BRICS ministers agree on high-level HE collaboration

Education ministers from the BRICS – Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa – countries met in Paris last Tuesday and agreed to establish a mechanism at the “highest political and technical level” to coordinate and implement collaboration, especially in higher education.

South Africa’s Dr Blade Nzimande, minister of higher education and training, hosted this first meeting of the BRICS education ministers, which was aimed at establishing cooperation and sharing experiences. They met on 5 November on the margins of the 37th session of the UNESCO general conference.

The other ministers there were Brazil’s Alíozio Mercadante, China’s Yuan Guiren, South Africa’s Angie Motshekga (the minister for basic education), Russia’s Dmitri Livanov and India’s Shashi Tharoor.

Issues highlighted included strengthening collaboration between BRICS universities, partnerships and knowledge exchanges on technical and vocational education and training, and the portability and transferability of qualifications between BRICS countries.

Ghaleeb Jeppie, chief director for international relations in South Africa’s Department of Higher Education and Training, told University World News that 'focal points' had already been established for each BRICS country to work out the details for various areas of cooperation.

“The annual BRICS academic forum meetings will continue – the next one is in Brazil in 2014 – and thereafter, before each BRICS summit, there will be an educational one, and a further meeting of BRICS ministers before the UNESCO general conference."

Jeppie said the meeting had also discussed potential areas of cooperation between BRICS and UNESCO in line with the resolution of the 2011 Sanya summit, held in China.

Collaboration with UNESCO

At the Paris gathering, the ministers underscored the importance of collaborating with UNESCO to hasten progress towards achieving Education for All – EFA – goals, and also to shape discussions on the post-2015 agenda.

It was agreed that technical and vocational education and training should feature strongly in the post-2015 EFA goals.

At a meeting with UNESCO Director General Irina Bokova on 6 November, it was further agreed that BRICS countries and UNESCO should work together to help the least developed countries towards attaining global education targets.

“We want to collaborate with UNESCO in their expertise regarding data collection and the post-2015 development agenda, and then identity successful economic and social policies that can promote development in the least developed countries,” said Jeppie.

“And then, of course, there’s the whole question around driving the global agenda through an important instrument like BRICS, and raising the profile of education on the global agenda.”

Regarding UNESCO, Jeppie added, there was a broad range of knowledge and experiences that could be shared to benefit other countries, and the ‘focal points’ of BRICS countries would interact with the UNESCO secretariat.

One of the proposals at the meeting was that BRICS and UNESCO should investigate how information and communication technologies, or ICTs, could be used effectively to improve the quality of learning outcomes.

Jeppie added that the BRICS countries would be identifying and sharing best practices in relation to ICTs, technical and vocational education and training, higher education, and scholarly interaction between universities, “as well as teacher and lecturer training”.

The ministers pledged to highlight the strategic importance of cooperation in education at the next BRICS summit of heads of state in 2014.