Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev chairs a government meeting
Dmitry Medvedev: Good afternoon, colleagues. Please, be seated.
Colleagues. Today we will be discussing a number of very important topics. Probably the most important of them is the legislation on education and the corresponding draft law, work on which has already been ongoing for several years; possibly the most interesting and noteworthy aspect of this is that for the past two years this has been conducted as a public discussion. I don’t think I can remember another law that was discussed for such a lengthy period of time. The law on the police was discussed but for not quite as long a time before we approved it. Discussion of this law has been going on for a very long time, it concerns everyone, and this topic is of interest to a huge number of people, both professionals and members of the general public. A significant number of our people have taken part in the discussions. But the time has come to draw some conclusions from this discussion.
In the opinion of the experts, the basic 1992 law On Education, in spite of all the amendments and additions that have been made to it, no longer reflects current realities and is not capable of regulating, as the lawyers say, public relations in this sphere. The gap between the demands of educational practice and the legislative provision for this practice has grown too wide. A lot has changed in 20 years and new trends have emerged, both positive and negative. It has become customary to criticise our education. Yesterday I took part in a discussion of the education law. Various points of view were expressed but nevertheless it must be admitted that our education is still alive, which is what I said towards the end of the meeting. This was confirmed by some information we’ve just received. On Wednesday our national physics team brought back three gold and two silver medals from the International Physics Olympiad on their return to Moscow. This means that our education is world-class, at least in certain areas. It’s great news and I will have to arrange a meeting with them.
The new law will require a radical update to the entire legislative framework governing education. Over 100 federal laws will have to be amended. The associated costs – which are expected to be significant, we discussed them with our colleagues yesterday – will include increases to teacher salaries, increases to student allowances and the costs associated with the redistribution of powers in education. The costs will be covered by the budget allocations for these purposes. If the bill is passed, an additional 16 billion roubles from the federal budget and over 400 billion roubles from the regional budgets will be required in 2013 alone. At the same time, the municipal expenses will be reduced by 112 billion roubles.
At a meeting of the Open Government yesterday, we talked about the opportunities created by the bill for the development of pre-school, general, secondary, vocational and higher education. Basically, the law should both resolve the current problems in education and serve as the basis for developing human potential in the country. I would like to stress that education has been and will remain free in Russia. Most provisions of the previous basic law, such as access to education, the right to choose a school, tuition in your native language, and several other provisions, will not only remain a priority for us, but will also be elaborated in greater detail. For example, the chapter on the status of teaching staff sets out all their rights, duties and, of course, responsibilities. Their opportunities for professional advancement and levels of salary will be guaranteed. This is the first thing I wanted to say.
Second, the law will formalise the provisions on the introduction of new educational programmes, modern technologies and advanced forms and methods of education. In our large country, it is very important we do everything we can to ensure equal access to preschool, general and additional education for everyone. No matter where children receive their education, be it in Moscow or in an outlying village, they must be given the opportunity to choose their own individual learning trajectory. This is a question of distance learning, electronic technologies, integrated curricula and all the other methods in the modern education arsenal. They are already being made active use of, but not everywhere.
Thirdly, particular attention is paid in the draft law to talented children and teenagers, like those who recently took part in the Olympiad. I’d like to remind you that we recently adopted a national strategy for identifying and supporting talented children, and we must act in accordance with it. Children with special needs will be guaranteed inclusive education. I would like to stress that all social guarantees have been clearly formulated in the draft law and their details should be covered by other legislative acts or direct application procedures.
Fourthly, the draft law proposes modernising vocational training. Blue-collar occupations will now be taught at secondary vocational training schools and training centres and training will also be provided on the job. The issue of primary vocational training, which was mentioned during our discussions with the Open Government experts yesterday, requires special attention. I’m not suggesting we make fundamental amendments now, but we need to introduce this kind of basic vocational training one way or another. The role of such basic education in the draft law and its place [in society] could be determined during the hearings of the law in the State Duma. This would expand the opportunities for people and for employers interested in training skilled workers.
Fifth, the document highlights the issue of supporting experimental and innovative activities in higher education and developing additional education. In order to teach young people how to study and then put what they’ve learned into practice, we have to create a network that connects together schools, and vocational training schools and colleges with universities and businesses.
In conclusion, I would like to say a few words about the responsibility of all the participants in the educational process. It is obvious that the state, society and every family share a common goal, that of educating our children. This is day-to-day work that requires time, attention and a big emotional investment. Life in schools and universities has become completely open and transparent. Every educational establishment has public councils to monitor the quality of education and the content of courses and curricula. I’d like to say that the information openness of educational establishments is one of the key conditions for modernising the education system in this country.
The next issue we will address today concerns the simplification of monitoring foreign investment in business entities of strategic importance, or strategic companies, as we call them. A number of decisions regarding this issue have already been taken. The procedure for considering requests has been simplified, the list of the types of activity regarded as strategic has been reduced, and access to some economic sectors for foreign capital, in particular banking and mining, has been simplified. We will now consider new amendments. They concern foreign investment and will enable us, first, to rule out repeat consideration of foreign investment issues by the Government Commission on Monitoring Foreign Investment, whose meeting I am going to chair in the near future. This concerns decisions on the preliminary approval of transactions where the presenting party has already fulfilled its obligations, meaning all this does not have to be considered again at the Commission meeting. Secondly, permission has to be given to extend the validity of the earlier adopted decision on preliminary approval of the deal. Thirdly, if such a transaction does not require preliminary approval or has been submitted in reference to an association which is not strategic, the Anti-Monopoly Service can make the necessary decision itself. Of course, these are organisational issues, but these types of issues are what make up the investment climate. And, naturally, work to attract foreign investments should continue.
The next issue concerns support for multi-child families. We have persisted in increasing financing in this area even under the current very difficult conditions. They are monthly payments for families following the birth of their third and subsequent children. The payment comes to around 7,000 roubles, or, to be more specific, it varies from 5,000 to 11,000 roubles, depending on the cost of raising a child in the region where the family lives. The sum will be paid to parents until the child reaches the age of three. As agreed, we will introduce these monthly payments on a co-financing basis in those regions which are experiencing a difficult demographic situation, where the overall fertility rate is lower than the Russian average. Sadly, there are now many of these regions, about 50 in all. Today we will approve the list of these regions. Of course, this list is not final, and it may be amended, but I expect regional officials to become actively involved in this work and to develop the required regulatory framework, given that this money can be a real help for a large number of young parents with many children.
A couple of words on social payments. Sick leave certificates and maternity benefits should be guaranteed. This is the current rule. Citizens should receive them regardless of any fortuitous circumstances such as a business going bankrupt. In these cases, the money will be paid at the territorial body of the Social Insurance Fund. In this regard, the government has drawn up amendments to the corresponding law, which expand the grounds for making direct applications to the territorial bodies of the Fund, and increase the financial responsibility of insurers who act as joint debtors for the corresponding commitments. I believe these efforts will help strengthen the social protection of our citizens.
We have a lot of other issues to discuss as well. As far as I remember, we always have a certain number of them in our agenda, at least 18, and we have never had 15.
Let’s get to work. Mr Livanov, please proceed with your report on the law on education.
Dmitry Livanov (Minister of Education and Science): Mr Medvedev, ladies and gentlemen, the Ministry of Education and Science elaborated a draft federal law on education in the Russian Federation in the process of implementing measures on priority directions of the educational system for the period up to 2010. The Government Lawmaking Commission endorsed the concept and the technical assignment of the draft in 2009.
As Mr Medvedev said in his opening remarks, the current legislation on education was one of the most progressive at its time, but it's been 20 years since it was adopted, and it does not fully reflect the existing relations in education. Moreover, numerous changes in this sphere in the last few years have created a gap between the requirements of the educational practice and its legislative support. The practice of introducing amendments into the current normative acts on education has largely exhausted its resources. The proposed draft law on education preserves and specifies the basic operating principles and guarantees of implementing the rights of people in the sphere of education. The new law relies on the results of upgrading the educational system. It reflects the best educational practices and technology that has proven its effectiveness in recent years.
The draft reaffirms the principle of openness in the educational system. With this aim in view, it seals such tried-and-true mechanisms as participation of interested public representatives, employers and students in running and assessing the effectiveness of educational activities, for instance, through public and professional accreditation, an account of its results in government accreditation and the like. The openness of the educational system for consumers is expressed in a number of ways. Thus, an educational organisation must have a website, where there is a list of information it has to publish, it must carry reports on self-inspection, and so on.
The draft consolidates the system of monitoring in education, which will make it possible to conduct comprehensive analysis of it over time and at the level of individual organisations. The draft also introduces a system of independent assessment of the quality of education. This system will allow specialised agencies to assess the performance of educational institutions, in part, to verify the authenticity of their information on the quality of education and its conformity with the expectations of those who order and use educational services.
In addition, the draft offers a number of new mechanisms aimed at developing the industry. First, it expands the range of organisations that fall under different forms of ownership, that provide students with free education, and gives NGOs, including commercial agencies, more opportunities for educational activities. Second, the draft provides for additional opportunities of ensuring that every child has access to pre-school education, both in families and government institutions and not only in kindergartens, but also in groups affiliated with schools and in organisations involved in extended education.
Third, the draft gives students an opportunity to choose different courses of a given educational organisation or outside of it, for instance, using module technology or methods of remote and electronic education and network communication of educational institutions.
Fourth, the draft tailors legislation on secondary vocational education to the Constitution of the Russian Federation – this type of education will become accessible to all and will include programmes both for the training of mid-tier specialists and highly-qualified workers. Today these programmes are being carried out at the level of initial vocational education.
I’d like to emphasise that Article 43 of the Constitution describes secondary vocational education as the only level of non-university education. This is why all educational programmes that were carried out earlier at the level of initial vocational education will not be cancelled – they will simply be implemented at the level of secondary vocational education. We have accommodated this position with all employer associations, and it has the support of business.
Dmitry Medvedev: I did not say this just for the sake of the record, because records change almost nothing in our life, but in order to preserve initial vocational education in the structure of vocational education in general. If it will be carried out at the level of secondary education, there is no problem. We just need to have it…
Dmitry Livanov: Certainly, this is exactly what we are talking about.
Fifth, the draft expands the range of educational programmes that, when taken together, will ensure the mobility of the educational system and flexibility in its response to the requirements of society and the labour market. To meet the demand of employers for manpower, the draft suggests a new structure of personnel training on programmes of vocational education, and provides legislative regulation for professional qualification centres.
Sixth, the draft reaffirms particularities of education for people with outstanding talents and for students with disabilities, and specifies the features of education in culture and arts, medicine, sport, defence and national security.
The draft pays a great deal of attention to the consolidation of the legal status of the subjects of relationships in education – teachers, students and educational institutions. For the first time, it gives legal recognition of the special status of teachers in society and introduces a commitment to create conditions for ensuring their professional performance. Taken together, these norms will make it possible to create the necessary prerequisites for an effective contract with teachers.
At the same time, the draft describes the legal status of students – their rights, duties, disciplinary liability, measures of social support, including scholarships, accommodations in hostels, provision with textbooks, cafeterias and so on. It also reaffirms the rights and duties of students’ parents or their legal representatives. The draft gives parents priority rights to the upbringing and education of their children, and consolidates their rights to receive information, take part in all check-ups of their children, as well as in running educational organisations and choosing methods of education and upbringing. In addition, for the first time, the draft provides for the formation of commissions in educational institutions for settling disputes between participants in the educational process.
The draft introduces new norms on pedagogical expertise as regards norms and legal acts concerning education and upbringing, and on innovative experimental educational activities. Together, they are designed to ensure the dynamic development of the educational system in the future.
The draft was elaborated in 2010 by a working group consisting of representatives of the majority of federal executive bodies, the State Duma and the Federation Council, scientists and scholars, teachers, professors and rectors, and employers. In the two years since its elaboration, the draft has been subjected to unprecedented public discussion. This took place during parliamentary hearings, at traditional August conferences of teachers and on various websites. Following the draft’s discussion on the web, we have received more than 17,000 remarks and proposals. All of these have been examined.
The draft law has also been examined by various professional associations – trade unions in the education sector (there are three registered trade unions) and national employer associations, such as the Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Opora Russia, the Russian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs, and Delovaya Rossiya.
On May 24, 2012, the draft law was discussed at a meeting of the Russian Trilateral Commission for the Regulation of Social and Labour Relations. It was supported on the whole. We agreed with representatives of employers and trade unions on bringing closer our positions when discussing the draft law in the State Duma.
The draft federal law was agreed with 31 departments and the Russian regions. Forty-six constituent territories of the Russian Federation approved the draft law without remarks, and 37 constituent territories made remarks although they supported it on the whole.
The draft law was introduced despite differences within the government; however most of them were settled in the government. Meanwhile two fundamental differences with the Ministry of Finance have remained, and I want to highlight them.
The first concerns maintaining within the draft law a full range of measures of social support for teachers residing in rural areas. That is primarily compensation for the cost of utilities as established by current law. We believe it is critical to maintain these standards.
The second difference concerns guaranteed salaries, which should not be lower than the average salary in the region. We believe it is critical to record this position as a political decision. Should this decision be adopted, it will create a conflict-free situation for the State Duma debate of this draft law.
Following the conclusions made by the Presidential State-Legal Directorate, the Presidential Directorate for Science and Education Policy, and the Presidential Experts’ Directorate, the draft law is supported conceptually, and a proposal has been made to consider the remarks when preparing for the second reading. The draft law was approved at the meeting of the governmental commission for draft law development on July 16, 2012, and yesterday it was supported by the Open Government Expert Council.
Mr Medvedev, with your permission, I will report on the second draft law related to this.
Dmitry Medvedev: Yes, sure. Go ahead please.
Dmitry Livanov: Colleagues, naturally the adoption of the draft law required changes in lots of legislative acts regulating relations in other economic and social sectors. To this end a draft federal law, On Introducing Amendments in Some Legislative Acts of the Russian Federation due to the Adoption of the Federal Law On Education in the Russian Federation, was developed. It provides for amendments to over 100 federal laws. Most amendments to the aforementioned legislative acts provide for harmonising their terminology with the concepts and terms used in the federal law On Education.
In addition, the draft law introduces changes to the federal laws concerning: first, social security measures for students and teachers in educational institutions; second, harmonisation of concessions and benefits granted to some categories of the population when enrolling for training under basic educational programmes; third, bringing the standards regulating education in some sectors in conformity with the federal law On Education in the Russian Federation. The draft federal law, On Introducing Amendments in Some Legislative Acts of the Russian Federation, has also been agreed with 31 departments and the Russian regions. Eighty regions approved the draft law without remarks, while three regions submitted remarks. The draft law was approved at the meeting of the governmental commission for draft law development on July 16, 2012.
Mr Medvedev and colleagues, I ask you to support the draft federal law.
Dmitry Medvedev: Thank you. Now we will discuss it, but first… You should sit down, you’ll be more comfortable. Colleagues, we have heard our minister on this – I do not wish to diminish its importance – on this fundamental law. This is probably the first law examined by the new government, which concerns practically everyone, which has been discussed for an extremely long time at expert platforms; it has been discussed just by people. Obviously, it contains some points which will be assessed in different ways by the expert community and by people, and naturally government officials can have different assessments of some points. Whatever the case, we will introduce it no matter what. Meanwhile it should be in its final form, or rather a less problematic form, before it passes through the State Duma. In this context I would like to ask the minister: what will the State Duma discuss first, what questions will be asked, what will be the major difficulties?
Yesterday, I issued an order to post an alternative bill, the Communist Party’s version, which also includes many useful provisions, on the Open Government website, although at times these provisions are completely at odds with our financial capabilities or certain newly available principles in the area of education. It has useful provisions, and some of them have been included in our bill. Please go ahead, Mr Livanov.
Dmitry Livanov: Mr Medvedev, we believe that we will be able to hold a conflict-free discussion in the State Duma only if we proceed from the assumption that we will preserve all existing benefits in full. Of course, rejecting these benefits will be taken negatively and provide ample grounds for criticising the bill. Secondly, we believe it’s crucial to include in the bill the obligation of education authorities and government agencies to fund public education services based on their quality and quantity using the standard, which allows for setting average salaries for teaching staff at a level that is no lower than the average wage in respective regions in full compliance with the presidential orders on social development signed in May. We believe that these two approaches, if we approve them today, will allow us to get the vast majority of the State Duma votes in the first reading.
Dmitry Medvedev: I see. That means that we talked about different things during yesterday’s Open Government meeting. It was very useful to hear alternative opinions (it is always good) and to learn the positions of the experts who drafted the alternative bill. However, we did not discuss preschool education enough. It just so happened, although there was one presentation on this subject. We had several proposals about transferring funding of this level of education to Russian regions. How is this provision stated in the bill? It really is crucial in view of the existing waiting lists at preschool institutions. How many people are on these lists, almost 2 million?
Dmitry Livanov: It’s slightly over 2 million.
Dmitry Medvedev: I see.
Dmitry Livanov: Mr Medvedev, we have included these provisions in the bill. The provision of government guarantees in the sphere of preschool education is transferred to the regions, and the regions, as follows from the materials, support this regulation.
Dmitry Medvedev: We also need to decide how we can assist regions in addressing this issue. In conjunction with the Finance Ministry, we are now trying to determine what additional revenue sources can be used here. In general, this work should be continued based on the decision about transferring corresponding powers to regional authorities.
Well, there are many related issues there. Colleagues, the bill has been approved by everybody. However, if you have any questions or suggestions, I am ready to give you the floor. Mr Siluanov, I believe that the Ministry of Finance should say something about this issue. Please, go ahead.
Anton Siluanov (Finance Minister): Thank you, Mr Medvedev. Colleagues, we support the bill in general. We have also worked on it together with colleagues from the Ministry of Education. Still, there are several points that we have already mentioned that require further discussion. Please, let’s get together again and discuss these issues before sending the bill to the State Duma. We need to finalise them and then proceed to reviewing the bill in its final version. There are several issues relating to federal and regional authority. We need to comply with legal requirements – the ones stipulated by Law 184 on the delimitation of powers – without infringing on the competencies of federal or regional authorities. In this regard, I would like to have the additional points in individual provisions of the bill reviewed one more time.
Dmitry Medvedev: I see. Thank you, Mr Siluanov. Is there anyone else who would like to speak? No one? All right, then.
Colleagues, once again I would like to thank everyone who participated in the discussions. This law is critically important. It is one of the most important laws that have been drafted by the government recently. Of course, we need to have all the details figured out. Here, as usual, the issue is, of course, about money and benefits. I hope that in light of what I said yesterday with regard to rural benefits – I spoke about this at the Open Government meeting and behind closed doors with members of the government – we need to find a flexible formula that will give us an answer to this question. I hope that our colleagues will be able to come up with it. Perhaps we will need to conduct some relatively brief consultations on other issues as well. Therefore, I propose approving the bill in general and then working to finalise the bill during the next seven days. After that, I will submit it to the State Duma. Let's do it this way. Are there any objections? Accepted, then.