Low university scholarships fuel student discontent

Discontent is rising among Russian university students over the small amount students receive for state scholarships and the ever-growing cost of tuition, according to recent statements of some representatives of a local student union and analysts in the field of higher education.

To date, students of some leading Russian universities have already sent an official petition to Russia’s Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, asking the government to raise scholarships to a level not lower than the regional minimum wage.

The petition says the current scholarship rate at Russian universities forces both undergraduate and graduate students to take on low-skilled jobs while at university. That leads to a deterioration of the quality of their studying and education.

Tatyana Salupayeva, one of the authors of the petition and a student of the Moscow State University, said that during student discussions the issue of scholarships is often raised.

“It is a topic that worries students from different universities across Russia,” she said.

“Spending time working as a waiter or courier means a student spends less time studying. As a result, the quality of his education remains poor.

“However, it is difficult to blame them for this: the current amount of scholarships, paid by the state is not enough even for food.”

Activists say they have started the collection of signatures in support of a raise of the scholarship rate, planning public actions and protests.

Currently the procedure for payment of scholarships in Russia is regulated by Article 36 of the Federal Law ‘On Education in the Russian Federation’.

In accordance with the law, the academic state scholarship is received by those students who study full-time on state-funded places. It is paid once a month and only if the student has completed the semester with good grades.

In the 2017-18 academic year, the rate of state scholarships at Russian universities varied in the range of RUB1,400 to RUB2,500 (US$21-37) per month.

However, so far the Russian federal government has shown little concern about it.

In November last year, the head of the Ministry of Education and Science of Russia, Olga Vasilyeva, said at a seminar that the scholarship fund for the 2018-19 academic year would be increased from RUB65.51 billion to RUB69.19 billion.

According to the press service of the ministry, at the end of September this proposal was still awaiting approval by Medvedev, although this is expected shortly.

But students say this sum is still not enough and must be significantly increased.

A spokesperson of the ministry said the government is aware of the current discontent of students regarding the amount of their scholarships. However, according to earlier statements from Vasilyeva, the only option at present may involve the raising of scholarship levels for postgraduates only.

The ministry proposes that for other students, universities should increase scholarships from their own reserves.

A spokesperson for the press service of the ministry said: “The issue of raising scholarships is constantly discussed for all categories of students. However, at present universities could encourage the most talented students from their own resources.”

In May of the current year, Alexander Sergeev, head of the Russian Academy of Sciences, suggested raising monthly scholarships to first-year students to RUB20,000-30,000 (US$295-440) per month and taking this money from a specially established fund. However, such a proposal has not received support from the state.