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Meeting with Moscow State University Rector Viktor Sadovnichy

October 29, 2019, Novo-Ogaryovo, Moscow Region

Rector of Moscow State University Viktor Sadovnichy briefed the President on the university’s current activities. Plans for celebrating the university’s 270th anniversary in 2025 were discussed separately.

President of Russia Vladimir Putin: Mr Sadovnichy, we meet fairly often as I chair the Moscow State University’s board of trustees.

Today, I would very much like to discuss the progress in implementing the development plans of our leading university – I will not talk about any rankings because this is how things are in our country by definition, also due to your efforts, of course. How are the development programmes being implemented? Maybe, you need additional assistance from the Government, or from me?

Among other things, you head the Council of Rectors, and I would like to discuss this too. How are things in the council? I am aware that you also have a substantial amount of work in dealing with your foreign colleagues, and there are plans in this area as well.

Please go ahead.

Rector of Moscow State University Viktor Sadovnichy: Thank you very much, Mr President.

Several days from now we will be celebrating National Unity Day. I would like to present you with a book, of which there is only one copy. This book was written by a German in German language. He headed theatre studios under the Russian emperor. He wrote a play and an anthem glorifying Minin and Pozharsky in admiration for the feat of these people and the fact that Russia was finally united, and the Romanovs came to power. This is a play, and there is only one copy. He presented it to Alexander I. This book was kept in the library of Alexander I, but after the fire of 1812 he gave it to the Moscow University’s library for safekeeping. I made a facsimile. I want to give it to you. It reminds me of what you did in the 1990s to unite the country. This is an anthem to Russia’s unity written by a German.

Vladimir Putin: Thank you very much. Interesting. I will read it with pleasure. It is hand-written.

Viktor Sadovnichy: Here are the characters. Mikhail, Anna…

Vladimir Putin: Calligraphic handwriting, by the way.

Viktor Sadovnichy: Yes, the handwriting is good.

Mr President, I wanted to say that the university as a whole is “on the march” and we are resolving the issues you mentioned and working on your instructions – to the best of our ability.

Here is one figure: this year we admitted 10,000 students to the first course with an average score of about 90. These are the best that will serve this country and, of course, our society. We are also now teaching 10,000 foreign students. We have never had such a figure even in the distant past. It is comparable to the indicators in the world’s best universities. A third or about a fourth of our students are foreigners.

We are very popular, with nine applicants competing for one place. We admitted 10,000 students who have successfully begun their university studies in September.

Mr President, there is a programme that you endorsed and supported at the congress of the Union if Rectors in St Petersburg. I am referring to the Vernadsky Programme that provides assistance to the regions. Naturally, Moscow universities maybe fare a bit better. Our task is to adjust the balance in the regions, so the Vernadsky Programme was announced at the congress. It envisions aid to regional universities, postgraduate education, upgrading courses, schools, etc.

We signed 11 agreements with governors and another five will be signed in the next few years. Thus, we have established 16 consortiums, and this is an important event both in the education system and in our relations with the regions. I have been to Chechnya recently to hold the Teacher of the Year competition. A delegation from Chechnya is arriving now and they will sign an agreement as well.

Mr President, this is your programme, the Vernadsky Programme, and we are successfully carrying it out.

One of the projects within this programme is assistance to children affected by the floods in Irkutsk Region. When you visited for the first time, our hearts and souls were deeply moved. I raised five million rubles and these are not university funds. We simply raised the money and bought a thousand school backpacks and uniforms for first-graders in Irkutsk Region, all of its districts. They were delivered by Russian Post and on the 1st of September, when you were there, the schoolchildren were in our uniforms and had our backpacks. (Showing photos). Here are the schoolchildren. They are very grateful to us, and I am proud that we managed to help them. These are all first-graders without exception. Each backpack has 48 items and all of them were collected by our students. It took them a week, putting in one pencil after another.

Vladimir Putin: Thanks to the students.

Viktor Sadovnichy: And, of course, thank you for helping those regions.

You mentioned rector forums with foreign countries as a task for the Union of Rectors. We have held dozens of forums bringing together 4,000 rectors from China, India and Japan. The Arab countries and Iran are particularly active now. Every year, we hold five to six forums with about 100 rectors coming to us or us going to them.

I returned from Seville a few days ago where I chaired a forum of rectors of the Ibero-American countries, that is, all of Latin America, Cuba and Spain. There were about 100 rectors, including ours. So, the most recent Ibero-American forum has just been held. Before that, we held a forum with China in St Petersburg, and a week ago with Japan. Thus, 4,000 rectors are a force that we coordinate, communicate and gain an understanding with.

Here is a miracle, or whatever you want to call it: 30 British rectors requested a meeting with us and will be here in a few days. They themselves asked for this. They will be led by the British Council. We are preparing a forum, which will be held at Moscow State University.

Vladimir Putin: Very good.

Viktor Sadovnichy: We will share our achievements.

The British are known for their interest in fundamental education in our country, so they are coming.

Vladimir Putin: Very good.

Viktor Sadovnichy: I would like to mention another project, which is our branches. We have six of them, and all of them were opened at the request of the presidents of those countries. The last branch we opened was in Koper, Slovenia. This is a European country, a NATO member. They did not really want to do this, but the Slovenian government insisted, and we opened a branch in Koper.

At these six branches, we train 3,500 members of the elite in those countries.

Moscow University is not making a single ruble on this, because it is a nonprofit programme. All we do there is teach. True, travel expenses are covered by those countries. Therefore, this is real help in training those countries’ elite. We are providing training to 3,500 students at our branches.

Now, during your trip (I was there), there was a request to open a branch in Kyrgyzstan. They want one in Osh, so we will open the 7th branch in Kyrgyzstan.

Our branches are a form of assistance and, if you will, cooperation with those countries. I wanted to mention this as well.

Of course, we take pride in our branch in Sevastopol, which is doing quite well.

Vladimir Putin: Good.

Viktor Sadovnichy: Mr President, there is a special project, a joint Russian-Chinese university. (Shows photographs.) They built this university. There are 500 students there and the first graduation has already taken place.

Only Moscow State University provides training. Of course, our Chinese colleagues expect to have 10,000 students there soon.

Vladimir Putin: In Shenzhen?

Viktor Sadovnichy: Yes, in Shenzhen. They are building one of the biggest universities. Business is paying much attention to the university in Shenzhen.

I have shared my position with our Chinese colleagues. This must be a two-way street: they need to share their successes and technology with us, not just use our fundamental training. Well, we are trying to make this happen.

Finally, Mr President, the project that you supported, the Valley. This project is about to take off. We are laying the cornerstone, and the launch is on November 19. Construction will start early next year.

Eighty state owned corporations agreed to take part in the Valley. We have already signed deals with SIBUR, Sberbank and Rosneft. Each company sees its place in this Valley with an area of 17 hectares, as you determined. A fund, a management company and a board of directors were created. Moscow is part of it. Mayor Sergei Sobyanin is in charge.

Vladimir Putin: I know. They have 30 percent.

Viktor Sadovnichy: Right, 30 percent. We start construction early next year, and I think it will be unprecedented in university practice. This is not just a research park. I have seen such parks abroad. What we wanted was, as you said, a direct interface, a team combining universities, businesses and technology.

Vladimir Putin: They should use our technology.

Viktor Sadovnichy: Our technology, yes.

Mr President, I have two more points to make. We have two schools: a university preparatory school, which we built two years ago, and the Kolmogorov School. (Shows photographs.) This school has trained 3,000 doctors of science, including 15 academicians. Just this school alone. It was somewhat obsolete as it dates back a while. We started building a campus similar to this one, and we will build a new school in 18 months. Thus, we will have two schools: a university preparatory school and the Kolmogorov School for the gifted and talented.

I would like to report on the anti-doping laboratory. It was created as you requested. It is fully equipped and certified. I maintain correspondence directly with WADA senior executives. Their most recent response was, ‘we will wait, sort out the tests and then relocate’.

Vladimir Putin: We are ready.

Viktor Sadovnichy: We are ready. We are in full compliance with everything.

At the last Board of Trustees meeting, I said we managed to obtain land on Trostyanka, the Curonian Spit. I am grateful to the Governor of Kaliningrad Region, Anton Alikhanov, for that. We have started implementing this project, and Moscow University will build a centre that will help Kaliningrad Region via research, education and, of course, vacations on the Curonian Spit. Thus, we got back our property that the Baltic republics took from us.

In closing, I want to say that we are at the top of all the rankings.

Vladimir Putin: I am aware of that.

Viktor Sadovnichy: We will turn 270 soon, and we are preparing for this anniversary. We want to restore several buildings on Mokhovaya Street and build a new dormitory.

I mustered enough courage to ask you to issue instructions to draft an executive order on the anniversary, which will be in 2025, but actually in 2024, so it is time to begin working on it.

Well, that is all regarding general matters.

Vladimir Putin: I checked the numbers on the number of applicants for a place at the university since 1992. The lowest number at Moscow State University was in 1993 with 3.5 applicants per spot.

Viktor Sadovnichy: That is right. Now it is up at almost 9.

The 1990s were bad for us, because back then the overall attitude was – I remember this as rector – ”we’ll be better off selling stuff at a stall than studying at a university.“ Thankfully, later the realisation came that education is an asset. The demand for education is high now. The curve is up. The demand for higher education is growing. The real thing, not some second rate thing.

Vladimir Putin: This is very good.


October 29, 2019, Novo-Ogaryovo, Moscow Region