When I enrolled in our class, I thought the class would be more of a comparative look at higher education institutions by country, rather than a broader theme of internationalization. While I think internationalization is very interesting and is extremely important for higher education professionals to study, I’m glad that we had an option to read more about the history and the day-to-day operating of universities abroad in Carnoy’s “BRIC Universities as Institutions in the Process of Change”.
I’ve always been interested in the BRIC countries and why (and how!) they’ve been lumped together. The main reason is that they are growing economies that have become increasingly important in the overall global economy. Other than that, though, they have very little in common culturally, politically, or, as we saw in the reading, educationally.
The theme in the reading that I was most interested in was how each country is responding to increased demands from a growing number of students — or, in the case of Russia, a decrease in demand. In the case of India, China, and Brazil, their expanding economies have created a large middle class that is seeking greater higher educational opportunities. Thus, the challenge for these countries in the last few decades has been to meet the increased demand while maintaining quality. In the case of China, India, and Russia, it seems like the larger emphasis has been on accessibility rather than quality. This is not to say that these countries are not concerned about quality — their public research universities are still highly esteemed and only reserved for their very top students — but right now they seem to be more focused on pumping more and more students through the semester by any means necessary. This is not unlike the immediate postwar expansion of HEIs in the U.S. and the rise of community colleges in the 1950s-1970s.
Another theme from the reading is the organization and hierarchy of different types of universities. The main thing that stuck out to me was the large proportion of private, for-profit universities in Brazil. The target students for these for-profit institutions are generally lower-income students (similar to the U.S.). While I am skeptical about for-profit universities in the United States, it seems to make more sense in Brazil since they are better able to set tuition prices to market demands and are actually the more cost-effective option for cash-strapped students. The reading did not mention this specifically, but I am curious if Brazil has ever considered a U.S. public community-college model to serve these students.
So while these three countries are struggling to keep up with the rising demands for HEIs, Russia is having the opposite problem. “In Russia, mass universities will not be expanding, so their main role is to ‘survive’, adjusting to a host of new realities” (Carnoy, 2013, pp. 177). While the other three countries seem to be adopting a more market-oriented approach to higher education, Russia seems to be going back to a more Soviet-approach (or, at the very least, very much resisting a more market-approach to its higher education system).
This makes sense, given their very recent history. As the reading explains, many of the leaders and faculty in Russian universities were also there during the Soviet Union, when universities were heavily regulated by the state and the main curricular emphasis was on STEM disciplines to try to get an advantage in technology and science over the U.S. in the Cold War. While China has made many innovations to its higher education system, it, too, is still a product of its recent history, with the Chinese government still playing a strong role in shaping certain curricular matters (for instance, even graduate students in engineering still study political philosophy with an emphasis on communism), as well as the overtly political appointments of university administrators.
The last area I wanted to discuss was India’s emphasis on affirmative action for its disadvantaged castes. I was pleased to read of the Indian government’s financial investment in groups of people who continue to face extensive discrimination. Unfortunately, I am skeptical how much this will do to really improve conditions for these individuals if they will still face discrimination in other areas of their lives, but at the very least it is encouraging that the government is acknowledging the inequalities and is (at least somewhat) committed to improving things.
As BRIC countries have become increasingly important in global affairs, I appreciated the opportunity to learn more about their higher education systems. While the BRIC countries have one thing in common — they all have rapidly expanding economies — they have vastly different cultural, political, and economic environments, which also impacts their system of higher education. As the countries continue to expand their global influence, it will be interesting to monitor changes and innovations in their higher education systems.