Students prioritise culture, values in 21st century HE

Asked what they required of a 21st century education, students placed an emphasis on culture and values and the need for human connection in a globalised, often de-personalised world.

The students were speaking during a session of the Times Higher Education BRICS and Emerging Economies Universities Summit held at the University of Johannesburg, South Africa, recently with the theme “Reimagining the world-class university”.

A priority for Vitor Ribeiro, a doctoral sociology student at Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil, was that “universities provide the material resources for students to build their capacities”.

Ribeiro said such capacities included being enabled to speak the languages of other students in the BRICS community – BRICS is an acronym for the association of five emerging economies, Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa. Ribeiro speaks Mandarin, a reflection of his research on social control and the penal system in China.

Ribeiro said he was fortunate in that sociology was a “very international discipline” giving him access to material in German, French and English “but what happens in Russia, China and South Africa is invisible. We need to create the means of engaging with each other’s language, literature and cosmology”.

Keyan Peng, a third-year digital media student at China’s Beijing Normal University, emphasised the need for higher education to act cooperatively within BRICS. “There is a need for inclusivity within the BRICS countries to enable research and co-operative exchanges.”

Peng also said higher education should embrace social responsibility, adding that universities should place a priority on sustainable development that would benefit both the economy and the environment.

Iaroslav Golub, a third-year technical physics student in the department of laser technologies at ITMO University in Saint Petersburg, Russia, highlighted educational interactions within BRICS. “There is a need for more academic mobility and we need to create a clear system for academic mobility.”

Golub also said the quality of education in BRICS countries was sometimes regarded as “problematic” and “diplomas from BRICS countries were looked down on elsewhere”.

Questions around degree status were also raised by Nupur Patel from India, a second-year student in English literature at the University of Johannesburg, who said that employment post-degree was often a problem as the “standard of a South African degree is not seen as equivalent in other countries”.

South African Tshepo Moloi, a doctoral student in African diplomacy and international relations at the University of Johannesburg, reflected on current concerns in South Africa around “de-colonising” education. “From primary school on there is a need to devise projects to discover who we are.

“We are not taught the heroes of our local literature,” he said, adding that this was not the case in other African countries. “There it is the direct opposite. We need a matriculation syllabus of our own where we study our political history, where we study African history, African cosmology and African literature.”

Within a BRICS context, Moloi said there was a need for higher education to create “dialogues beyond the corridors of power”.