26 february 2010

Prime Minister Vladimir Putin chairs a meeting of the Presidium of the Presidential Council for Priority National Projects and Demographic Policy

“First of all, we must consistently fulfil the government’s obligations to supply housing to particular demographics, such as war veterans, people who took part in the Chernobyl cleanup, army servicemen, etc. I’m also talking about relocating people out of dilapidated housing and other similar programmes…” <...> “I would like to say that the most important thing for us is providing equal access for citizens to free, general education, regardless of the legal status and the ownership of an educational institution. And in this context, we must ensure the quality of these education services.”

Vladimir Putin's opening address: 

Good afternoon,

First of all, I'd like to congratulate all those who built this institution. The library is designed in a high-tech style, but it is very comfortable and very convenient for its users. It is a good example for other regions to follow.

At today's meeting of the Presidium of the Council for National Projects we will examine two issues. The first will be more informational than discussion-oriented, but if any ideas occur to you, we can talk about them as well. I am referring to our plans for housing. The second issue is a national educational project.

We have two key goals for housing. First of all, we must consistently fulfil the government's obligations to supply housing to particular demographics, such as war veterans, people who took part in the Chernobyl cleanup, army servicemen, etc. I'm also talking about relocating people out of dilapidated housing and other similar programmes...

I would like to emphasize that we must take care not only of those service members who are completing their service today, but also those who served in the past and were put on the municipal or regional waiting list for housing (due to certain economic difficulties in the country). It takes an extremely long time to get off the waiting list. Let's discuss this issue once again, think it over and formulate proposals for a specific programme to resolve the problem for this demographic.

At the same time, we must create conditions that would allow as many people as possible to purchase new flats and improve their living conditions on their own, primarily through mortgages.

Let me remind you that a total of 820,000 mortgage loans, worth 1.2 trillion roubles, were issued in this country in 2007 and 2008. Of course, considering the overall demand, this is only the beginning. But it is still a handsome sum.

These loans were issued because we were able to ensure decent progress in construction - 61 million square metres in 2007 and 64.1 million square metres in 2008. There was a slight decline in the past year, but the figure was still quite impressive - 59 million square meters.

As I have already said, the economic crisis was bound to affect mortgages, primarily because the banks lost access to easy, long-term credit. To be honest, we never really had this sort of credit, but we were headed in that direction. As a result, interest rates became too high for potential borrowers, although experts estimate that 117,000 mortgage loans worth a total of 138 billion roubles were still issued over the past year. In any event, mortgages were able to survive in 2009, which was a difficult year. Although interest rates were prohibitive in some regions, people received loans to the tune of 138 billion roubles from banks.

At the end of last year, the government issued an instruction to the relevant bodies to find additional resources for supporting mortgage loans in order to make them accessible to the public.

I have already said more than once that interest rates on mortgage loans should not exceed 11%, and the down payment should not be more than 20% of the cost of a flat. Calculations show that such terms will allow many more people to take advantage of mortgage loans, because they cannot afford to pay the 14%-15% the banks require today. Even 11% is high, and should be lowered in the future.

Several days ago, the State Duma adopted amendments reducing the initial mortgage installment. I hope that the Federation Council will back this bill.

Vnesheconombank (VEB) and the National Welfare Fund will grant commercial banks a total of 250 billion roubles to enable them to issue affordable loans. This is the long-term credit that we will use to resolve the housing problem.

Let's be clear about this - to a certain extent, this is artificial support and artificial long-term credit, because in the normal economy such credit consists of several components: considerable savings in bank accounts, big pension and insurance funds, etc.

Yet, on the whole this is a movement in the right direction. We must support the market and those who want to have their housing conditions improved. We must heat up the market a little bit without overheating it. But supporting it is a must.

We have together agreed that it is premature to reduce measures of support for the real economy this year. Support for housing construction is one of these measures.

I believe that we should use government resources to encourage demand for inexpensive, affordable housing. Therefore, we will impose a ceiling on mortgage loans - three million roubles in the regions and eight million roubles in Moscow and St Petersburg, our metropolises.

Clearly, it is important to have an idea of how much a square metre costs and what sort of flat could be bought for this money, but let me repeat that we are primarily focusing on inexpensive housing for average consumers. Moreover, such loans are exclusively designed for buying flats in new buildings.

This is also a well-thought-out decision, because new flats are cheaper, and sometimes much cheaper, than secondary real estate market because in the past construction materials and everything else were more expensive than today. I hope this will allow us to support housing construction and encourage new construction projects.

Hundreds of thousands of jobs and the prospects for economic growth in the construction and related industries depend on this.

Today I discussed this with the head of the Mortgage Agency. The Agency's representatives have discussed this issue with the banks. The programme will be launched in April.

Now let's turn to education.

We are holding a meeting of the Presidium in the Tyumen Region, which was one of the first regions to develop, and, importantly, adopt new approaches to education administration.

President Dmitry Medvedev has endorsed the national initiative entitled "Our New School."

In effect, we are continuing what we began under the National Education Project. In fact, the priority national projects, which have helped us gain expertise, knowledge and experience, were designed to become the foundation for systemic transformations.

Since 2007, comprehensive programmes for modernising primary and secondary education have been launched in 31 regions of Russia. These programmes affect about 20,000 schools with five million children.

Today I would like to hear from this and other speakers how to assess the results achieved, primarily regarding qualitative changes in the general education system.

This is important because the experience gained should gradually be spread to the rest of the country.

Our children should receive the knowledge and skills required for an active life in a modern society, as well as for a successful professional career in an innovations-based economy.

The school should actively support the best students and teachers and be sensitive and kind to all children, including those with disabilities.

I believe the following measures should be taken to achieve this. First, starting on September 1, 2011, all first formers will study according to new educational standards. We must prevent the introduction of these modern standards from becoming a mere formality, ensuring that they improve both the quality and content of education and the conditions for children during their time in our schools.

On a side note, I would like to draw the attention of the Minister of Education to the need to analyse these standards critically, with input from leading national experts, making sure they meet modern requirements. We should see how they will work. Special responsibility for this rests with the regional and municipal authorities.

Second, we must show we are serious about enhancing the teaching profession's performance and prestige. I will cite just one example: in the regions that have introduced new remuneration systems, teachers' salaries are growing a great deal faster than in the regions that have not done so as quickly.

In 20 leading regions, teachers' salaries have drawn level with or even exceeded the average incomes in the regional economy.

Creativity, commitment and the ability to achieve excellent results are encouraged most of all.

As I said, in 20 regions that took part in comprehensive education modernisation projects, the teachers' average salary reached the average salary for the region. In seven of these regions, the teachers' average salary has surpassed the average in the region by more than 20%. Here I can cite such positive examples as the Kaliningrad and Saratov regions, the Altai Territory, the Jewish Autonomous Area, the Republic of Buryatia, the Tomsk Region and the Republic of Altai.

In addition to decent pay, Russian teachers will have an opportunity to continually improve their qualifications and learn new teaching technology. To this end, the Education Ministry is developing new programmes for additional professional training. I have signed the relevant government resolution outlining the work plan, which will make it possible to carry out the necessary reattestations.

I am pleased to report that after prolonged consultations with the unions, we have agreed upon a reattestation mechanism. We must bring a new generation of young and talented teachers into the classrooms.

Thirdly, we must continue establishing a uniform, nationwide system for evaluating the quality of education. Pupils and their parents must have an opportunity to influence the quality and standards of teaching.

Citizens' support is critical for successful reform: parents' committees, teacher's associations and so on.

We have just visited an ordinary school in Tyumen, School No. 88, which, by the way, is not located in the city centre. There all the positive aspects of the reform that has been going on since 2005 were evident.

Salaries have grown substantially, and the structure of the teaching staff has changed due to the transition to per capita financing: the number of teachers has grown while auxiliary staff has been cut. The school has forged a good relationship with the parents' committee. A new committee has been set up that is directly involved in the school's functioning. Parents have become participants in the education process, which is very important as it fosters trust in what the teaching staff is doing.

Educational institutions should become more open, regularly publishing full and objective reports on their activities. And the public governing boards being created in schools - I have mentioned one of them - must have real opportunities to influence key decisions affecting the school's life.

And one final point. Schools cannot work effectively unless they enjoy broad autonomy in financial and economic matters.

We must see to it that new models of per capita financing are actually put into practice in educational institutions, thus serving as incentives for schools' development, and that the connection between the school's performance and its funding be transparent for the teaching staff.

Let me remind you that the government has submitted to the State Duma a draft law redefining the legal status of federal and municipal institutions. It establishes a legal framework and provides incentives for the introduction of new models of management in social services.

These models will help make budget spending more effective and, more importantly, improve the quality of education, healthcare and other essential services provided by the state.

The draft law has passed its first reading. I would like to stress that its essentials will not change.

Therefore I ask the heads of regions to begin preparations for implementing the law without waiting for it to come into effect. And to approach this work with maximum responsibility.

Proposals for the required plans and supporting legislation have been prepared.

I would also like to draw your attention to private schools. This is another issue. Many of them offer good, quality education and accommodate the needs of those children who for various reasons find it difficult to adapt themselves to conventional public schools.

I believe that the constituent entities of the Russian Federation could be more active in supporting successful private schools and financing them as a part of government initiatives according to established regional standards.

That is all I wanted to say in the beginning.


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Vladimir Putin's closing remarks:

Colleagues, I am not going to deliver a lengthy concluding speech. The speakers today have touched upon practically all the aspects of the problems at hand. I would like to say that the most important thing for us is providing equal access for citizens to free, general education, regardless of the legal status and the ownership of an educational institution. And in this context, we must ensure the quality of these education services.

We have prepared an extended document, a protocol decision. We will certainly amend it by adding your proposals.

In conclusion, I would like to say the following. We in the Russian Federation spend much more on education than on other key government functions, including ensuring the country's defence capability. In 2010 we will spend 2.9% of GDP on defence and 4.4%, from all the sources, including the consolidated budget, on education. Believe me, that is a great difference. The challenge is to use the money intelligently for the benefit of the citizens of the Russian Federation. Let us wish one another success in meeting that challenge.