Dmitry Medvedev meets with students from the Siberian Federal University
14 february 2013
Dmitry Medvedev: Hello everyone! Please be seated. I've just visited your biathlon academy: it's great! Everything there is good, although they did take my watch off me as a present for a guy to be fair but still it was good. I'm really happy to be addressing you, happy to be visiting you. I feel at the very least a moral responsibility to the processes that are taking place in your university and in the Southern Federal University, because it happened that when your university was established I became chairman of its board of trustees. That is why I am talking to you now, to find out how things really are here, how you feel about things, what's good, what you don't like, what could be changed, and that's why I'm holding a meeting of the boards of trustees of the Siberian and the Southern Federal universities. So that is my agenda for today. I will not make any long speeches because I know that you have interesting lives, busy lives, that your university is very active in sport, that you are ambitious people, and everything else you can tell me yourselves.
And of course I am willing to answer your questions if you have any. I am at your disposal. Go ahead and ask. I will simply point to people who raise their hands and if you could introduce yourselves, so that I know who I'm speaking to. Please go ahead.
Andrei Kolesnikov: Hello! My name is Andrei Kolesnikov, I'm a student in the Institute of Economics, Management and Environmental Management. My question is perhaps not very political or about important issues but it's a matter of concern to me. I, let's say, am a community-minded person, that is I organise things in the university, do interesting things, that is what I like doing. There is a commonly-held opinion that successful people are always involved in public activities. I have two questions. You, let's say, are a successful person, so what do you think: Is it useful to be involved in this type of thing? Should a student do nothing but study and hit the books, or should they do something interesting? And more broadly, what did you do at university? That's interesting for us. Please tell us about yourself.
Dmitry Medvedev: Okay then. Thank you, Andrei. If you want to take me back in time then I'm more than happy to reminisce. I think that every student should be balanced. It's a cliché but it's true. What does balance mean for a student? On the one hand it of course means studying, that's the main thing, I won't argue with that, but life is not just about studying, not at age 20, 45 or at 50. There has to be something else. When I was a student we had a different system. It was very strict and very ideology-driven. At that time the Communist Party was the leadership of our country, I was in the Komsomol, I was a member of the Komsomol. So I won't deny that I remember studying and getting involved in public activities. Why? Not because it was any kind of a stepping stone to a career, even though in reality that's exactly what it was. It was just interesting for me. I was involved in these types of public activities both in my course and in the university. Leningrad University is big, large numbers of students studied there so our Komsomol organisation was on the same footing as the Komsomol district organisation. There was a big field there for working in. What did I get from that?
This gave me the opportunity to get to know my comrades both at the university’s law faculty and other departments. In addition, this allowed me to acquire communication skills, and this is important for a lawyer and any other professional for that matter. When I started university I was a fairly young man (I was 16 when I matriculated). Of course, I was just a schoolboy – what could I understand? My public work simply allowed me to meet many guys, socialise and acquire administrative skills. My task was to organise different events. This was valuable experience, and I learned to do this. So this is why I think there is nothing wrong with public activity.
Today public activity is much more diverse and interesting. It is free of ideology and one can work in any area without swearing allegiance to anyone. Public work simply helps develop one’s personality. So there is no need to be embarrassed about it. It is important to define priorities. If you want to devote your life to public activity – this is one thing, but if you have to receive some basic knowledge, the need for education must prevail.
Andrei Kolesnikov: Thank you very much.
Dmitry Medvedev: Guys, go ahead please.
Ilya Kachai: Good afternoon, Mr Medvedev. My name is Ilya Kachai. I’m a student of philosophy department at the Institute for the Humanities. Here is my question: what do you think about the role of creativity in the modern educational system? And what should the state, students and professors do to make it the backbone of the educational process?
Dmitry Medvedev: Creativity plays the most important role in everyone’s life. It is simply the quintessence of what students and professors should do in university life and their scientific activity. That said, when I hear that we should do everything we can to encourage creativity, I have some concerns because it is impossible to compel anyone to create. It is necessary to create an environment where creativity would blend in and require less effort. This is a task for universities and for the state, which allocates money for the development of university research, science in general and education. I think it would be incorrect to impose any strict limitations in this respect.
In a broad sense I believe the state has only one task in this regard – to plan its educational budget correctly and allocate funds to the most promising and urgent areas of education and science. Clearly, there will never be enough money for everything, neither here nor in other countries. The task of the state is to define priorities and fund them properly, and the rest depends on the individual. Every person has creative skills, but they are stronger in some people while others still have to develop them. This is an internal process and requires much effort, as I’m sure you know.
Since we are recalling the past today, I will tell you about the first final essay that I had to write when I was in my first year. I did not have a clue on how to write it. I thought, What should I do? I surrounded myself with books and started reading them. I didn’t quite understood what I read and, to be honest, was not impressed. Somehow I did it. Then I got a reply. I’ll be straight with you – I will remember this paper my whole life (I was a good student and had only one "very good" mark – the others were "excellent" and I received a graduation certificate with distinction. I remember this paper was on the theory of the state and law – lawyers will understand what it is about. So, I read the reply: failure. I thought to myself: “Have I written some nonsense?” I was trying to make something but my professor returned it with just one remark: “Grammar rules are still mandatory for students.” Why have I recalled this? It is important to pay attention to every detail when you are involved in creative thinking. This was a lesson for me. Even some small piece of work, some qualification work like course or graduation paper requires much effort and must be complete. It is important to bring it to logical completion. If we adopt this approach to creativity we will have a creative country.
Why did I recall my coursework? Much is being said today about plagiarism – that everyone is stealing ideas and copying course and graduation papers and, regrettably, even master’s and PhD theses. Maybe this is an exaggeration but the situation has changed a lot. Maybe when I was a first-year student, it was also possible to steal a course paper but students did not have the kinds of opportunities that exist now. Now it is easy to receive many papers on the most diverse areas from the Internet. I think this is a blind alley. Of course, one can get a good mark by copying some paper or simply using similar materials, but I’m sure that all those present have come to university to study and receive knowledge that you will be able to convert into successful careers. Copying can only lead to the degradation of knowledge. I don’t know what to do about this but some time ago I suggested a system of checking papers for plagiarism. Maybe it will be difficult to introduce such a system at once but we must think about this simply because we must remove plagiarism from science and education.
I think this will benefit everyone and this is also part of the creative process. Creativity is not about copying papers from each other or borrowing ideas from someone else. It requires one’s own brainwork. This is what I think about creativity and the role of the state in this process.
Let me look around to give students from different universities an opportunity to speak. Please go ahead, and then I’ll choose someone else.
Yekaterina Sidorenko (chairwoman of the student trade union at the Siberian Federal University): Good afternoon, Mr Medvedev. I’m Yekaterina Sidorenko, chairwoman of the student trade union of the Siberian Federal University. I’d like to ask you one question that is of much interest for our students. I understand that it will make you…
Dmitry Medvedev: What? Angry?
Yekaterina Sidorenko: No. I think you will treat it with understanding. I think it is a natural question. I’m referring to scholarships.
Dmitry Medvedev: I’m okay. I haven't flinched.
Yekaterina Sidorenko: In this connection, I’d like to ask: 2012 witnessed radical changes, in particular, the introduction of the enhanced stipend which serves as motivation for students. They strive to study, to accomplish their goals. But the law on education, signed in December, abolished the minimum stipend, which is a cause for concern. So my question is: what will happen to the stipend? Will it increase or stay at the same level? I also have a proposal to include the minimum stipend in the regulations which are now being considered. This would take the issue of the stipend fund off the table and would provide certain guarantees to students, for which we would be very grateful.
Dmitry Medvedev: I see. I take it it's mostly good students who have gathered here, the bad ones would not have been allowed to talk to the Prime Minister. May I ask you a question? Please be honest. Those who live only on their stipends, could you raise your hands? I’d like to see the percentage of people. There are not that many.
Why did I ask this question? I also received an enhanced stipend. It was quite a long time ago. In Leningrad University, it was about 50 roubles. It was impossible to live on this money in Soviet times, but it was still a significant sum, it allowed you to buy food and go to the university cafeteria for lunch or a coffee. At some point, I decided that this money was way too little, even though I was living with my parents, not in a hostel. They, of course, supported me, but there's no such thing as having too much money, and maybe my family was not rich. I began working as a street cleaner, and the first entry in my employment record book says “street cleaner”, of which I am very proud. My monthly salary was 120 roubles, and it was 170 roubles together with the stipend. I can see the university officials and the regional leaders sitting in the back rows, they know that 170 roubles was pretty good money. You could live on that and even take your girlfriend out to restaurants.
Why am I telling you all this? My dear friends, the stipend has never been and will never be that kind of support which provides a normal standard of living for a student. Moreover, even though some countries have it, in most countries universities do not pay their students. There are scholarships for outstanding research work and for good progress, but it is not regular support for everyone. We decided to preserve the stipend, but even the stipend described in the government resolution (which I signed recently) for 1st and 2nd year students who show good progress, I mean have good and excellent grades, is 6,300 roubles. That is not enough to live on.
We will preserve the stipend and will try to increase it where possible, but I honestly see no point in defining how big it should be, because the stipend simply does not give you that much. It is more a form of praise from the government for good progress. We will improve the stipend system further, but if you think that not defining a minimum amount makes it more difficult to distribute stipends, we can consider that. But what if (I’m thinking off the top of my head now) we define the minimum stipend within each university? Is it possible now? We will think about the questions raised, but I will ask you to take into account what I just said. I’m being honest with you, just so you don’t have the wrong impression about the situation with stipends.
Okay, over to you please.
Vladimir Chivildeyev: Vladimir Chivildeyev, 5th year economics student, chairman of the united council of students at the Siberian Federal University. Mr Medvedev, I have a question which is both private and general. I recently learned that I will become a delegation member at the G20 Summit in St Petersburg in April.
Dmitry Medvedev: What do you mean, you learned?
Vladimir Chivildeyev: I took part in the selection process and…
Dmitry Medvedev: A miracle happened or what?
Vladimir Chivildeyev: No, I took part in the selection process and won…
Dmitry Medvedev: That's a different story.
Vladimir Chivildeyev: Yes, this is what happened. As you know, following all six summits that have taken place, youth leaders signed a final communiqué and handed it to the G20 leaders. The question is quite simple: will those documents get to the state leaders? If so, how will they influence policies and how can young people's voices get heard in the international arena?
Dmitry Medvedev: And the answer will be quite simple: yes, we receive these documents and take notice of them.
Anna Gribkova: Good afternoon, my name is Anna Gribkova, the Institute of Space and Information Technologies. Mr Medvedev, our university has a very good teaching staff. They provide us with comprehensive knowledge and great professional skills. My question is as follows. It would be great to be able to apply these skills somewhere, and if possible, to create opportunities for students at the state level – that is, to request that public companies interested in hiring certain specialists give them various tasks and assignments, so that they know what they will have to do once they graduate. If this is not possible, what are the limitations?
Dmitry Medvedev: To be honest, I thought that this practice already existed in one way or another. I believe this is a standard professional guidance procedure and a normal relationship between a specific university department and various public companies. Are you saying that you don’t have this practice here? How about you, where are planning to have your practical training?
Anna Gribkova: Our students have to find practical training opportunities on their own. But this is not enough, it’s not sufficient to become a good professional and to understand what you can expect…
Dmitry Medvedev: Are you suggesting that employers should themselves search for potential employees among future graduates? What exactly do you mean?
Anna Gribkova: Yes. I am not saying that they should be forcing people.
Dmitry Medvedev: Well, now I am a bit surprised…
Anna Gribkova: In general, it is the employer that should be interested in hiring good specialists.
Dmitry Medvedev: This is true, but of course, it also very much depends on your occupation, your speciality. In fact, what you said is a bit surprising to me, as ideally every university, every good university (and yours is a good university) should have a number of organisations that in addition to helping it, are also interested in hiring graduates to establish strong ties with the university, various departments and students.
If this is not the case here, then your management should be told to work in this direction. Really? But students are saying that nobody is interested in them and that they graduate into a vacuum…
Anna Gribkova: What I mean is that the summer practical training is not sufficient, and if possible…
Dmitry Medvedev: Could you give an example of such an organisation?
Anna Gribkova: I can’t at the moment, but what I meant to say…
Dmitry Medvedev: Think of such an organisation and tell your chancellor, and he will definitely introduce you to them.
Okay, go ahead, please.
Question: Mr Medvedev, my name is Ilya, I am a first-year graduate student at the institute of business administration. On my way to this meeting, I heard on the radio that the President has instructed the Government to develop a series of measures to restructure inefficient schools. Our university was not included in the list of inefficient schools, but quite a few of them throughout the country, including some very prominent institutions, have been deemed inefficient. What do you think will happen to these schools and their students? Are you planning to disband them?
Dmitry Medvedev: You are worried about your fellow students, aren’t you?
Answer: I am, in a way.
Dmitry Medvedev: I see.
The problem with universities, their creditworthiness and relevance did not emerge today and is not related to the recent assignments. I said as early as five or six years ago that, in my opinion (and I was a university instructor for about 10 years), we have too many higher education institutions in our country, far too many.
But the issue is not so much the large number of universities, but rather the level of knowledge these schools provide. Unfortunately, this level varies significantly. We have schools that, in my opinion, are on par with the world’s leading universities. But, at the same time, there are universities that, to put it mildly… I'm not even talking about the fake universities, but about those that, upon graduating from them…
I am very skeptical about the level of knowledge these schools provide. And I would be categorically opposed to hiring someone who has graduated from a school like that. But all diplomas look the same, and that has created the need to determine what the real situation is and which universities are able to hire instructors, hold regular classes, teach the right courses, draft the right curricula, and most importantly, provide the right knowledge, and which universities are currently incapable of doing this.
Although it has caused such an emotional reaction, the idea of grading universities is not new. Students became worried and so did faculty members. However, grading is not yet an end in itself. It just means that a university has certain problems that should be addressed.
However, if in the foreseeable future, which has yet to be determined by the Ministry of Education and the Government, these universities fail to improve their results, in that case they could indeed be reorganised. This should be a gradual process.
Students enrolled in these universities must be able to continue their studies after the institution has been reorganised and merged with a stronger university, for example. In other words, there should be no harsh decisions, and the rights of students and instructors must not be violated. But in any event, this is a way to reduce the number of our universities.
This is also a way to create stronger universities, and this is something that I think we all want. I am not sure how many universities we will ultimately need, but today we have about twice as many universities as there were in the Soviet Union, which, as you know, had twice as many people as in the Russian Federation.
But life has changed. I read a book recently that examines the changes in the professional requirements over the past 70 years. It cites the following example from the US experience, which in fact is completely applicable to us: 50 years ago, to get a decent job a secondary school graduate in the United States was required to have a secondary education, be able to type on a typewriter, and have basic knowledge of core subjects, which would most likely guarantee her a successful career.
Today, this is certainly not enough. It’s practically impossible to get any job without a higher education. The reason I am saying this is that we do probably need more universities today than in Soviet times.
When I graduated from secondary school, only 30 percent of graduates went on to enroll in universities. The remaining 70% of high school graduates – back then it was a 10-year secondary education system – got jobs or enrolled in vocational secondary education establishments, and it was considered normal.
Today, this is no longer the case, and there can be no return to the previous education system. The vast majority of our high school graduates apply to enroll in universities. This, first of all, helps them to socialise and obtain more knowledge beyond the level of secondary education. Therefore, in a sense we are facing a situation in which the vast majority of high school graduates will continue enrolling in universities to receive a higher education.
This is absolutely normal, but we still need to ensure that our students receive a quality education, as for those studying at tuition-based departments and universities, it would be extremely disappointing to realise that the knowledge they receive there is, to put it bluntly, quite lousy. This is unacceptable.
This is exactly the point of monitoring poorly performing higher education institutions, their subsequent restructuring and creating a more effective higher education system.
Question: What do you think the performance criteria should be like?
Dmitry Medvedev: You have framed the question correctly. There may be many criteria, or just a few. Let me identify the ones that I believe are important. The first and the most important criterion is demand for graduates and the way the market and the scientific and university community assess them. I will give an example from my experience in St Petersburg. I graduated from the St Petersburg University, from the Department of Law. By the time I started practicing law and working in business, we already had about 40 to 50 law schools at various universities which often had no relation to the study of humanities whatsoever. When I was hiring people, I was already aware of the level of education provided by these universities. Many graduates of these quasi-law schools had no chance of being hired by my firm, because I had no faith in their knowledge.
This is the key criterion, although there are exceptions. Of course, a very talented specialist may come from a mediocre or even some godforsaken higher education institution, right? However, the market is the main criterion. The amount of knowledge that can be verified by various commissions, tests, and so on, also counts. I would focus on these two aspects.
Well, we have become bogged down in deep discussions. Perhaps, you would like to talk about some lighter things? Do you have one? All right, let’s change the subject so that we don’t get bored.
Stanislav Yarikov: Good afternoon, Mr Medvedev. My name is Stanislav Yarikov. I am a second year graduate student of the Institute of Physics Engineering and Electronics. I also represent student construction teams of the Siberian Federal University. My question is: we, people with titles, positions and ideas gathered here ...
Dmitry Medvedev: Wow, I’m so lucky to be among people with titles and positions. I’m in good company.
Stanislav Yarikov: Nevertheless, we are humans and we are interested in all human things. What I'm trying to say is that today is February 14.
Dmitry Medvedev: Thanks for reminding me, because they took away my watch, and I lost track of the date.
Stanislav Yarikov: I’d like to talk about this. The thing is that my heart hurts because a girl I love doesn’t love me back. Here’s my question: have you ever been in such a situation? I’d also like to have the Prime Minister give me some tips on how you make a girl fall in love with you.
Dmitry Medvedev: Good job. Now that’s the right question for the right guy. You know, just like anyone else of my age, I’ve been around and I hope I still have things coming my way. When you are a student, when you are young, you tend to feel things differently. That's why your university years are the most exciting time in life. I think that you, if you’ve found yourself in such a situation, should be persistent. Seriously, I know this first-hand. If you persevere, you always get what you want. That is, of course, if you truly love someone and want to be together. This is what I can tell you. Love always prevails.
So, we covered love. Now what? Please go ahead.
Sergei Pavlyuts: Good afternoon. My name is Sergei Pavlyuts, I'm a fourth-year student at the Institute of Physical Culture and Sports. I’m also the chairman of the sport tourism club at the Siberian Federal University.
Our university has a lot of student organisations that are part of the university and are funded by it. However, the university cannot finance all of our ideas and projects, and many organisations want to tweak their organisational forms and become nonprofit organisations, but remain part of the university. How will they benefit from this? First, they can use university facilities and infrastructure, use grants and participate in projects, expand their activities and give students an opportunity to fulfil their potential. The problem is that the law does not regulate nonprofit student organisations that can be part of the university. Since we are in the process of creating such an organisation, we are about to sign an agreement with the university. Is it possible to amend the law with respect to nonprofit organisations run by students?
Dmitry Medvedev: Let's think about it. It is, of course, possible to amend the law. All the more so since a law on education is just about to take effect and has many innovative provisions. But if I understand it correctly, what you want to do is not create some kind of a new organisation but rather to make sure that your organisation has certain capabilities and rights. You need to weigh all these things. I can’t rule out the possibility that such nonprofit organisations can be created. We just need to understand what we can give them to make them more attractive and capable of achieving goals that students set themselves. I’m saying this because we create (and I hope that you have them, too) small businesses at the universities that engage in innovative activities and a variety of other issues, but I think we can also create such nonprofit organisations. Let's discuss this. I'll talk to the Minister of Education. We’ll give it a thought.
Okay, let’s take a question from those who are sitting on the stairs.
Remark: Good afternoon, Mr Medvedev. My name is Marklen. I’m a third-year student of the Economics Department. I’m really fortunate to be able to see you from a distance of 10 metres ...
Dmitry Medvedev: I can come even closer.
Remark: I can see you even closer on the TV, but it’s much better this way, trust me.
Dmitry Medvedev: Real life is always better for obvious reasons.
Question: Here’s my question: did you have any doubts about your choice of profession when you were in college? I can see that your current work is a bit out of line with what you majored in at university.
Dmitry Medvedev: That’s your imagination. My profession is very well suited for the job I’m doing. Seriously. There were no doubts. I’m very glad that I went to law school. I never had doubts about my choice of profession. Perhaps, I was lucky. Thanks go to my parents, too, who at some point recommend that I go to law school. I have never had any doubts about it. On the other hand, my life is proof that I have made the right choice.
I will not advocate the benefits of the legal profession, although I believe we do have lawyers in this auditorium. I believe that this profession gives people basic knowledge on a wide range of issues that can be helpful in building a nice career.
All right. So, let's go over there. Nothing but male students here. Let's give a girl the chance to speak. Please go ahead.
Question: Good afternoon, Mr Medvedev. My name is Olga, I'm a fourth-year student at the Institute of Space and Information Technology.
Dmitry Medvedev: We have so many students studying space and information technology here. Do you also have problems communicating with organisations?
Dmitry Medvedev: All right then, good.
Question: As a computer science student, I have a question: don’t you think that time is ripe to include the cost of internet and mobile communications in the cost of living? We are living in the information age, and it has become a necessity.
Dmitry Medvedev: By the way, it’s an interesting way to frame a question. I have never thought about it, but as someone who is really into information technology and communications ... Maybe you're right, and it's time to put this issue on the agenda. Perhaps it's time to include these expenses in the consumer basket and later in the cost of living. We will think about what we can do with our Federal State Statistics Service, Rosstat.
All right. I’m going there now. What are you doing with your hand? All right, go ahead.
Andrei Aksyonov: Good afternoon. My name is Andrei Aksyonov. I am a first-year student of the Institute of Pedagogics, Psychology and.
Dmitry Medvedev: I thought you were about to graduate from the way you look.
Andrei Aksyonov: My question is about my future profession. Teacher is a low-status occupation. What needs to be done in order to make it prestigious? Many schools face teacher shortages. Even many graduates of teacher training institutes don’t go to work as school teachers. How can these problems be solved?
Dmitry Medvedev: You know, Andrei ... How to solve them? You should go work at school after you graduate from university. I’m saying this in all seriousness, because the prestige of a profession is also determined by choices made by graduates. Many of graduates of teacher training universities and institutes do not go to schools, and that’s not good. This begs the question: do we need to train that many teachers, if they don’t go work to schools? On the other hand, what do students think about their future professions? You did contemplate your future at some point in time and think about what you want to do in life, didn’t you? Have you made an educated choice? Will you go to work to school?
Andrei Aksyonov: Yes.
Dmitry Medvedev: There you go. Of course, this is just one side of the coin. The second is that ... I’ll say things that you can relate to, such as teachers’ salaries and housing. If these two things are properly addressed, then everything else will be all right. I believe we managed to get things going with regard to teachers’ salaries. We have set a realistic goal of bringing them up to par with average salaries in regions, which is not a bad thing for public sector employees. Of course, there’s always room for improvement, and we will strive to increase it in the future as well using various multipliers and normative per capita financing to make sure that teachers are paid good salaries. This is my first point. Secondly, it is imperative to provide teachers with housing using mortgages or some other arrangement. Teachers should be able to resolve their housing problems. If we have these two things covered, dealing with others won’t be a problem. Finally and perhaps most importantly, people should only become teachers if they want to. This is the most important thing, because being a teacher is not just a profession. It’s a way of thinking, a frame of mind. Teachers in any country aren’t paid more than businessmen, but still there are people who want to teach. People become teachers because they like this work. That's how things are.
Let's give a girl a chance to ask a question. Please go ahead.
Yelena Ryzhova: Good afternoon. My name is Yelena Ryzhova. I’m a student of Civil Engineering Institute. I’m aware of the proposal to amend a federal law article on mandatory placement of graduates. What do you think about this?
Dmitry Medvedev: I believe that it’s impossible to make anyone happy using iron-fist policies. All previous attempts to do so failed in our country. There can be no going back to the mandatory placement system. On the other hand, I think it is absolutely justified for employers or the state as an employer that pays for education of certain students to sign an agreement with students who are trained free of charge to the effect that since the government is paying for their education, it is entitled to ask them to work at a particular place for some time. If they don’t feel like working at this particular place, that’s okay, but then they need to pay back the entire amount of tuition. That's a possible solution. Perhaps, this shouldn’t be practiced widely, but it can be practiced with regard to specialists who are in short supply and only if a student has signed an appropriate agreement before being admitted to the university. That’s the only way to go.
Question: I am an instructor at a military department of the Military Training Institute …
Dmitry Medvedev: So you are a lecturer.
Answer: Yes, and I also attend evening classes at a law department. I would like to ask the following question. Students who study at our department go on to become reserve lieutenants. The number of professional officers is currently on the increase.
Dmitry Medvedev: And what subject do you teach at the military department?
Question: I teach radio-electronic warfare, which is part of the military-technical curriculum. I would like to know whether military department students will have to serve as officers in the Armed Forces. And my second question is: What are the prospects for the development of military departments? You see, a military department invests a lot in students, in the formation of their personalities and in their military-patriotic education. Is it possible to introduce universal military training as a compulsory subject for all students at the institute, so that they would, first of all, be ready to serve in the army and, if necessary, to defend their country?
Dmitry Medvedev: You know, I believe that university graduates who have completed their training at military departments and received military occupational specialties should be called up in accordance with the specific requirements of the Armed Forces. There is no other way. If necessary, a certain number of graduates should be called up, and they should serve as lieutenants. Perhaps some of them will continue to serve in the Armed Forces. And no graduates should be called up if the Armed Forces have enough professional officers. That’s how it has always been.
When I graduated from Leningrad University, we had a military department there. All of us received officers’ commissions. You might be surprised to learn that after graduation I was promoted to lieutenant in the Artillery Troops. I agree with you that, in reality, this considerably expanded my outlook. It is always possible to learn military service legislation or to acquire practical skills in the field of military jurisprudence, one way or another. But when I became a lieutenant in the Artillery Troops, it gave me an insight into a completely different area of life. Although I am not sure whether lawyers should receive artillery training nowadays, but, nevertheless, this knowledge did prove useful. To the best of my knowledge, this artillery training course for lawyers has now been abolished. As for future employment and possible enrolment as professional officers, this decision should be made by the Ministry of Defence, and it should be based on the requirements of the Armed Forces. At any rate, we are reforming the Army, which is becoming more professional and more compact. This influences all the relevant decisions.
People in the gallery would like to ask some questions. Please, go ahead.
Alexandra Avdeyeva: My name is Alexandra Avdeyeva. I study at the journalism department of the Institute of Philology and Language Communications. And I also represent the headquarters of student construction teams of the Siberian Federal University. All our students, the people of Krasnoyarsk and Siberia are confident that we will host the World University Games (Universiade). But, of course, we need world-class specialists, including translators, interpreters, managers and journalists …
Dmitry Medvedev: People just like you.
Alexandra Avdeyeva: Mr Medvedev, my question is: Will education development guidelines change in connection with holding such important events for our region and the country as a whole?
Dmitry Medvedev: This is a pretty serious question. Generally speaking, everything should be changed in this connection. I believe that we should, first of all, look at ourselves and try and do everything … I am saying “we” in this case because I don’t separate myself from the idea of holding the World University Games in Krasnoyarsk. We recently met with our esteemed colleague Claude-Louis Gallien, President of the International University Sport Federation (FISU), and we discussed preparations for the bid. But we can only win if Krasnoyarsk, those present here, university professors and students, all the city's residents, all Russian citizens and the Government and other leaders really want this to happen.
Remark: We do want it.
Dmitry Medvedev: We also want it. But desires alone are not enough. We must show that we are the best. And we have also discussed this particular issue. I believe that we stand quite a good chance because we have proved recently that we can organise such competitions. Kazan will host the 2013 World University Games. I am confident that this event will be organised in line with the highest standards. Six years is quite a long time period, so no one should be under the impression that only Russia hosts sports competitions. However, I make no secret of the fact that Russia will host the 2014 Winter Olympic Games and the 2018 FIFA World Cup. You know this too. Nevertheless, World University Games are a separate category of competitions, and we must show that everything that is being done, including projects in Krasnoyarsk, will subsequently serve the university heritage, that this will improve the overall education situation, and that this will provide better sporting opportunities. We would probably win the bid if we could demonstrate all this. Everything is in our hands. And if you become a journalist by that time, then you will write some good stories about it.
So, let’s go this way now. All right, over to you.
Olga Petrus: Good afternoon, Mr Medvedev. My name is Olga Petrus from the Institute of Oil and Gas. Our Krasnoyarsk Territory is among the largest Russian regions in terms of area. I would like to ask a question about student trips and fares. I live in the Far North, that is, in the Turukhansk District of the Krasnoyarsk Territory. Except for the summer season, the only way I can get back home is by air. An air ticket costs 20,000 roubles, that's quite a lot. Before I was 18, my parents could pay less for my tickets with the help of their North Russia benefit plan. But we have to pay our own way after we turn 18. Is it possible to introduce some kind of subsidised travel for students while they are studying and at least once a year?
Dmitry Medvedev: That's a good question. Can the university finance this plan?
Remark: We are trying to help, and this is possible. All you have to do is make a request.
Dmitry Medvedev: I believe that this can be accomplished at the expense of the university. Let someone else speak. Yes please.
Yevgeny Akunchenko: My name is Yevgeny Akunchenko. I am a fourth-year student at the Institute of Law. My question is this: A couple of years ago, it was suggested that university graduates should receive references from professional associations and communities which have been established in Russia. These proposals are also being voiced today. Can this practice be introduced? What do you think about it? Do we need this practice today? If the answer is “Yes,” then how would students cooperate with these associations, how will they assess students’ potential and aptitudes, and how will they compile these references? The situation with us, lawyers, is somewhat less complicated because we have a youth association of the Krasnoyarsk territorial division of the Association of Lawyers of Russia, and we are quite active in cooperating with this division. And what will the situation with other professions be like, if this practice is necessary?
Dmitry Medvedev: You know, I would say that this practice is probably possible but only in those instances where professional associations are quite influential, because far from all professional associations can assert their influence, so to speak. And far from all professional associations monopolise any specific information. We know where all this comes from. Specialists in many countries receive a real professional assessment from professional associations. And even membership in these professional associations is an inalienable pre-condition for joining any specific corporation. It does not matter what kind of corporation this is, and whether it includes lawyers or doctors. But our self-regulating organisations, our associations, our professional communities are all extremely varied. That’s why I don’t think that they should receive any exclusive rights for the time being. As for future prospects, I believe that this aspect is absolutely correct because only professional associations can assess the quality of specialists. But, in my opinion, this is less important during the final stages of university studies or during graduation. I don’t want to offend anyone, but with all due respect, when a graduate starts working, they have virtually no real professional experience to speak of. More importantly, these professional associations should monitor the professional level of their active members. Anyone expelled from this association for professional misconduct or for unprofessional actions would, in effect, be deprived of any career prospects. This is what I consider to be important. But I repeat once again that this will only be possible in a situation where these associations become influential, and when they include a majority of specialists working in any specific area. As it is, I don’t think that this has any constitutive importance, as lawyers say, which means that this is not a crucial issue. Otherwise we would go too far and then no one would be able to straighten things out.
So, how much time do we have left? This is what I suggest. How long have we been talking? An hour? More? So, each sector can ask two questions, and that’s it. Agreed? Let’s begin with this sector. Please, one question from a boy and the other from a girl… Proceed.
Kirill Lukyanenko (second-year master's student at the Institute of Fundamental Biology and Biotechnology, Siberian Federal University): Good afternoon, I am Kirill from the Institute of Fundamental Biology and Biotechnology. I have a small strategic question about research.
Dmitry Medvedev: So, is it small or is it strategic?
Kirill Lukyanenko: It is a small strategic question. During the Open Innovations forum last autumn, which you attended, if I remember correctly, delegates from the Harvard Business School compiled a very interesting report, in which they assessed the government’s influence on financing research and R&D projects. In 2011, government financing amounted to 75% in Russia, whereas it is private investors who account for 75% of financing for these projects in China and the United States. Will the situation in Russia change? What conclusions has the Government drawn from that forum regarding research, and in particular innovation?
Dmitry Medvedev: It was an interesting forum indeed, if only because it is a venue where representatives of many companies, both big and not so big, share their experience and achievements. As for conclusions, really new things are seldom said at such forums. But sometimes ideas are voiced at them that can have practical application. As for the proportion of funding, I am in two minds over this. I agree that the proportion is not what it should be in Russia regarding private investment in research and R&D projects. Private contribution should certainly increase, and we are doing our best to encourage this, using both sticks and carrots, the law and incentives.
The situation is gradually improving, as the Government has instructed state companies, of which there are many in Russia, to finance innovations and to formalise this obligation in the decisions of their boards of directors. They are doing this, although not very willingly, because they are not used to allocating big funds for this. They provide funding now, and their allocations are considerable, hundreds of billions of roubles. This is good. On the other hand, the government cannot fully withdraw from this sphere. You have said that the proportion is roughly 75:25, where 75% is private money and 25% government funds. Frankly, I am surprised, because I thought so too, but when I asked the management of Stanford University in the States about it, they told me that 90% of funding is provided by the government.
Question: Is this the figure for that university?
Dmitry Medvedev: Yes, for that university. At the same time, Stanford University and other universities have large endowments. MIT could be the most indicative in this respect, but Stanford University has a strong research school too. All US universities have large endowments, tens of millions of dollars. However, these contracts and these R&D projects are largely financed by the government, even though the US has the largest private economy in the world. Therefore, we – I am referring to the state – cannot leave this field yet. We will continue to finance these activities, because otherwise the direction of development could take a wrong turn; we need to set the right focus and show the right examples. With all due respect, our private business still needs various kinds of incentives, including not very pleasant ones, to encourage them to finance research.
Sofia Kozlova: Mr Medvedev, I am Sofia Kozlova, a fifth-year student at the Siberian Federal University’s Institute of Space and Information Technology.
Dmitry Medvedev: So, we have the space industry sitting on this bench?
Sofia Kozlova: Yes, they are all representatives of my Institute. I would like to discuss print-based media in connection with the current IT boom. Students at my university– and not only journalists – publish a lot of newspapers. My question is this. What part of your life is dedicated to print media? How soon, as you see it, will paper-bound books and printed publications be squeezed out by electronic publication?
Dmitry Medvedev: They will never be squeezed out. I have used e-books for about two years. I see the great advantages they have, as I said sometime earlier. They are convenient to read because you can scan 10 books at a time, closing one and opening another. All of them are right there in front of you. And your eyes don't get tired, mine at least don't. Modern gadgets are very useful, for me at any rate, but there's still nothing to compare with the pleasure of leafing through a paper book. This is why I think that there will always be admirers of traditional books and there will always be fine traditional libraries. And, of course, they will coexist with e-books. I think this is normal. We may like modern cars but we are also impressed by vintage automobiles. The same is true for books, like anything else.
It is hard to choose. Yes, you please, and then a girl again: we should abide by the gender rotation principle.
Ilya Valiulov: Mr Medvedev, I am Ilya Valiulov, a fourth-year energy department student, Polytechnic Institute. I also represent students’ teams.
My question is about taxes and taxation: What is our tax money being spent on?
Dmitry Medvedev: So where does the money go?
Ilya Valiulov: In this country, according to my findings on the Internet and on the site of the Federal Service for State Statistics (Rosstat), there are 715,000 doctors who earn 22,000-23,000 roubles per month on average and almost 1.4 million teachers on approximately the same wages. The costs for keeping one prisoner in jail in Khakassia are 28,000 roubles per year. A year!
Dmitry Medvedev: But why are you so concerned about all this?
Ilya Valiulov: I will sum it up in a minute.
Dmitry Medvedev: All right.
Ilya Valiulov: The allowance for a child aged between 1.5 and 3 years is 2,500 roubles a month, and for children from 3 to 16 years it's 200 roubles per month. Officials number about 1 million, while certain publications put the figure as high as 5 million. Their average salary is 65,000 roubles, not counting bonuses, official cars, apartments, and other perks. It is also easier for them to benefit from corruption because they are closer to people in high places. My question is this: Is the state doing anything to shift the emphasis to people who are really feeling the pinch and who teach us and treat us?
Dmitry Medvedev: That's a really good question. You listed some figures. I will cite some things too. First, it is up to people, including yourself, to judge whether the state is doing anything or not. I think a lot has been done in recent years to bridge the pay gap for the most important public sector employees, such as teachers, doctors and others. Let me remind you that teachers and doctors were paid between 5,000 and 10,000 roubles a month six years ago, when I worked in the government like now. It was, of course, a paltry salary. Currently salaries vary greatly from region to region. Ours is a big and diverse country. In Moscow, a doctor or a teacher earns between 70,000 and 80,000 roubles per month. But this is Moscow. Regrettably, there is a big gap between the capital and many regions and this gap needs to be bridged. Nevertheless, salaries have risen to the average level for the economy nationwide, just as we planned. That's a decent result: the average salary in a region’s economy. What are the average wages for the economy in the Krasnoyarsk Territory?
Lev Kuznetsov (Governor of the Krasnoyarsk Territory): 28,000.
Dmitry Medvedev: What are teachers’ salaries?
Lev Kuznetsov: 31,000 on average for the 4th quarter.
Dmitry Medvedev: There you are. I am not saying this is a fantastic salary. What I want to say is that we all need to understand how the situation has changed over recent years and last year in particular. We will not stop at that, of course. Teachers’ and doctors’ salaries will continue to increase, as will those of academics. Let me remind you that we are planning to double academic salaries compared to the average level for the economy. We will do that, but at the same time, let me draw your attention to this point, that teachers and doctors and other professionals need to up their performance as well. We all understand that some people have higher skills, while others less so. Salary increases should therefore be commensurate with professional skills. That is perfectly normal, too.
You should know, colleagues, that no other European country has such fast pay growth rates as Russia. We are constantly reproached about pay growth rates in the public sector being significantly higher than labour productivity growth rates in the economy. It is one of our key goals for the next few years to make the required adjustment, because pay rises are not being matched by the kind of growth in productivity we need. There are many economists in this room and this audience is generally young and competent. First, you cannot ensure economic growth by simply increasing wages: you must have productivity growth.
Now let us talk about officials. They are definitely a specific social class. On the one hand, no state can do without bureaucrats. On the other hand, we have too many of them in a number of areas. We must cut the number of civil servants, and we have been doing just that. In my tenure of President, I signed a decree on cutting the number of federal civil servants by 20%. In some respects, this goal has been achieved, in others it hasn't. It is a difficult process, but it is progressing and we are reducing the number of federal civil servants.
The same thing should be done at the regional level. But this does not mean that we must phase out the civil service altogether and minimise the number of state officials. This would be an oversimplification and a dangerous delusion. But you said, “5 million people.” Rubbish! We don’t have 5 million bureaucrats in this country. Sometimes included in this count are all the employees who receive their pay from the budget, including doctors and teachers. If you count it like that, then you may indeed arrive at a figure of 5 million. But they are not officials, they are unrelated to the civil service, nor are they covered by the special legislation. They simply get their salaries paid out of the public purse. The proportion of civil servants in this country, if we are honest about it, is no higher than in any other European country – more or less – but this does not mean that the service doesn't need to be updated. Federal civil servants (not including the army and the police) number about 400,000 – not very many for a country as big as ours. But you are quite right: the system has to be updated and I hope that all the people in this room will be involved in this work in one way or another. Thank you.
There were two speakers from this sector. Right? Let’s be fair. You please.
Maria Yeryomina: My name is Maria Yeryomina. I’m from the department of secondary professional education at the Institute of Trade and Economics. I’m graduating from my college and would like to continue studying full time. I don’t want to waste the next two years.
Dmitry Medvedev: And you shouldn’t.
Maria Yeryomina: But our institute does not give us an opportunity to take an accelerated full time course for free. We only have paid extramural studies and that’s it.
Dmitry Medvedev: And? What do you want to be? I don't understand. What profession are you studying?
Maria Yeryomina: My specialty is “commerce.”
Dmitry Medvedev: So go and sell something.
Maria Yeryomina: I don’t want to sell anything with a secondary education. I want to sell with a higher education and I want to study.
Dmitry Medvedev: So what should we do?
Maria Yeryomina: Help me, do something about it!
Dmitry Medvedev: Okay. What’s your name?
Maria Yeryomina: Maria.
Dmitry Medvedev: Аnd your family name?
Maria Yeryomina: Yeryomina.
Dmitry Medvedev: Yeryomina. We’ll think it over.
Let’s proceed as follows – the bottom and the very top and that will be it. Go ahead, please.
Darya Tarakanova: Darya Tarakanova, fourth year student at the Institute of Business Management and Economics. I have a fairly interesting question. Recently I’ve seen many recommendations, like lists of top 100 books or top 100 films. I'm curious as to who compiles them and what works of fiction you would consider to be the top books.
Dmitry Medvedev: What would you like me to do, list them all?
Darya Tarakanova: No, just name a few books that you would recommend that we all read.
Dmitry Medvedev: Thank you, Darya. You sound a bit sad. I’m highly skeptical of "must read" books. Why should I read what someone recommends? I want to read what I want. If I am a reading man I know myself what others are reading but when I’m told that I must read all of this I’m bored to death.
I will tell you something that may not be sensible in this educational setting, but I’ll say it. When I studied at school, classic Russian literature was actually hammered into our heads. It's great literature but I was bored with many books and reluctant to read them. I had this attitude exactly because we were told that we were obliged to read it. Now I realise that I wasn’t mature enough to understand these books. Some 14, 15 or 16-year olds want to read all classics and others want to choose some other books. I think it is impossible to coerce anyone into accepting high culture. It is, of course, possible to compile lists, but whether they will be used is a big question.
At the same time the school programme should include great classics that pupils should try to read in their school years. Everyone has different preferences when it comes to the classics. When I was in school, I read Dostoyevsky with interest but I didn’t like reading Tolstoy although usually it's the other way round. It was not easy but I read every volume of War and Peace. When I open Tolstoy’s works now, I feel very differently.
I cannot name the books that I think you must read for the reasons I explained, but it seems to me you should read a variety of books – both our and foreign classics and other fiction. The main thing is to derive pleasure from it. What is the main problem with reading? Books are being displaced to the periphery of public life by computers and other electronic devices. It is easy to see very interesting visual images without reading anything. This is a real trial, but it does not mean that literature is coming to its end.
When I watch school pupils read (and you were in school only recently) I realise that their reading habits are different from ours. I’ll be straight with you – in the 1980s we had nothing but books and this was a fairly dull period in our history. I read a lot in school from what was available. Books by Alexander Solzhenitsyn were taboo – one could be punished for reading him. Such books were passed on under the table but I did not even see them. Of course, we could read most classics – both ours and foreign. There was nothing to see on television either so reading was the only pastime.
I am aware of the information flow that is currently being dumped on today’s school children and on you, I don’t see any tragedy in that, apart from reading, you are learning about life from computers and television, and this has become much more versatile. One can complain about this but life will take its course no matter what. You should orient yourselves in this huge information flow and read the books that you like rather than those that are pressed on you.
Question: May I ask you another question?
Dmitry Medvedev: Why? Do you want to make an official statement?
Answer: No. As one photographer to another – may I shake your hand?
Dmitry Medvedev: No problem! Thank you.
I promised you one more question, so speak up and then we will wind up.
Оlesya Gorodetskikh: (fifth-year student of the Institute of Petroleum and Natural Gas Engineering at the Siberian Federal University): Good afternoon. My name is Оlesya Gorodetskikh. I’m a fifth-year student of the Oil and Gas Institute. I’m very glad to have this opportunity tо ask you this question in person. It has tormented me for a long time.
Dmitry Medvedev: I’m already intrigued.
Оlesya Gorodetskikh: My question is about our domestic carmakers.
Dmitry Medvedev: I’m so pleased that such wonderful students are concerned about the destinies of our carmakers. This sounds good to me – now I know that our carmakers as well as oil and gas have a great future.
Оlesya Gorodetskikh: I’m just curious as to why the exterior of our cars has not changed for such a long time. Don’t we have in Russia good, talented designers that could come up with a new look for our Russian cars so that they are on par with BMWs and Audis? I don’t think this is so difficult. Our modern technology should allow us to produce something better from metal.
Dmitry Medvedev: Olesya, I don’t even know what to tell you. Apparently you are paying attention to different cars. Indeed, our domestic carmakers have followed their own road for a long time. They were isolated from the global automobile industry and this is why we had the cars that we had. That said, when I was a university student and was working, it was prestigious to have any car of our make. The first car I bought when I earned some money was a seventh model Zhiguli. I was very happy when I bought it. This was a prestigious car.
Remark: This was the case then.
Dmitry Medvedev: Yes, this was the case then. You are absolutely right. A lot of time has passed since then. But new models are appearing. VAZ, for one, is making new cars – these are not first to seventh model classics. You may like them or not but the main point is that the market is giving us a choice. If you have the money you can choose what car to buy – ours or foreign. Our cars don’t differ from foreign cars too much in their design. They follow the global trends. These cars are not anything fantastic, but they are not the same as those that had been produced in this country for 30 years.
You have made a good point though – we should think about how our cars should look in 10 to 15 years. VAZ is also making concept cars. A couple of days ago I discussed this issue with the head of the agency that is in charge of our carmakers and I’m confident that we will have beautiful cars – but when? This will happen when we have invited professionals to come and do this job. I’m sure you will also become a professional in the field of oil and gas when you graduate. I hope for this very much.
Dear friends, I think we have had a good conversation. I have gotten an idea of the problems and prospects of the Siberian Federal University. Now I will conduct a meeting of the boards of trustees of your university and the South Federal University, and we will discuss the future of these new, but very good, institutions.
I wish you good spirits and a happy St Valentine’s Day. I hope that you have a good mood today and every day. Good luck to you!