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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Irkutsk Students Sue Rector for Stipends




Angry law students at the Academy of Economics in Irkutsk are taking their rector to court because they have not received their stipends for more than 1 1/2 years, a student union official said Friday.


But Vadim Potapov, public relations officer at the Russian Association of Student Trade Unions, said it is the government and not higher education institutes that are to blame for neglecting to subsidize students across the country since July 1996.


The students in Irkutsk are citing Russia's laws on higher and post-graduate education as grounds for their lawsuit against their alma mater. According to this law, students must receive an amount equal to twice the minimum wage to pay for food, travel, accommodation and field-trip costs, about 80 rubles ($13.50) a month.


But officials at the academy say they are unable to pay the grants because the government has not provided them with the money to do so.


"We are trying to pay off a three-year backlog of grants," the daily newspaper Izvestia quoted an official of the academy as saying. "The government has not even provided us with the money to pay for students to come into the institute in the mornings. But taking one's alma mater to court amounts to suing one's own parents. It is a terrible situation."


Potapov said the students in Irkutsk do not have much hope of successfully obtaining their stipends through the court system.


"The rector of the university is not the guilty one," he said. "What is he supposed to do? Sell off some of the institute's buildings to pay his students?


Government education officials said the students were not likely to gain from the court case and suggested direct negotiations with the students might be more beneficial.


"In reality, court is not a way out. We need to sit down and talk about this sensibly," Izvestia quoted a spokesman from the Education Ministry's press office as saying. "Even if these students win the case, the money will not just appear out of thin air."


Potapov said 30 percent of the country's students have not received grant payments since July 1996.


"Even when students are paid, it is a pitiful amount," he said. "They are entitled to 7 rubles a year for traveling expenses. But by our calculations, 150 rubles should be the absolute minimum."


Students from the Academy of Economics in Irkutsk were not available for comment Friday. But Lyubov Fomina, 17, who studies at the Railway College in Irkutsk, said she and many of her friends had come to the end of their ropes.


"A lot of students here have not been paid for more than a year," she said. "But in any case, the grant is so low we have to get assistance from our parents or earn money on the side in order to make ends meet."


This is not the first time students have taken institutes of higher learning to court for failure to pay grants. Eighteen months ago, a student from the Moscow State Technical University won a suit against his rector when he did not receive his subsidy. And the administration of the Tulsky University is also under threat of being sued by students infuriated by the destitution they face every day.