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Regular version of the site

Plenty of Engineers – Plenty of Innovations?

On September 18th 2012, the HSE Institute for Educational Studies held the latest in its series of regular seminars. Martin Carnoy, Stanford University Professor and Academic Supervisor of the International Laboratory for Education Policy Analysis, spoke about ‘BRIC Triumph: Unprecedented Boom of Higher Education’.

For those unable to attend the seminar, a webinar was organized. The event unveiled the results of research carried out by a team of researchers from Brazil, Russia, India and China (BRIC) headed by Martin Carnoy and dedicated to examining the booming development of the higher education system in these countries. The researchers where attempting to find out if BRIC countries could become new centers of innovation and cutting edge technology?

The study was based on two key assumptions. First, that the leading role in the development of the educational system in BRIC countries is played by the state. Second, the state is content with this situation, since it increases their legitimacy inside and outside the country. By using this model, the researchers empirically analyzed changes to the BRIC countries’ higher education systems in the context of their economic and political situations. The main focus was on education in the engineering sector.

The results show that between 2000 and 2010 the number of engineering graduates grew considerably in Russia and Brazil, almost doubled in China, and tripled in India, while in the USA the situation was radically different. ‘This is why the US is seriously concerned about how the huge number of engineering graduates from Russia, India and China can influence the global knowledge economy and the geography of high tech production’, Professor Carnoy emphasized.

The researchers believe that the growing number of engineers graduating in BRIC countries is related to the fact that future financial benefits from a technical education are high, especially for women.

The report also showed that over the last ten years the state has managed to shift the costs of educating future engineers onto their families. Parents have realized the benefits of an engineering education and are ready to pay for the future wealth of their children. And today, for example, in Russia about 55% of students pay for their education.

And this trend is global. Education has ceased to be a public responsibility and is becoming a private one.

Russia and China have not completely stopped paying for further education, but today they are implementing a special policy of fostering a relatively small number of elite universities (38 in Russia and 111 in China). As a result, in these countries the gap between state spending on higher level universities and other universities is growing. Such a situation is rather unusual in global terms: it doesn’t occur in either the US or in Europe. And while in the US there is also a difference in investment in different levels of university, this gap has been stable for many years, but Russia and China it is consistently widening.

In addition to the problems of price, the researchers have also studied the issue of education quality. It seems that prospective students in India and Brazil are the most poorly prepared: according to international research, their grades in mathematics are the lowest. And upon graduation, the quality of engineers in these countries is also not very high.

In China and Russia the students who enter technical universities are not as weak. They have good grades in mathematics according to TIMSS and PISA data, and these students are quite competitive compared with other OECD countries. Also, there are a great deal of high-level teachers in Russia and China. Although, despite all of this, the quality of graduates from Russian and Chinese universities is not as high as might be expected.

One more problem also covered in the study was related to distributing the costs for education and social inequality. The distribution of state resources for education in general, and engineering education in particular, is very uneven in BRIC countries. The lion’s share of state investment is assigned not to those who need it most, but to students from wealthy families.

For example, in Brazil about 20 percent of children from the upper social strata, from the wealthiest families, get about half of all state costs for education. And only 13 percent of state costs are spent on students from poorer families, who make up about 40 percent of all students. In Russia the situation is similar. The share of public spending for educating the wealthiest students is huge.

In the end of his speech Martin Carnoy said that the BRIC countries, except Russia (where the population is decreasing), will increase the ‘production’ of engineers. And graduates from elite universities in BRIC countries will be quite competitive on the global labour market. In absolute terms the number of graduate qualified engineers from these four countries (where the majority are Chinese) almost equals the number of graduate engineers from all other developed countries, about 250,000 young professionals a year.

But such a boom in the sphere of higher engineering education brings with it certain dangers. Since the opportunities to carry out scientific and technical research in 80% of all BRIC universities are quite limited, and the quality of the majority of graduate engineers is not particularly high, this may lead to a serious threat to the further internal development of Brazil, Russia, India and China.

Alina Ivanova, specially for HSE News Service

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