. And when Ministry of Education officials ask about the role of the state, they also say that we need to obtain a license, so that they can cooperate with us and help us, but we can only obtain the licence of a non-profit educational establishment. Self-employed entrepreneurs account for 80% of the public sector. This is because it is economically sound, it's common sense. Under a patent, it's only 6,000 roubles a year. This is reasonable, specific and clear.

Hence I have two proposals: either extend the list of the forms of business ownership, or use our method. We have created two self-regulating organisations with standards as effective as the federal ones. The Strategic Initiatives Agency supported our idea a year ago. We sent them our proposals for a project on eliminating obstacles to the large-scale development of preschools as development centres…

Dmitry Medvedev: Ms Voronova, I’m sorry to say that I don't quite understand the second proposal. I can understand extending the list of the forms of business ownership, but what exactly is the essence of your second proposal?

Marina Voronova: Our second proposal does not stipulate extending anything.

Dmitry Medvedev: Really?

Marina Voronova: Yes, we suggest developing within the framework of self-regulating organisations, which is a very efficient way.

Dmitry Medvedev: Will you receive official status in this case, that is, if we don’t change anything?

Marina Voronova: Here is what the new law says. Let’s start at the beginning. What do we need a licence for? We need it to ensure that quality and safety are used as an argument for the government’s involvement in the process. There are several positive elements in self-regulating organisations. First, the standards are not lower than the federal ones. Second, they are public organisations, which allows for organising activity in a public format. And third, they have a compensation fund for parents to cover professional risks. In this respect, there are two options: either we receive a licence, or we develop as self-regulating organisations.

Dmitry Medvedev: Now I see. I don’t share you view regarding licences. They are also needed to justify the large number of officials whose job is to issue licences.

Marina Voronova: This is an excellent comment, because there are many non-state organisations – 130 organisations – that applied for a licence, which serves to show that the quality of our organisations is very high. Thanks to our governor – by the way, he has six children, we are lucky to have him… He has created a working group at the Education Ministry and has held several meetings with the Federal Service for Supervision of Consumer Protection and Welfare (Rospotrebnadzor) and the Emergencies Ministry on the issue of developing methodological recommendations, so that nearly all our organisations would be able to receive a licence. The situation is very simple: the quality has improved and you can receive a licence simply by notifying the authorities of your existence. But as soon as we receive a licence, the oversight agencies include us in all their registers and start inspecting us at the smallest complaint the very next day. Here is the problem... Mr Medvedev, Rospotrebnadzor is a cost-accounting agency, but we don’t have so much money in our sector. Do you see what I mean? In this respect, our employees are mostly women – mothers who work for us because they want to provide a good education for their children, and also teachers, whose salary is 5,000 to 6,000 roubles and who work for us because they want to apply their talents. The management standards are not very high, and so the pressure of oversight agencies weighs down on us rather heavily. Much has been done with regard to legislative and methodological recommendations, yet entrepreneurs do not want to file for a licence. In this sense, joining a self-regulating organisation is a way of protecting this sector.

Dmitry Medvedev: We understand.

Marina Voronova: Here is what I’d like to say: the basic principle of such innovative development centres, which our governor has supported, is that any parent and any entrepreneur should be able to turn to us for complete information about preschool upbringing and education. As of now, this is an undeveloped subject. Such centres could also be used for onsite training to enhance parents’ competence.

I would like to speak about a very important matter. Over the past 10 to 15 years, we dealt with economic matters and paid little attention to preschool upbringing and education, because we thought, wrongly so, that education begins at school, and here is the result. When we establish playground structures in yards, people say they have nowhere to park their cars and that having children is your personal affair. Hence we should do something to enhance the prestige of preschool teachers, because the difference between the official salary – 3,000 to 6,000 roubles – and the commercial salary of child nurses – 40,000 roubles – is… abysmal. In other words, we would like the status of preschool upbringing and education to be raised to an appropriate level, because these are fundamental matters.

Sergei Guriyev: Thank you very much, Ms Voronova.

Dmitry Medvedev: Yes, thank you. The only argument of your opponents that I support is that having children is indeed everyone’s personal affair. I would be happy if it were seen as a public affair. There was such a period in our history, but I don’t think we should revive it. I will comment later on some of the things [you have mentioned]…

Sergei Guriyev: In fact, Ms Dukhanina (Lyubov Dukhanina) has said that the rights of state and public organisations are being gradually levelled off, but as a character in a movie said, “No one has cancelled the Constitution yet.” The Constitution stipulates that different forms of business ownership have equal rights, and so the law will formalise this principle. And we must certainly do our utmost to give state and non-state educational establishments equal status, equal access to licences, budgetary funds, etc.

Dmitry Medvedev: In fact, this is what we have been doing…

Marina Voronova: I believe that parents shoulder 100% of payments.

Dmitry Medvedev: I kindly request that you pass on the microphone. We have been working on this in recent years. And I don’t think anyone here can accuse, at least not me, of not trying to create a model in which non-state preschools, in particular such non-traditional ones, can receive legal status. Unfortunately, we have not succeeded in full. It is true that the position of various inspecting agencies and bodies, which have oversight functions, is excessively harsh, and we will have to do something about this. Anyway, the fundamental principles of such organisations, as you say, should be fixed in the new law on education. And your words about their cheapness – you said they are 34 times less expensive – are very inspiring, because this could be a way out for the state. Let’s consider this.

Sergei Guriyev: Especially since this is the sphere of education, where affordability is a big problem.

Dmitry Medvedev: Yes, exactly. Unfortunately, despite all our efforts and large allocations to this sector (I am referring to the construction of new preschools), about 2 million children are waiting for places at preschools. Given that the birth rate has grown in some regions, which is a good thing, very many children are still waiting in line for a place at a preschool.

Sergei Guriyev: I’d like to give the floor to Svetlana Sechko, a member of the governing board of a general school in the town of Mytishchi. It should be remembered that we, the educational community, work not for ourselves, but for the people, for school students, preschool children and their parents. Of course, it is very important to involve them in discussions of the new law on education and the development programme for the education sector. Ms Sechko, please.

Svetlana Sechko (member of the governing board of School No 25 in the town of Mytishchi): Mr Medvedev, ladies and gentlemen, experts. We all know that the world keeps changing, and so do social requirements. Society is becoming more open and computerised, which leads to changes in the demands which the state and society place on education. In modern conditions, the involvement not only of the state, but also of citizens, families and active parents in managing education is becoming increasingly more important. In other words, there are plans to develop education as an open integrated state pubic system. This approach has many critics, but we parents believe that we are the main clients, and as such, we want to be actively involved in the education of our children. Openness of schools means that school activity must be completely transparent, from tuition to expenditures, from planning the curricula to determining the principles for calculating teachers’ salaries. The governing boards consisting above all of active parents and representatives of district authorities should monitor the schools and promote their transparency.

The governing board of my school includes teachers, parents, high school students and representatives of the public. The joint work of school authorities and the governing boards helps to develop new, confidential partner relations between students, teachers, families and various services and public organisations that are active in a number of spheres. This approach to school management involves not only collective decision making and joint efforts to resolve problems, but also collective, public control and enhanced personal responsibility of everyone for the quality of education and upbringing. The cooperation of all participants of the educational process, and the system of governance that develops at the school level are guarantees of a systemic, targeted and flexible management of the educational establishment. This form of social cooperation creates conditions for improving the quality of education.

Open information about a school’s activity is vital for strengthening the trust of parents and teachers. Everyone must know the true state of affairs at a school. I believe that by enhancing the openness and transparency of schools, we can also increase the level of public control. School websites serve as a way to enhance schools’ openness and transparency. The website of our school is a modern virtual bridge between the school and parents, educational authorities and the general public. It is a venue where people can talk with the school principal in a virtual reception room, browse photographs, learn about events planned at the school, read the school’s news and the legislative acts regulating school activity, as well as other information that is of interest for parents.

By agreement with the governing board, from September 1 our school will convert to electronic teachers’ and pupils’ mark books, just as all other schools in our district, which is one more element contributing to school openness. The governing board organises weekly meetings with parents, where they can obtain information or file their requests.

We see how the proper conditions and a special environment, which have been taking shape in our school, are helping our children feel comfortable and interested in studying the world around them, developing their abilities, and perceiving themselves as successful individuals who are valued not only by their parents, but also by their school, their city and their country.    

In agreement with the basic idea of the draft federal law On Education in the Russian Federation, which is currently under discussion, the parents of our school believe that amendments to the law are in line with the present-day requirements, which are aimed at modernising the education system, increasing openness and further improving public governance.

We invite everyone to cooperate in a mutually enriching and fruitful manner, and we appreciate the desire to be involved in our life. We are also eager to consider the suggestions and criticisms of all those who work for us and for our children. Thank you for your attention.

Dmitry Medvedev: Thank you Ms Sechko. I think everybody appreciated what you just said. It’s very good information.

Sergei Guriyev: Well, everybody can visit the web sites and leave their comments. School and pre-school students were not invited to speak here, but we did invite university students.  

Dmitry Medvedev: Yes, and we need to alternate speakers, somewhat.

Sergei Guriyev: I would like to give the floor to Igor Chirikov, a graduate student who would like to present his view on students’ rights and responsibilities. Igor, please go ahead. 

Igor Chirikov: I am afraid my speech won’t be quite so eloquent, but…

Dmitry Medvedev: You should prepare better. There are so many prominent people here, after all. 

Igor Chirikov: I would like to say a few words concerning students’ rights and how to ensure them in the framework of the state programme. I believe students have three main types of rights vis-à-vis their universities. The first consists of the ability to make a free, informed, and conscious choice of an educational facility and a curriculum. And the possibility to exercise this right is directly related to the openness and transparency of the universities.  

Currently, not all universities are prepared to provide the necessary information, which complicates this decision. As demonstrated by a survey conducted by the Higher School of Economics jointly with RIA Novosti (I am referring to the university web site transparency survey), only a quarter of all universities have information on their curriculum and faculty available on their web sites. 

In addition, to encourage universities to be more open and more transparent for students, alternative open information sources must be created, such as national student satisfaction surveys and information on graduates’ employment. This will allow future students to make an informed choice of their educational institution. At the same time, knowing where their graduates are employed will help universities to develop and improve their educational programmes.

The second right is related to the fact that students should be able to enroll in a university that has clear-cut rules and regulations that provide for zero tolerance to all kinds of dishonest behavior, corruption, cheating and plagiarism.

At present, neither the law nor the state programme provide for an academic “fair play” concept of sorts that can help increase the predictability of what is happening at universities, while at the same time improving the quality of education.

Dmitry Medvedev: You were a student yourself not long ago, and are currently a post-graduate student. Do you know how this can be done? Fair play is obviously a good thing, but how can it be realised?

Igor Chirikov: I believe there are two…

Dmitry Medvedev: For instance, is there a fair play at the Higher School of Economics?

Igor Chirikov: That’s what I am going to talk about now. There are two aspects here. First, at the Higher School of Economics…

Sergei Guriyev: Mr Kuzminov and I have expelled a bachelor student for plagiarism. And this student knows now that fair play exists, and other students also know that these are not just empty words. 

Dmitry Medvedev: Yes, but in some countries, heads of state and government resign when their involvement in plagiarism is revealed. It is, in a sense, the highest degree of responsibility, although I'm sure they are not making that decision voluntarily, but under the pressure of public opinion and their own political party. Sorry to interrupt you, please go on.

Igor Chirikov: I believe there are two aspects to this issue. First, many universities have no regulations when it comes to consequences for students and faculty who have committed plagiarism...

Dmitry Medvedev: Well, I do know what the consequences are for students. When I caught a student cheating, I simply failed him on that exam. As far as the consequences for the faculty… 

Igor Chirikov: In fact, the practices vary widely. Some will fail such a student, some will report him or her to the administration, and others will simply do nothing.

Dmitry Medvedev: That’s true.

Igor Chirikov: Currently, however, neither students nor professors have a clear understanding of the consequences they might be facing. And from this point of view, what’s been happening at the Higher School of Economics... It has been already six or seven years since we established a policy on plagiarism and cheating, and every year we survey the students’ and faculty members’ opinions on the type of penalty that should be applied for plagiarism and cheating.

Dmitry Medvedev: And what penalty do you think should be applied? Tell us frankly what should be done to a student who is caught cheating on an exam, or to a post-graduate student who has plagiarised half of his thesis, or to a professor who has long since stopped doing anything on his own, and whose books and papers are written by his students. What penalties do you think they should face?   

Igor Chirikov: You put me in an awkward situation because…

Dmitry Medvedev: Is it because your university rector is present here? You knew what you were getting into and you raised this issue. We have not even touched on corruption. 

Igor Chirikov: Perhaps they should be expelled.

Dmitry Medvedev: Expelled. What about the faculty? In fact, these are not idle words. This kind of concept that provides for strict penalties for students and faculty members can be included in the law on education. 

Igor Chirikov: I believe it is important… For example, at the Higher School of Economics, students know that the policy on plagiarism and cheating applies not only to them, but also to their professors. And there have been precedents in which faculty members were having problems for being involved in plagiarism. 

Remark: Some have been fired.

Yaroslav Kuzminov (Rector of the Higher School of Economics National Research University): There is no such thing as “being fired” for a person who is involved in… 

Dmitry Medvedev: What? Please tell us, Mr Kuzminov. It seems as though Igor was only too happy to give up the microphone.

Yaroslav Kuzminov: I think students will believe in it when… Sergei and I spoke on Dozhd (Rain) Radio Station recently, and we were asked the same question there. We said that people will believe, students will believe that… 

Dmitry Medvedev: Here is even better than Dozhd, there are very many people here.

Yaroslav Kuzminov: ...will believe that they should behave in that way, when we ourselves start behaving the same way, and then such improper behaviour becomes impossible among faculty members at every school. Unfortunately, the law does not regulate this issue and we have no direct instruments. This seriously undermines the efforts of those schools, which are ready to take on this problem.   

Dmitry Medvedev: Well, maybe we should think about that. I am not sure that this should be prescribed by law. Perhaps, a general norm in the law would be sufficient, plus an additional norm in a by-law and a government resolution.

It should suffice to take disciplinary action, including dismissal, against students, graduate students and faculty, who have committed the relevant violations. We can certainly do this, but obviously it is a very complex model, and it is likely to cause a lot of conflicts. But if we want to tackle this issue, we should go for it. And we have now gradually reached an issue that has not been discussed, but which, indeed, is extremely important. I am talking about corruption in the sphere of education. In fact, corruption was also mentioned within the Open Government format some time ago. It was subdivided into major, terrible and large-scale corruption involving senior officials and petty, everyday corruption, including that in the field of education. To speak openly, ordinary people face corruption like this more frequently than corruption on the part of officials, because they don’t deal with officials very often. Perhaps not everyone, but many people face various forms of education-related corruption.

I can tell you that these dishonest practices developed over the past few years, because I recall my school or student years… I don’t want to say that the situation in the Soviet Union was sterile or perfect. On the contrary, there were a lot of problems, but there was no corruption. I can vouch for this: There was no corruption at my university where I studied and lectured, nor anywhere else. What are we to do with this, Igor? You will become a lecturer soon. Do you plan to become one?

Igor Chirikov: I am already…

Dmitry Medvedev: You already are, I see.

Igor Chirikov: … My stance on this issue is rather complicated. It appears that I speak on behalf of students, but since I am a lecturer…  

Dmitry Medvedev: Your stance regarding corruption is complicated? Do we need to fight corruption?

Igor Chirikov: Speaking of corruption, it is my opinion that any projects within the format of legislation and the state programme would not produce any results unless such processes are regulated and monitored accordingly. Otherwise this vice would corrode the entire system.

Dmitry Medvedev: You see, the problem is that it is very difficult to find evidence of such activity. When I speak of corruption at higher educational institutions, I don’t only mean a situation in which a lecturer asks a student to pay for his or her good marks. Unfortunately, this also happens rather often. Such activity is particularly widespread at higher educational institutions with the lowest ratings, simply because the professors and lecturers there are no good. But there are much more complex forms of corruption, including proposals to render support to a particular higher educational institution or school, or a proposal to involve the potentialities of parents in resolving some issue. All this exists, and not only at a high level, not only in Moscow. This exists in all cities. So, we have to do something about this.

Igor Chirikov: Apart from various measures to regulate this sphere, to monitor corruption and unfair practices, we should probably think about organising the educational process in such a way so as to make corruption, plagiarism and cheating pointless or at least unprofitable in terms of the relevant social status within professional communities or in terms of specific content. For example, individual assignments and some types of R&D projects might be considered education, but within their format… Technically speaking, if four students complete the same R&D project, then their respective contributions to the projects should be obvious. Consequently, other students would pressure a lazy student who does not deliver, to some extent.

Dmitry Medvedev: Depending on the situation. And what do the rectors think about this?

Yaroslav Kuzminov: Mikhail Abyzov and I have just talked to each other and have decided to suggest an initiative. We will establish a working group within the format of the Open Government in order to suggest anti-corruption mechanisms in those areas where such corruption mingles with everyday corruption. This includes the most complicated areas, such as healthcare and education, because doctors also face similar problems. I believe that reputation serves as the main anti-corruption mechanism in the work of professional communities, in which their members find it dishonourable to take bribes. Our efforts to raise wages and to sign performance-assessment contracts with doctors and professors are the first and absolutely necessary anti-corruption measure. This measure is not sufficient, because those persons who are used to taking bribes will go on taking them, regardless of their own wage levels. But other people who will join this system might behave according to completely different standards. Reputation, the public reputation of a team, a university, a clinic, etc, is the second aspect. All this boils down to wages and transparency.

Dmitry Medvedev: I believe this is correct… 

Yaroslav Kuzminov: And there must also be publicity.

Dmitry Medvedev: …as regards to any form of corruption, but particularly with regard to such cases, in the education and healthcare spheres, at least in part. And even within the Interior Ministry’s system, the system of police divisions. When a person does not take bribes precisely because it is dangerous for him or her, because he cares about his or her reputation and because he or she risks losing more than might be acquired, then this is the best preventative measure. Let’s establish such a group then.

Sergei Guriyev: Yes, we must create this group. In my opinion, there are a few issues that Igor has not mentioned. As a rector, I consider them to be particularly important in this area. There is no choice as to whether to fight this evil or not. We fight pickpockets, and we consider this to be a crime. We don’t say that criminals take offence when they are imprisoned for thievery. We don’t have such problems, and this does not lead to any conflicts. Cheating, plagiarism or bribery at higher educational institutions also amounts to thievery. Consequently, it's no question whether to fight this or not.

From whom do these people steal? Many people believe that when they cheat, plagiarise, bribe a lecturer in exchange for a good mark and buy degree certificates, they are robbing the state. But no, they are robbing their own comrades, whose degree certificates become less valuable. Consequently, this must be discussed in an open and straightforward manner, because this amounts to robbing one’s own colleagues.

And one more point. Of course, we must fight this. Some countries have travelled down this road. And, of course, we will be able to eliminate such practices, if we deem them unacceptable.

And I wanted to say something else, but you were the first to speak, Mr Kuzminov... I just wanted to say that the Open Government has already voiced proposals on what should be done, and how to create reputation-assessment mechanisms for specific professors, higher educational institutions and programmes. We will create these mechanisms, and, of course, we will be able to overcome this problem.

Corruption in education is a special issue, because people enrolling at higher educational institutions will develop their own personalities. If they realise that everything is for sale, and that bribes and corruption are normal, this means that we are educating bad citizens. And this means that the education system does not fulfill its key function. Oleg Smolin has discussed services and a dedicated attitude, etc, but the education of worthy citizens, rather than just providing skills and knowledge, is the main function of the education system.

And when they tell me that bribery at higher educational institutions is normal because society tolerates this, then one might draw the opposite conclusion, which is that society tolerates this because the education system is riddled with corruption. And, of course, we have no choice but to fight corruption at higher educational institutions because there can be no “good” or “bad” aspects here. I believe that we absolutely cannot tolerate this, otherwise all our bills and state programmes will be in vain, as Igor has correctly said.

Dmitry Medvedev: I support you completely in this sense. Indeed, this problem does not concern the education system alone. This problem concerns society, and it shows that moral criteria have really changed. Unfortunately, such moral criteria have become more lax, and we can no longer put up with this situation. I even remember a time when it was completely impossible to imagine the absolute majority of situations, which are now considered possible and admissible at various educational institutions. And this is a psychological problem, if you like, if an under-graduate student, a post-graduate student or a lecturer is ready to do this from the very beginning, if he or she is ready to cheat while writing an academic paper, because such is their attitude towards their degree certificate and towards their knowledge and because they don’t care at all. They just want to obtain some document and display it in various places.

The same is true of lecturers. They care nothing about their own individual opinion of science and education, nor about the education of students and school pupils. All they want is to obtain a specific result. How can we change all this? In fact, this amounts to a major and extremely complicated problem, because a considerable share of moral deeds that you have mentioned was previously formulated as moral taboos in the ethical code of every person, and these deeds are no longer considered as such.

Take the issue of plagiarism, for example. You have said that we show no mercy for pickpockets. We believe that they have committed a crime, and we treat them with toughness. At the same time, and I have repeatedly mentioned this example, until recently, an absolute majority of people had no misgivings about using pirated computer software or pirated DVD films. In reality, this amounts to complicity in a crime, and, incidentally, this situation does not exist in many countries. The same is completely true of plagiarism, as well as people who take advantage of other people’s labour without due permission and remuneration. And I am not talking about commonplace bribes and everything else. Of course, all this amounts to a crime. And everyone, including those who are more lenient towards their associates, realises this. Can you try to come up with something?

Sergei Guriyev: We will try and draft our proposals. My colleagues are telling me that Mr Medvedev has to attend another meeting…  

Dmitry Medvedev: No, I can stay, but, in that case we would fail to allocate funding for education, which would receive no money.

Sergei Guriyev: There are very many people who would like to speak…

Dmitry Medvedev: Let’s give some more people a chance, who have not spoken yet – the rectors have already spoken. Who among those… did not speak?

Sergei Guriyev: Alexei Repik, chairman of the Board of Directors. 

Dmitry Medvedev: I mean people from that social strata, so to speak.

Sergei Guriyev: Here is one of our clients, an employer.

Dmitry Medvedev: Oh, yes, that's right.

Sergei Guriyev: Alexei, you have the floor.

Alexei Repik (chairman of the Board of Directors at R-Farm Co.): Thank you, colleagues. We have heard here that parents are customers in education, placing orders for educated specialists. I believe that the business community also orders educated specialists. Mr Medvedev, first of all, I would like to thank you for your personal contribution to the development of the public-private partnership in the area of education. We became acquainted with Pyotr Chubik, who is present here, at the first Open Government meeting. This acquaintance and our common interest in professional education have yielded practical results, and we have established the Pharmaceutical and Biotechnology Industry Academy on the basis of Tomsk Polytechnic University. This project is now being successfully implemented. We have built a model centre and designed the “Engineering in the Pharmaceutical and Bio-Technology Industry” master’s programme. It is not a large centre by this country’s measure, but it is a practical result that helps us to move towards our common goal – towards the very serious goal of bridging the gap between the needs of the economy and what the educational system can deliver today. Creating an interface that would enable business to set targets for personnel training proactively is vital for the competitiveness of our economy globally. We must be able to influence the situation and explain how many specialists business will need, when, and which kind. One way to solve this task is to create and develop a system of public-private partnerships in education. I think that such partnerships can take four primary forms. First, the direct participation of business in implementing educational and additional educational programmes, like in our Tomsk project. Business can contribute not only financially, but, even more importantly, by introducing best global practices, attracting domestic and foreign industrial experts to the planning of the study process, and bringing everything that business needs into study modules.

It should be noted that the new draft law does offer such opportunities in additional and vocation education. However, there is a serious barrier because legislation does not specify the legal forms of non-profit legal entities that can be co-founded with the private sector and with government bodies at various levels, specifically municipalities. The solution should make financing such projects more stable. As is, when we finance and state institutions provide financing, they should expect some auditing or control agency to come and challenge them over the issue.

The second PPP area is the direct participation of business in financing projects aimed at developing applied research at higher educational institutions. An example of such interaction is the project set up under Government Resolution No. 218. We are building a factory in Rostov to produce pharmaceuticals and the EGPU provides pilot industrial regulations that the Ministry of Education and Science endorses. If we have more projects of this kind, our higher educational institutions will become like the normal global leaders, our universities will generate IP and real technology, and we will put this into practice.

A third important area... Business can make various specialisations and disciplines more attractive for students by motivating them to acquire the most needed knowledge and raising the quality of studies and training. Vehicles of such influence could be the targeted enrolment of senior-year student groups in certain types of training financed by business, or a grant programme for gifted students who show promise in certain specialities. Over 200 top students in core specialities receive personal grants from R-Farm. Incidentally, they all go on to apply for the personal Presidential Grant and they say that if they combine the two grants, they end up earning more than their parents, and they say they want to study here because they see that somebody really needs them. By the way, when somebody receives several grants, this is taken into consideration by the commission.

The last vital point – I understand that I am running out of time is that it is impossible to train a competitive specialist without providing an opportunity to work with modern, high-tech equipment. Business has a vital stake in this being the case and we want to offer internships – opportunities for final-year students to prepare their diploma projects... If we do not do this, the process of putting a new worker into operation – the Communist Party would balk at the use of such a term, but it is really a process of putting a worker into operation – without spending extra time and money is greatly impeded. In reality, it is not about a worker being treated as some kind of machine, but rather about a worker making good use of his potential and the potential of the economy.

In general, Mr Medvedev, I would appreciate it if you gave the task of studying opportunities for the joint financing of educational institutions by the public sector, budgets at various levels and the private sector, including through co-founding mechanisms. This will be helpful to all of us. Thank you very much.

Dmitry Medvedev: Thank you.

Sergei Guriyev: Thank you. I would like to call on Vladimir Vasilyev, the rector of the National Research University of IT, Mechanics and Optics – one of the country’s leading educational establishments.

Vladimir Vasilyev (Rector of the National Research University of IT, Mechanics and Optics): Mr Medvedev, esteemed colleagues. I’ll try to keep it down to three minutes. I think that we have a unique chance to test the law of dialectics – the transition of quantity into quality – especially in the higher professional educational system. It has been noted more than once that the number of higher educational institutions and their branches in our country has increased to several times more than any person needs or the state requires. Naturally, in order to acquire a quality higher professional education, so that the bar for entering a higher educational institution should at least be high enough for a person to have to lift his foot, there are only two instruments that can be used. The first one has been mentioned by Dmitry Medvedev, and that is simply the rehabilitation of the branches of higher educational institutions that deliver pseudo-education – that actually just issue degrees. This is really not so easy. Six years ago, we closed down the Higher Administrative School in St Petersburg. So as not to leave students in the lurch, we distributed them among better known institutions such as the Economics and Finance University, the Engineering and Economics University, and so on. We met with fierce resistance when we attempted to close down a comparatively small state-run higher educational institution.

The second instrument, or mechanism, seems to make more sense to me. This is the merger or integration of higher educational institutions... For example, into national research universities. I have experience taking over the former “Cooler”, which is how the Lower Temperature and Food Technologies University was referred to. The question is whether it will be a merger or an acquisition. If there is no additional financing – for a year or two – the process is going to be difficult. From an economic point of view, I think the economy stands to gain…

I will just cite the example of our merger. All of the national research universities and all of the leading universities have an entrance barrier... I am referring to the Unified State Exam score. We do not admit applicants with a score under 195 in their three exams. Thus, enrolment in the freshman year dropped by nearly 30% this year. Clearly, this will increase every year, and if you take four years, the little extra financing will be made up for many times over. We have counted the amount of financing needed. If an institution enrols 1,500 or 2,000 applicants in the day department, this works out to 100 million a year for three years. That is the first thesis. Some form of short-term co-financing is necessary.

Second. Graduate and postgraduate studies and higher levels must be concentrated at leading universities. This would also result in some economy – not only in terms of space, but also in terms of finances.

And third and last... Mr Medvedev, every government department has one, two, three or four higher educational institutions today. Setting aside medical institutions – as this is a different story – I think if we are to pursue a sound and coherent policy, we should eliminate duplication and bring everything under the Ministry of Education and Science, and get rid of the practice of having three or four educational institutions. Look at the Ministry of Communications and Mass media – they have four higher educational institutions. Do they need them? Perhaps they do…

Dmitry Medvedev: For them, it makes sense.

Vladimir Vasilyev:  Maybe yes, maybe no. But since we are talking about a university, this is all about the environment. And if we train good, normal programmers, I think that we can train communications and digital specialists at least as well as the Leningrad Electronic and Technical Communications Institute, and so on…

And one should bear in mind one difficult aspect – the merger procedure. Of course, all of the staff members and academic councils will be against doing this because the corporate structures vary. I am not saying that some are worse than others and there are different requirements, but the corporate cultures are different. So, there is more than just the question of transparency and open discussion – broad discussion…We could spend more time discussing this than the law on education unless we thoroughly discuss the pros and cons, so as to create higher educational institutions that would hold their own against the world's best universities. Actually, we have such ambitions because we beat MIT and Stanford and so on – I mean, in science contests. Thank you.

Dmitry Medvedev: Thank you.

Sergei Guriyev: Thank you very much, Vladimir Vasilyev.

Dmitry Medvedev: First of all, dear colleagues, do I understand you correctly that we are going to introduce this law? This is the purpose of our gathering. I understand that the mood is in favour of introducing the law in one form or another – there is an alternative version…

Sergei Guriyev: To live under the 1992 law…

Dmitry Medvedev: The absolute majority are in favour... Now, in terms of the themes discussed here. My colleagues have prepared a list of the questions raised in your speeches, including the mechanisms to ensure the average pay for workers in education. I am going straight to another meeting and I will begin the next discussion on this issue. We are scheduled to discuss public sector wages with the Ministry of Finance. The discussion will cover the education sphere, financing mechanisms, the idea voiced here that the joint financing of educational services is inadmissible, and possible amendments to budget legislation... We will go over all of these points with the government. I would like you to stay involved because if there is no pressure, then much of what we have been talking about will simply vanish. You know from your own experience that when there is no pressure, things are not moving.

The second point that I would like to make… Coming back to the assessment of our education, I myself feel that there are many things that are wrong with the way that our education is structured. And yet, I see that it is not dead... It is evolving. There is a fair amount of money in the system – more by an order of magnitude than until recently. This does not produce an immediate effect. There is no direct translation of quantity into quality as mentioned here, but it will show in the long run. However, it is up to us to rationally distribute this money. I do not only mean the government, of course. The government is directly responsible. But I also mean all of us – the educational community. Because, you can identify the right priorities where money can go, how to make the best use of the money, and how to adopt the state programme, which is a historic document, and a very necessary document.

As for the law, having received your mandate to consider the issue at the government meeting tomorrow, I will naturally convey your opinion to the cabinet members. I hope that we will be able to discuss the draft law tomorrow and send it to the State Duma. However, I hope that we will be able to continue discussing this draft law and the other draft with our colleagues at the State Duma. Indeed, I will do this within a few hours. I will have a meeting with Gennady Zyuganov. Can I tell him, Mr Smolin, that we have agreed on how we will move forward on the draft education laws?

Oleg Smolin: We have agreed that we will back the government draft if it takes into account the maximum number of our proposals.

Dmitry Medvedev: I understand. Very well. Actually, there is nothing extraordinary about this. We are interested in having all of the sound proposals that have been made included in the draft law that will be put before the Duma.

Remark: They have already been included.

Dmitry Medvedev: Yes, many of them have been taken into account, as Mr Smolin said, and we discussed this with Mr Livanov (Dmitry Livanov, Minister of Education and Science) as somebody who is responsible today for the educational system in our country. In fact, all of us are responsible for this... Thank you very much. And all the best to you.