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Universities in Russia and other BRICS countries will cooperate more actively with each other

On December 3, HSE marked ‘Russian Universities’ Day’ – an event held during the BRICS University summit organized by Times Higher Education and the 5/100 Project for Raising the Competitiveness of Russia’s Leading Universities among the top global higher education institutions.

The forum brought together over 50 representatives of international universities and over 60 from Russian universities, to discuss issues of cooperation in education and research between universities in countries whose economies are developing actively. It was agreed that, over the next two years, the HSE would welcome up to 100 Brazilian students, who will enroll in BA, MA or further postgraduate studies.

Russia and Brazil have not before set themselves such ambitious plans for cooperation in education, and students from Latin America rarely come to study in Russia. What prompted this uptick in interest?

New wave universities

The BRICS countries are today striving to oust the world’s leading economies, HSE Rector Yaroslav Kuzminov said. International financial organizations’ leading experts have already posited that, in 10-15 years’ time, these countries will play a much more significant role in the global economy. Given this reality, there is extensive potential for inter-university cooperation, joint research, and cultural projects.

One of the key ideas raised at the summit is founded in the understanding that BRICS countries universities are not only becoming increasingly competitive at a global level, but are ready and willing to cooperate more readily — in part in order to achieve this goal. The framework for this cooperation is already in place. February 2014 saw the first meeting of BRICS countries’ ministers responsible for science, technology and innovation, which resulted in the adoption of the Capetown Declaration, creating a BRICS university network.

In all BRICS countries, spending on education per student at the leading universities is growing. The education system is becoming more segmented and groups of universities are emerging which will become the drivers of national competitiveness.

However, Yaroslav Kuzminov believes that, now, everything depends on cooperation between academics at university and research-group level, between people who trust each other and see each other as partners, and carry out joint research, hold student exchanges and do everything that is so typical in the Anglo-Saxon world, which became the dominant intellectual centre.

‘In all BRICS countries, expenditure on each student enrolled in the countries’ leading universities is rising. We are witnessing the division of the education system into segments, and the formation of groups of universities that are to become the drivers of national competitiveness.’

The development of relations between BRICS countries’ universities does not mean rejecting existing ties with universities in other countries. But without this development, countries with developing economies will be ‘doomed to the semi-periphery’ of the international academic community, which today speaks English, and in which the standards are set by Anglo-Saxon universities.

The potential for cooperation is very great, BRICS countries’ universities should surely see in each other reliable partners, and seek to expand their mutual understanding, after all there are partners in Malaysia, Korea, Singapore, and other countries with developing economies. These countries are the new wave, they have strong, ambitious universities, says Yaroslav Kuzminov, and the resources for mutual projects.

Government impatience

In joint discussions with BRICS countries’ universities, it is important to identify particular elements in the development of education that are common features in these countries, stressed Academic Supervisor at the Institute of Education Isak Froumin. It is important to understand where the opportunities for advancing development — overtaking world class universities — really lie.

One of the conclusions reached as a result of this collaborative effort by researchers from HSE, Standford and BRICS countries’ universities, is that over the past decade, our countries have been faced with a double challenge. On the one hand — higher education has essentially become universal, and on the other — the goal of forming groups of the best universities that will underpin the countries’ competitiveness in the global economy’s new technological era. Unlike those countries in which higher education developed by evolution, and a key role was played by the private (non-state) sector, such as the United States, in BRICS countries, the state has played a leading role in education reforms, as it aimed to accomplish the twin goals of increasing the reach of education and raising its quality. In all BRICS countries, spending on education per student at the leading universities is growing. The education system is becoming more segmented and groups of universities are emerging which will become the drivers of national competitiveness.

This trend, Isak Froumin feels, reflects the governments’ impatience: they are not going to wait until evolution delivers these changes – and a group of universities developing faster emerges. This is clear from the Chinese and Russian examples, and the new Indian government also assumes the same. The English word ‘push’ is an apt descriptor here, governments are ‘pushing’ universities, giving them unusual development goals and investing significant resources in them. Russia’s 5/100 project (aiming to get five Russian universities in the international ranking of the top 100) is one of the best examples of this.

Can  BRICS countries push their universities forward, and develop faster than their competitors in other countries? Developing economies and positive demographic trends could well both be natural drivers of this process. The Anglo-American model of a research university has won recognition for its success world over. But perhaps BRICS countries will also succeed in building a new model of a world-class university? This is the question posed by colleagues from Standford university, but as to what the exact model will look like, neither researchers nor politicians can, yet, say.

Boris Startsev, HSE News service, Photo – Mikhail Dmitriev

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