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All work and no study

Moscow State University BuildingStudents have spoken out at a proposal to scrap the standard stipend and force them to work, saying it could affect their studies and spark protests.

President Dmitry Medvedev's top economic advisor Arkady Dvorkovich said in an interview with Gazeta.ru that subsidising students sent out the wrong signal, and that jobs should be created to fund their education.

"Everybody needs to have their own work, and those jobs should become modern," he said. "For it to become fashionable [to work] it is necessary to cancel standard grants for students because it sends the wrong signal if you receive indemnifications for studying."

The current stipend doesn't cover students' fees, meaning many Russian students already have to work. Dvorkovich, however, proposes creating more jobs on campus to make it easier to focus on studies.

"After studying they can work on the faculty, in the library, in cafes or doing translations," he added.

The Russian Union of Students has planned a picket on January 26 outside the Education and Science Ministry, and warns of further demonstrations, RIA Novosti reports.

"The realisation of this current initiative could promote displays of radicalism in the youth movement," said the union's chairman Alexei Kazak.

But Lyubov Dukhanina, the vice-president of the Russian Public Chamber of Science, says the grant is so small, covering less than 10 per cent of students' expenditures, that nobody will notice it, Vedomosti reports.

Russia's government is currently battling a budget deficit, and cutting subsidies for students could help save money.

The grant is only available to students studying at free universities, and opponents of the system say their tax shouldn't be used to support a minority, when most have to pay for their education.

"In Russian universities stipends are only given to students who study for free, which is a small percentage," said Natalia Bashkireva, who recently graduated from a fee-paying school. "As a tax payer I don't see any use for me paying for students studying for free and getting subsidies as well, when I paid for my education."

But students say free education is their basic right, particularly to encourage talented pupils from poorer backgrounds to take university courses and increase social mobility.

"They suggest stratifying society even more by making education more elite," Kazak wrote on the union's website. "Talented young people from poor families won't be able to study and one of the core incentives to get good marks in exams will disappear."

Some academics have also spoken out against scrapping the grants, saying that they provide valuable incentives for students to improve their performance.

"The grant never was means of survival for students, but stimulated progress," Vasily Kozlov, the rector of a Nizhny Novgorod institute for agriculture and industry, told Vedomosti.

Lana Lanina, who receives an improved stipend, said: "I wouldn't study as hard if I didn't receive a higher grant".

And working full-time is also seen as a significant threat to the standard of education. Elena Buryakova, the head of the work department at the Higher School of Business, told Vedomosti that education standards had been slipping the last few years, and some students were sleeping in lectures after shifts at work.

"It's very hard to work full time for a student and the quality of education suffers immensely, when a student starts working," said student Elena Kozlova. "At our university they get 1,000 roubles per month ­ the sum isn't big, but it's enough to pay for transport and some minor expenditures."

Kazak, however, believes the recent ethnic tensions could lead to the plans being shelved for fear of sparking more protests.

"Students and other young people are already one of the most intolerant social groups," he wrote on the union's website. "I'm sure these ideas will be buried otherwise it will be very easy to collect a big group of protesters in the streets."

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