OREANDA-NEWS.  February 14, 2012. Opening remarks by Vladimir Putin: Good afternoon, colleagues.

We meet regularly, but I think fewer people attended last time. But there are more students here today. I see. In any case, we talk regularly and discuss issues that concern all of us. The main issue here is the development of education, research and higher education in general, which should be tuned to the needs of society and the economy.

I would like to emphasise what we have discussed before: by 2020 we must build a chain of world class universities here in Russia. We are actively working on this now – I mean all our higher education institutions of course. You also know about the programmes that are being implemented, such as research universities, federal universities, and our two leading universities in Moscow and St Petersburg. I would like to return to their development and ask you to share your opinion on how they are progressing, and what else we should do to maintain that consistent progress.

I would like to draw your attention to the fact that, in the past five years, we have doubled federal spending on higher education. Doubled in five years! And we also tripled the funding of civilian science. These are very objective and reliable figures.

As you know, the student allowance fund was increased by 9% as of September 1, 2011, so that universities controlled by the Education and Science Ministry are able to pay their students monthly benefits in addition to the general government allowance.

We need to take another step in this direction now. You must have read the plans published in the Komsomolskaya Pravda daily on Monday. So I would like to discuss some of them with you now, and to ask for your advice, and probably even for assistance. We must sit down together and work out a uniform approach to this issue. What did the article say? It said that we must significantly increase the allowance for freshman students. I know that many of those present here are skeptical and wary about this proposal, because assistants earn 5,000 roubles a month. But this is a very low income. And in any case, this should not prevent us from raising student allowance, under the pretext that assistants earn a very low income. They should have higher salaries. This is simply unacceptable. One cannot live on this.

As for the students – this is not a pre-election slogan. That is, although it did appear during the election campaign, this was a conscious decision and not some kind of charity. My idea is to build a so-called system of social mobility, a fair system which we do not currently have. This is clear and this is true.

Secondly, we must create an environment in which gifted young people from low-income families are able to reach their potential for their own benefit and for the benefit of the nation. If a new student has good potential and skills, but cannot afford to buy bread or butter or meat – excuse me, but that student will not be able to perform well in his studies. He will have to find a way to earn some money, and that will interfere with the learning process. And so, I have asked to meet with you here today to discuss how to go about doing all this.