Higher Education in the BRICS Countries: Investigating the Pact between Higher Education and Society
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- First systematic comparative investigation of higher education developments across the BRICS region
- Pursues a novel approach by looking, in-depth, to a select number of key dimensions underpinning the role of higher education in society and economy
- Analyses the complex interplay between numerous internal and external factors impacting on higher education dynamics across the BRICS
- Provides unique empirical and conceptual insights of relevance to policy makers, institutional managers and social science researchers alike
In spite of the increasing attention attributed to the rise in prominence of the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) countries, few studies have looked at the ways in which broader social expectations with respect to the role of higher education across the BRICS have changed, or not, in recent years. Our point of departure is that, contrary to the conventional wisdom focusing on functionalistic perspectives, higher education systems are not just designed by governments to fulfill certain functions, but have a tendency for evolving in a rather unpredictable fashion as a result of the complex interplay between a number of internal and external factors. In reality, national higher education systems develop and change according to a complex process that encompasses the expectations of governmental agencies, markets, the aspirations of the population for the benefits of education, the specific institutional traditions and cultures of higher education institutions, and, increasingly so, the interests and strategies of the private firms entering and offering services in the higher education market. This basically means that it is of outmost importance to move away from conceiving of "universities" or "higher education" as single, monolithic actors or sector. One way of doing this is by investigating a selected number of distinct, but nonetheless interrelated factors or drivers, which, taken together, help determine the nature and scope of the social compact between higher education (its core actors and institutions) and society at large (government, industry, local communities, professional associations).
The Soviet system of higher education was well developed even in today’s terms. It provided free higher education to a significant part of the young generation. The Soviet government was the first in the world in applying positive discrimination to higher education enrolment to achieve greater social cohesion. The system produced highly qualified personnel for the national economy, especially in such sectors as engineering, health care, and science. At the same time, the higher education system was under tight ideological control and rigidly regulated. All universities operated within strict curriculum standards. The Soviet planning agency regulated supply and demand in higher education. Perestroika that started in the late 1980s changed the system dramatically.