Students sue for their cash

February 27, 1998

Siberian law students dissatisfied with the low level of their maintenance grants are taking their college to court. The case against the Irkutsk State Academy of Economics will be heard later this year by a city court.

The law faculty students are basing their case on Russia's higher and postgraduate education laws, alleging that over the past 18 months the academy has failed to pay state grants in full.

Higher education laws say that students at state universities entitled to a stipend must receive a minimum 80 roubles a month (Pounds 8) - an amount equal to twice the official minimum wage - to pay for housing, travel, food and other costs associated with their studies.

The students claim that the academy, which administers grants funded from central budgets, is responsible for paying off a backlog of grant arrears.

But officials at the nine-faculty academy say that every kopek they receive from Moscow for student stipends is paid out.

Vladimir Levchenko, vice-rector of the academy, said the level of stipends paid to students depended on various factors, including how well they were doing academically, but most students received twice the official minimum.

"These students are alleging that the law on higher education is not being executed, but we are paying the students as much as the government gives us," Professor Levchenko said.

He added that he considered the court action a publicity stunt.

"I'm surprised this case has attracted any interest. We have 3,000 students at the academy who each month are paid at the rate that is set.

"The case is being brought by a tiny minority - just three law students."

The academy had told the students that it owes them nothing and expected the court to uphold this, he said.

Yuri Novikov, head of the education ministry's directorate of higher professional educational institutes, said he was alarmed to hear of the Irkutsk's students' legal action and insisted that there was no problem paying student stipends in Russia.

A spokesman for the Russian Association of Student Trade Unions claimed that as many as a third of all Russian students have not received their grants for the last two years, but said taking individual institutions to court was unlikely to succeed.

Natalia Perelomova, an Irkutsk teacher who has a son at the Economics Academy, said she was unaware of the dispute over sti-pends, but conceded that Russian students are expected to survive on a pittance.

The case in Siberia is not the only one of its kind that has been pursued in Russia. Two years ago a Mosocw State Technical University student won a court case against his rector over non-payment of his grant.

Tulsky University, in the central city of Tula, is also facing a legal action by students who claim they are existing below the poverty line.

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