Dumpling diet clue to poverty

April 2, 1999

Students in Ekaterinburg are the poorest in Russia, a survey by financial magazine Kommersant Dengi claims.

Based on a survey of monthly student incomes and expenditure on a range of necessities - including accommodation, library fees, beer, vodka and packets of pilmenyi (Russian meat dumplings) - those studying in president Boris Yeltin's Urals home town are the poorest.

Monthly income for students on a grant, known as a stipend, in Ekaterinburg is 90 roubles (less than Pounds 3) but expenditure is 1,581 roubles.

The best off are in Kazan, capital of the autonomous republic of Tatarstan, where although the stipend is just 82 roubles, the cost of living is lower leaving them with a deficit of only 775 roubles and 45 kopeks each month.

"The general opinion is that students should be poor and those who exist on a paltry diet of pilmenyi and canteen food are the keenest to study. But even for those with the most modest desires, the stipend is insufficient," the magazine reports.

Blaming Russia's economic crisis for student poverty is too glib an answer, it continues: even in Soviet times the stipend barely covered the cost of a monthly metro and bus pass.

"Student budget deficits are filled from the pockets of parents and the rest of the money comes from students selling newspapers or writing diploma papers for less hardworking, but wealthier, students."

The magazine's list of basic staples, which included 20 packets of pilmenyi, five bottles of beer, half a litre of vodka and one trip to the theatre or a concert each month found the cost ranged from 860 roubles a month in Kazan to 1,280 in Moscow, 1,323 in the central Russian city of Samara and 1,581 in Ekaterinburg.

Student stipends ranged from 140 roubles a month in St Petersburg to 82 in Kazan.

Students in the eastern Siberian city of Irkutsk, which was not included in the survey, agreed that poverty was the key feature of their lives.

Calculations based on the magazine's criteria by students at Irkutsk State Technical University found that Irkutsk students were marginally better off than their counterparts in Moscow. Expenditure totalled 1,241 roubles a month against an income of 100 roubles, four roubles more than the average grant in the nation's capital.

Yuri Agafonov, a masters student of geophysics, said: "We live on a diet of potatoes, pasta, bread and the occasional piece of meat. Some students find a job and others get larger grants by scoring top marks in exams, but of course the cost of living is increasing all the time while the stipend remains the same."

Like many students, Mr Agafonov works within the university to earn extra money. His job as a caretaker, opening lecture halls and ensuring doors and windows are closed at the end of the day, brings in 200 roubles a month.

Other students work hard to win grants from charities and organisations such as the Soros Foundation or national and regional Russian funds.

"Some young people think it's better to find a job than starve as a student," Mr Agafonov said.

"But many others are prepared to be poor for five years because they believe they will earn much more when they have their specialism."

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