14 february 2013

Joint meeting of boards of trustees of the Siberian and Southern Federal Universities

Dmitry Medvedev’s opening words:

I have just talked with the students. Colleagues who attended the meeting are present here. I have heard many interesting things, including requests to do something, anything, to enable people to continue their education. Nevertheless, I am happy that we have gathered here today in order to hold the second joint meeting of the boards of trustees of the Siberian and Southern Federal Universities. The universities have asserted themselves, so to say, and they already have their own history. These boards of trustees held their first meeting in April 2008. Of course you have organised your own events. We should probably meet more regularly. This is why we have gathered in Krasnoyarsk today. Perhaps the next meeting should take place down south.

I would like to say a few words in order to start our conversation. Higher educational institutions, as well as our entire society, are continuing to develop. We are devoting a great deal of attention to the development of universities. At any rate, it has become clear over the past few years that university life as a whole has started changing. But this is no reason to be complacent. We must do our best to turn Russian universities into the most advanced educational institutions. This is in truth not just big words but the demand of the times. Currently, people talk a lot about inefficient universities and specific criteria for their assessment. Students have now asked me this question. But neither the Siberian Federal University nor the Southern Federal University fall under these inefficiency criteria. Nevertheless, professors and students are concerned about this issue. Consequently, in developing these two major Russian federal universities we must think about what will happen in the higher education system over the next few years.

Demand for specialists is our next issue. In replying to students’ comments today, I said that, in my opinion, market demand for specialists and employers' attitudes towards them is the main criterion for the successful performance of any specific university. When I was in business, and when I addressed various practical issues in St Petersburg, I still looked at university degrees. My attitude depended on whether any specific educational institution was well-known or obscure. I am not mentioning this example by sheer coincidence. That’s why specialists graduating today have to possess the most up-to-date knowledge and skills in order to cope with the current information flow. Representatives of enterprises and companies should hunt for specialists, in the positive sense of the word, and look for them.

Mr Vaganov (addressing Yevgeny Vaganov, Rector of the Siberian Federal University), incidentally, I found it rather strange when a female student told me that representatives of the national spacecraft industry did not know how to employ these specialists. For some reason, no one visits them. I don’t know, perhaps this conclusion was reached by a single person, by one female student. But, to be honest, they should of course maintain direct contact with employers, especially in such important and specific sectors, immediately after enrolling at the university. All right, they don’t have to hunt for lawyers because there is a high market demand for competent lawyers. And incompetent lawyers should learn some other profession. But those dealing with the space programme and state-of-the-art technologies should receive career guidance right after enrolment.

We have created a quite modern university network, but not in the formal sense. Nevertheless, this network includes 40 leading universities, which account for about 40% of students. We will rely on this basic framework, including, naturally, the Siberian Federal University and the Southern Federal University. In all, we have nine federal universities. The Siberian Federal University and the Southern Federal University were the first. We are holding this joint meeting of the boards of trustees because you were the trailblazers. Efforts to increase the number of federal universities are probably not the optimal scenario, because it would be incorrect to establish federal universities all the time. We already have many of these universities. Most important is to amass quality. Both universities are leading components of their respective regional educational systems. Each of them serves as a basic higher educational institution in the relevant region and also at the federal-district level. Most importantly, a creative environment should evolve around these universities. In fact, we have just discussed this issue with students.

Effective science-business integration is very important. But I will not call on you to do anything here. You also know how important this is today.

We also have to create a modern innovation structure. Consequently, our experience will serve as a model for improving new technologies and approaches towards the modernisation of the higher education system. I would like to remind you that substantial funding was allocated for implementing the development programmes of both universities. In 2007-2012, the Siberian Federal University received about 6.5 billion roubles, and the Southern Federal University also received a comparable sum. We created favourable conditions enabling them to turn into independent institutions, but, of course, we are counting on impressive results.

What else would I like to say? First of all, I would like, of course, to discuss efforts to increase their competitiveness and their integration into the international scientific and educational environment. The ratings of Russia’s higher educational institutions are still rather unimpressive. And the share of foreign students continues to decrease at both universities. This is not a very good indicator. Foreign students are valuable, not only because they enable universities to earn money – some of them don’t pay for their education – but also because they highlight the quality of universities, because when a foreign student chooses a university, this means that he or she trusts this university. Of course, we prefer Russian specialists and Russian students, but please take note of this important indicator as well.

There is also some pleasant news. The Siberian University has jumped 200 points in a 2011 international ratings survey, and boasts strong positions among Russia’s higher educational institutions. On the whole, this is quite good, considering the fact that this is a new university. At the same time, our classic universities, which were established 100 and 200 years ago, always make it to the top. On the whole, this is a positive trend.

Second, I would like to discuss the qualification of specialists, their education standards and the need for retraining them. Unfortunately, this problem exists. As I see it, the main demand and the main requirements should be formulated by employers. In turn, the employers should submit all this to the boards of trustees, to academic councils and to universities in general, and they should also inform graduates about these requirements. Our task is to immerse students in their future profession because, as the experience of such direct conversations shows, today’s conversation was quite frank and spontaneous. St Valentine’s Day may have influenced this atmosphere. The students were in a good mood. But their professional guidance leaves a lot to be desired. Of course, university administrations should pay attention to this.

Third, the innovation belt of the Siberian Federal University has about 40 small businesses, and that of the Southern University includes 17 small businesses. I am not talking about their number, although this is also important. Of course, we should not only establish these small businesses, we should also arrange their cost-effective work, create favourable conditions for the introduction of inventions, for the creation of intellectual property and for ensuring the protection of this intellectual property. And I would like university administrators and board of trustees members who are present here to say what can be accomplished in this respect.

Fourth, I would like to discuss specific funding concepts, the role of the state and private business, as well as the role of university endowments. We have also discussed these issues with students today. As for the Endowment Fund, I get the impression that this work has been launched. However, only a small amount of funding has so far been gathered. I am not telling you to accumulate money as quickly as possible, but I believe that, apart from financial considerations, this is just another indicator of a university’s success. 

I will not conceal the fact that endowments develop well at those universities from which many good students graduate. This is also a global trend. Why do Stanford, Harvard, Oxford and MIT receive substantial endowments? It is because they produce very good graduates. But this is not the only thing. Endowments do not only depend on graduates who are millionaires and billionaires. Endowments are based on and develop through the involvement of alumni in the affairs of their alma maters. It is a very good sign if a graduate wants to donate 500 roubles or $20 from his own pocket. Multi-million dollar donations are not necessary. Of course, our higher educational institutions will expand their potential as they develop, but this, too, is important.

The fifth aspect is also quite important. What is a university? Of course, it includes students and professors. Its professors are scientists who constitute a university’s potential. Even your universities, which receive substantial funding, have evolved from fairly successful universities some time ago. But the share of professors who conduct research projects remains rather low. And we also have to think about this.

So, let’s discuss this range of issues and other issues, if any.