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President Putin's 2020 State-of-the-Nation Address Calls for State-of-the-Art, Accessible Education at Regional Universities

January 15, 2020

In his annual address to the Russian Parliament, President Vladimir Putin stressed that regional development was key to achieving this country's national goals.

On the subject of higher education, science and technology, the president said that on-campus higher education must remain accessible. He also called on business and other employers closely to cooperate with regional universities to help them produce graduates who would be well equipped to take forward Russia's research agenda, develop its high-technology industry and implement ambitious S&T programs, including those related to AI.

Vladimir Putin emphasized that universities should be quick to respond to changes in the labor market which was seeing new professions appear and old ones grow increasingly sophisticated. Higher education providers should have the flexibility to meet those new demands as they emerged. The president added that students should be allowed to switch majors or educational programs, possibly striking out into related academic fields, once they had completed their second year. Admittedly, this was no easy thing to ensure, “but do it we must”, said Vladimir Putin.

With the numbers of school-leavers set to grow in the next few years, it was imperative to maintain a level playing field in terms of access to free on-campus higher education, the president said. He proposed an annual increase in the number of government-funded university places, with the newly created spaces going first and foremost to universities in regions that faced a shortage of teachers, doctors and engineers.

However, Vladimir Putin warned that it would not be enough merely to expand the intake of  government-funded students. Teaching, research and social facilities at regional universities had to be improved, an endeavor that should involve business partners and local employers. Particular attention should be paid to the continuous training and development of regional universities' faculty and staff to make sure that students acquired up-to-date knowledge and skills and got a chance to pursue a rewarding career in their home regions.

Samara University's Acting Rector Vladimir Bogatyrev is confident that these initiatives will serve to enhance the appeal of Russia's entire higher education system. He sees them as a logical extension to the existing core measures aimed at supporting regional universities and helping them attract student talent, such as educational programs run jointly with Russia's premier universities, campus construction projects, and distance and online learning courses.

Vladimir Bogatyrev believes that more government-funded places at regional universities will translate into fewer promising graduates leaving their home regions, particularly those remote from Moscow and St Petersburg. Eventually, this should strengthen the regional workforce.

Vitaly Drobchik, executive secretary of St Petersburg Polytechnic University (SPbPU) Admissions Committee, sounds a note of caution. It is important to gauge each region's real need for graduates in 'sought-after' subjects, he says, as well as to appraise whether a regional university will be able to provide high-quality education, complying with established standards, if it considerably increases its student intake.

Experts believe that making available more government-funded places for students in such disciplines as IT, Chemistry or Power Engineering will contribute to meeting the goals set by Russia's National Technological Initiative and National Projects for Science, Education and Digital Economy.

Russian regions have already been moving to attract academic talent as part of the National Projects for Science and Education. Most notably, they have been setting up world-class science and education clusters (SECs) that are designed to take to a new level cooperation between the authorities, business and academia in scientific research, innovation, education and digital economy. Pilot SECs are now running in Perm Krai and the Belgorod, Kemerovo, Nizhny Novgorod and Tyumen Regions. A total of 15 such clusters will be operating across Russia by 2024.