BRICS Network University promises new syncretic model of global education


December 1, 2015 – 

Anna Garde, PolitRussia – 

Translated for Fort Russ by J. Arnoldski

“What can the BRICS countries offer to Russian education?”

On November 18 in Moscow, the ministers of education of the BRICS countries signed a document which opens a new page in the history of the association. This document was the “Memorandum of Understanding”, the goal of which is establishing a BRICS Network University. This initiative was discussed for the first time during a joint ministerial meeting in 2013 in Paris. The initiative was launched by the Russian University of People’s Friendship which has already become a member of an international network of universities (in the Commonwealth of Independent States and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, for example). In 2014, the heads of states of Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa supported the initiative at the BRICS summit in Fortaleza, and in July 2015 was supported in the Ufa declaration and noted it in the Strategy for Economic Partnership. In November, this project received separate documentary reinforcements at the ministry level.

The essence of the project is forming a new generation of professionals qualitatively different from other those with other critical thinking skills with high qualifications and the ability to make unconventional decisions in economics and social problems. 

The basic method of functioning of the university is organizing double degree programs which involve high academic mobility. For example, a two-year master program has been proposed in which the first year is held in one’s country of resident and the second in another BRICS country. The working languages of the university are Russian, Chinese, and English. 

The minister of education of the Russian Federation believes that this networked university will have a positive impact on the education system of the country. He noted that “the development of the initiative to establish a BRICS Network University will have a positive impact on the quality of Russian higher education, strengthen communication and cooperation between the universities of our countries.” In reality, to understand what Russia can get from this one needs to consider the education systems of all the countries participating in the association.


The educational system of China is divided into several stages: preschool, primary, lower, and upper secondary school, university, and postgraduate education. A minimal proportion of young people make it to the last two steps, as higher education in China is still the inheritance of the elite rather than ordinary people. Only high school graduates with an academic profile and graduates of special technical schools can get higher education. The problem of inaccessibility of higher education for the masses has long been associated with the system of dividing secondary schools into regular and “key,” that is, elite. Access to the latter was opened to a limited number of people, and for these schools higher education was assumed. In 2006, this system was abolished, but the kinks remain, especially at the local level, where the “key” schools have been converted into “model” ones. 

Another feature of higher education in China is the highly restricted supply compared to demand. More than 100 people compete for a single admission place at some universities. Higher education itself is focused on the development of science, technology, and culture. Due to the large development needs of the economy, most attention is paid to economic and political sciences, as well as law, finance, information, computer technology, architecture, engineering, and other applied disciplines in the field of industry. In this context, Chines universities differ at the highest level of education as evidence by international rankings.

A growing number of teachers from abroad are being attracted to China. There are even special quotas for this purpose. Priority is given to teachers from Russia, Ukraine, and Eastern Europe. In addition to the tough competition, students are motivated by tuition. In China, as in Russia, there is a single exam which one passes upon graduating from school. It’s necessary to pass this test with 500 points to be admitted to university, and this is quite problematic. For each point, which is not enough for admission, a student is obliged to pay one thousand yuan per year (around 4.5 thousand rubles). 


India has the most developed network of higher education in the world. For admission to a university, it’s unnecessary to pass an entrance exam. School results from graduation exams are sufficient. In the higher education system of India there are universities established by central authorities and colleges which are created by local governments or private organizations. All colleges are attached to a university on the principle of a branch. Universities can be established anywhere, but under such circumstances they are not funded by the center government, but the state government.

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Indian colleges have a strict classification and are divided into university, government, professional, and private. Private colleges are the most common (about 7-% of the total). They can be financed from the state budget. The most important are vocational colleges which are built based on the needs of the state and society. Basically, they educate students in the field of medicine, engineering, and management, however, other variants are possible. Universities are divided into traditional and specialized. The first prepares students for a wide range of specialties, while the latter have very limited specifications. For example, there is the university of Visva Bharati, where one studies exclusively Indian music, while the University in Mumbai or oriented only towards women or Rabindra Bharati, and the Bengali language is studied. 

The stages of higher education vary depending on the complexity of a discipline. Trade and art, for example, have training for 3 years. A bachelor’s degree for dentists, pharmacists, and other specialists lasts 4 years. The standard master’s program in India lasts 2 years. The last step of training if post-graduate, which lasts 2-3 years. While there is no single, unitary line of educational policy in India, this does not prevent the country from achieving success. India is the world’s leader in production in the sphere of intellectual technologies, and this experience of the country could for the network university be a serious impetus for development. 


Unlike the educational system in India and China, Brazil does not have such a high level. Despite the fact that large amounts of federal investment are allocated to higher education, there are many problems starting with the early stages. Only primary education is mandatory in the country. Not all students reach the secondary level. The quality of public education leaves much to be desired. The test results of Prova Brasil, which takes place every two years show that 90% of students from the first 9 classes cannot translate a specified length in meters into centimeters, and about 88% can’t identify the main meaning of a text. There also exists an imbalance in the quality of teaching depending on the state while uniform standards, similar to the Russian Unitary State Exam, are used to asses level of knowledge.

Unlike paid education in China, all education in state universities in Brazil is completely free. The demand for higher education is small, so the number of applicants often matches the number of seats in a university. there are also private universities where one can receive a paid education, but basic research is conducted at public universities. Private universities specialize in the humanities while public universities mostly prepare physicians and engineers. The difference in quality of education between private and public universities is almost none according to the Prova test, which is public and allows private universities to assess one’s education level. For admission to a university, students are interviewed. The most popular areas of study in Brazil are law, journalism, medicine, computer technology and engineering. Most important is that Brazil is strong in broad internships for cultural exchanges. The country has international connections in the education sphere on all continents of the world. 

South Africa

Primary and secondary education in South Africa are not so different from the systems in other BRICS countries. Higher education in the country is sufficiently high in quality. Training is conducted in the english language. Universities are divided into universities, technical schools, and colleges which differ in their set of disciplines and teaching formats. The teaching methods of technical schools have a more applied character as specializations in the spheres of production and commerce are taught there. The majority of technical schools are tied to large manufacturing companies that allow students to take internships and get a job. Universities, for the most part, represent the humanities. Some universities in the country are present in world rankings because South Africa is one of the world’s leaders in investing in the sphere of education.

As regards the rankings of universities according to QS, the highest place among the BRICS countries is occupied by Tsinghua University in China (25th in 2015). In 41st place is Peking University, and 51st is Fudan University in Shanghai. Moscow State University takes 108th place, the University of Sao Paulo 143rd, the Indian Institute of Science 147th, and the University of Cape Town is in 171st place.

According to the Center for World University Rankings, China and its Peking University are the leaders from among BRICS countries, located in 56th place. Only 3 positions behind is Moscow State University  (59th place). The highest place among Indian universities in this rating is taken by the Technological Institute of Delhi in 341st place, and the only university of Brazil included in the ranking takes 920th place. Not a single university from South Africa is presented in the rating.

Thus, each BRICS country has its own characteristics in the sphere of education. Each of them can bring benefits in further improving the quality of education in Russia. The rich academic tradition of Russia also has much to give to this project. 

The key priorities of the Network University have already made themselves known. The main emphasis will be put on energy studies, computer science, information security, climate change, water resources, BRICS research, and economics. In fact, each country of this organization is a leader in one of these categories.

Thus, combining efforts, sharing experience in the fields of specialization and teaching methods, and pairing educational policies will allow education to be improved and more skilled specialists to be produced. 

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