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BRICS Education Senior Officials Meeting held in Cape Town on July 9, 2018

The BRICS Education Senior Officials Meeting gathered in Cape Town on July 9th, 2018 to discuss important issues of BRICS educational collaboration and to prepare the ministerial meeting on education. The programme of the meeting included more traditional elements of similar gatherings (such as remarks by the delegations, discussion on the proposed areas of collaboration, discussion on the text of the declaration to be signed by the ministers of education etc.) as well as innovative academic elements in the form of keynote talks.

Professor T. Marwala, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Johannesburg, delivered a keynote speech on the forth industrial revolution, elaborating on the impact of digitization on society and education. In particular, according to Prof. Marwala, the top seven skills that will be most important by 2050 include: critical thinking, people management, emotional intelligence, judgement, negotiation, cognitive flexibility, as well as knowledge production and management. These skills require new multidisciplinary approaches in higher education, and as a result, deep transformation of the universities.

The main topics for the discussion of the senior officials were, on the one hand, connected to the forth industrial revolution, and, on the other hand, reflected the main areas of the BRICS collaboration in line with a general theme of the ministerial meeting: “Deepening BRICS Education Partnership and Exchanges”. According to the concept note for the meeting, prepared by the Ministry of Education and Training of South Africa, “…the current changing global environment demands of us to focus on how education and training in BRICS countries can prepare young people for the fourth industrial revolution”.

The themes for the discussion included:

  • “how workspace-based learning supports improved learning and employability” (presented by the Brazilian delegation),
  • “mutual recognition of qualifications, transferability and portability: the BRICS experience” (presented by Russia),
  • “promoting digitization to improve education and training” (presented by the delegation from India),
  • “strengthening cooperation in the field of technical and vocational education and training (TVET) in clearly articulated initiatives” (presented by China), and
  • “universities partnerships, opportunity and challenges” (presented by the host country, South Africa).

Both TVET and workspace-based learning were recognized by the meeting as the most important issues for the development of the Global South countries. Senior officials expressed the idea that to ensure success of the efforts, countries would need to volunteer to lead on implementation of the particular policy. Brazil as the next BRICS Chair has volunteered to revitalize discussion on the TVET issues and to organize a special seminar for this purpose.

The issues of accreditation, of diploma and credits recognition as well as of quality assurance in higher education have been recognized by the senior officials as crucial for the success of the BRICS Network University. As a matter of fact, recognition of the credits seems to be one of the main stumbling blocks on the way to implementation of the joint postgraduate programmes in the framework of BRICS NU. That is why senior officials decided to establish a special “task force”, a working group to consider facilitation of the recognition process between BRICS countries.

Digitisation is certainly one of most important features of the fourth industrial revolution, and represents obvious challenge for the educators. Indian delegation in its presentation of the ways of promoting digitisation for improving quality of education and training proposed to lead on this process and to work out a project, which would include comparative studies of digital learning across schools and universities in BRICS countries.

BRICS Network University naturally was in the centre of the discussion on universities partnerships, opportunities and challenges. Professor A. Bawa, the CEO of Universities South Africa reported to the senior officials on the conference of the BRICS NU held in Stellenbosch several days earlier. He especially emphasized the necessity to establish a coordinating mechanism (coordinator’s office or secretariat) for the BRICS NU, to work further upon establishing processes and communication channels inside the network, to seek resources to support the activity of the BRICS NU, to consider publishing a journal on the BRICS studies and to finalize the first joint programmes as soon as possible. South Africa volunteered to put together a proposal for the BRICS NU doctoral programme, while Russia agreed to work out a document describing the main functions, responsibilities and rules of action for the BRICS NU coordinator’s office. Senior officials agreed to include these issues to the Cape Town Declaration for consideration of the BRICS ministers of education and to develop necessary documents by the next meeting of the BRICS Network University International Governing Board to be convened in October 2018.