International

The contribution of the BRICS Network University to the strategies of the geoeconomic aggregate

The BRICS Network University – BRICS NU, established in 2015 following the signing of the specific Memorandum of Understanding[1] (MOU) by the Ministers of Education of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa represents and determines the strategic role of the education and research sector for the sustainable development and inclusive economic growth policies pursued by the member states in accordance to the “BRICS Strategic Economic Partnership”.

1.Principles and Goals

BRICS NU is defined by the Memorandum of Understanding[2], as a unified network of education, research and study; a higher “educational project … oriented towards formation of the new generation of highly qualified and motivated professionals, who obtain critical thinking skills, abilities to make and implement innovative decisions concerning the economic and social problems, communication, skills for interactions in a multicultural environment and who are capable of combining traditional knowledge with the sciences and contemporary technologies”[3].

At the base of the university network there are well-defined principles: Openness, which allows institutions and bodies to join or withdraw from the platform; Focus on educational programmes and innovative research projects; Equal rights of participants and respect for their autonomy in the implementation of educational programs; Reciprocity in the treatment of all participants involved in joint activities; Assurance of High Quality of educational and research-related programmes; Respect for the national regulations, procedures and practices of each BRICS country[4].

BRICS NU has the features of a mutually beneficial multilateral collaboration for the BRICS States, with which scientific, academic and technological progress and developments are shared thanks to the close link created between different education systems.

On the occasion of the first forum of the university network that took place in 2016 and officially opened by the rector of the Ural Federal University (UrFU)[5], it was highlighted how fundamental is for the BRICS’ economic development that collaboration between universities takes place within the framework of political and economic cooperation of the States concerned and that, consequently, the academic agenda strictly follows the political one[6].

In addition, the BRICS NU articles of association express the coherence of the initiative  with the goals of the “Universal Declaration on High Education for the 21st Century. Vision and Action”, adopted by the United Nations on October 6, 1998, as well as with the goals expressed by UNESCO in its articles of association. First of all, the one mentioned in the preamble: “the aim of the Organization is to contribute to peace and security by promoting collaboration between nations through education, science and culture”. (UNESCO, 1945)

The start-up of the Network University followed the commitments made previously by the BRICS in 2015 with the Brasilia Declaration[7]. This document clearly states the importance of encouraging the participation, between and inside the BRICS states, not only of the business world but also of the academic world to the development of information and communication technologies (ICTs). In this sense, Article 67 of the Declaration states the willingness of the states concerned to take measures aimed at “economic growth for an innovative future”[8].

The role that academic research institutes and BRICS companies must play in the development of “digital strategies” has been at the center of several BRICS meetings such as the BRICS Business to Business (B2B) or the 5th BRICS Communications Ministers Meeting[9] in which the guidelines of a digital strategy have been defined as a key factor for the economy, inclusive economic growth and sustainable development. The following elements are considered as crucial to this aim: the development of human skills through digital technologies; the promotion of digital literacy in the society; the strengthening of solid security frameworks in the digital economy.

Along the same lines, the aforementioned Brasilia Declaration (2015) also highlights the influence exerted by globalization processes on the labor market and the efforts made by the BRICS states to make it flexible and inclusive so as to develop a sustainable system of social security. In this sense, commitments are placed at the center of the Declaration such as: technological innovation in all sectors of the economy; the digitalization of production processes; the attribution to digital governance of a strong role aimed at sharing projects between BRICS states such as unique digital identification and Big Data management.

  1. The Governance

The first forum of the BRICS Network University[10] held at Ural Federal University highlighted the close link between academia and business and, among other things, launched a debate on the possibility of structuring BRICS NU according to a corporate model. 

The governance promoted by the network is characterized by a transparent administration system that respects the rules and priorities set by the education systems of the member countries.

In order to achieve the BRICS NU objectives, regulatory bodies have been created: the International Governing Board (IGB); the National Coordination Committee (NCC); the International Thematic Groups (ITG).

The International Governing Board (IGB) is the main body responsible for the governance of the Network University and performs a coordination and evaluation function for the network in order to ensure its development. It is responsible for approving documents such as the BRICS NU Annual Action Plan and programs developed by the International Thematic Groups (ITGs). Always in compliance with the provisions of the “Memorandum of Understanding on Establishment of the BRICS Network University”, the IGB has the power to decide on the definition and adoption of guiding principles, on the identification and selection of priority areas of research to be placed at the basis of BRICS NU activities, as well as on the functioning of the BRICS NU structure itself: for example, regarding the possibility of making changes to the Statutes of the International Thematic Groups.

The IGB is made up of three representatives from each BRICS state; among them, one must be a plenipotentiary representative of the Ministry of National Education, appointed for at least two years, while another must be a representative and member of the National Coordination Committee, who is appointed for at least three years.

The IGB meets at least once a year at the request of the other bodies or when there is a need to make important decisions. The conduct of the meetings is the responsibility of the Ministry of National Education of the state which in that period held the BRICS chairmanship and whose representative acts as President of the IGB. As for the Vice President, however, he is chosen from among the representatives of the Ministry of Education of the state which is responsible for the subsequent chairmanship of the BRICS coordination.

The National Coordination Committees (NCC) are set up by the BRICS States Ministries of Education to ensure the operational management of the Network University at national level. They operate on the basis of national provisions and are consequently created in compliance with the national guidelines and standards in force in each BRICS state.

The body is necessarily composed of at least two representatives of the BRICS Ministries of Education; possibly also by experts in the sectors identified as priorities by the BRICS NU network; as well as by representatives of the business community, civil society and international organizations.

The International Thematic Groups (ITGs) are the bodies responsible, to a significant extent, for the coordination of the activities and initiatives launched by the Network University.

Each group deals with a field of study defined as a priority by the Network University. The Group’s activities are coordinated by a President elected for a two-year term, extendable, which, among other things, takes care of organizing ITG meetings at least twice a year. ITGs members are appointed by the National Coordination Committees and can also be equal to two members from each BRICS state.

3.Programs – Initiatives

The priority study and research areas entrusted to the International Thematic Groups (ITGs) and set out in particular in the aforementioned Brasilia Declaration concern the following sectors: energy; ICT and information security; BRICS studies; ecology and climate change; water and waste management; economy.

A-ITC and DIGITAL DEVELOPMENT. From a careful reading of these disciplinary fields, the BRICS project to create a strategy aiming at  starting inclusive economic growth and sustainable development in the states concerned on the basis of a high-tech digital network emerges clearly and again. It deals with a strategy that must be constantly monitored with continuous studies and research projects promoted by qualified professionals.

The Meetings of the BRICS Working Group on Information and Communication Technology and High Performance Computing (WG on ICT and HPC) can be traced back to the information technology and security sector, which include in their agenda items such as “digital heritage and digital security”,” Education, learning and research projects”, “algorithms”, “high-performance systems”, “Big Data”,” sustainable development”[11].

Following the last Working Group on ICT and HPC meeting, held in Brazil in May 2019, important research projects were launched as: the Large Scale Multi-Agent based Simulation of Virtual Society carried out by Russia; the Digital Earth modeling developed by India; Integrated Precision Farming entrusted to Brazil; the Digital Smart Manufacturing proposed to China; and the HPC application for Life sciences, precision medicine and public health, a research project linking the activities of South Africa and Brazil.

Other important initiatives referable to this sector are: the BRICS Innovation and Collaboration Cloud (BICC) and the Integrated Hub for BRICS Innovation. Collaboration on ICT and HPC; networking of micro, small and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs) to facilitate the transfer and commercialization of technologies; the organization of annual events such as the BRICS Innovation Collaboration Forum, International Symposium and Workshop on ICT and HPC.

The BRICS Working Group on ICT and HPC attach a strong relevance to digital heritage and security. Moreover, the fundamental role played by cultural cooperation between BRICS states was already affirmed in the Brasilia Declaration in order to preserve their cultural and digital heritage with the aim to improve understanding and friendship between peoples. A cooperation that must also involve the academic world, as reaffirmed by article 69 of the Declaration.

Specifically, the Agreement between the governments of the BRICS states on cooperation in the field of culture[12] notes that cultural and academic cooperation are closely linked and share characteristics such as interactivity, innovation and dynamism; essential characteristics for the purpose of an “exchange of creative and scientific experiences[13], of the development of joint training programs, and of “the elaboration and sharing of documents and materials relating to the culture, history, social and political development of states”[14].

The Agreement considers cooperation and cultural heritage to be a pillar of sustainable development and creative entrepreneurship. Along this line Article 4 of the Agreement is inserted which states that the BRICS states have started close cooperation in the field of the safeguarding, conservation and dissemination of the BRICS cultural heritage also in order to present it as a world heritage.

B- ECOLOGY. Ecology, climate change, water resources and pollution management are also priority areas of research and study for the BRICS states. During the first forum of their Network University, the International Thematic Groups dedicated to these sectors presented a public awareness plan structured on several levels in order to reach the consciences of the entire BRICS population.

This area of activity include, for instance, the preparatory studies carried out on the Russian-Chinese Arctic Expedition organized by a research center established in April 2019 and promoted by the “Institute of Oceanology of the Russian Academy of Sciences” and the “Chinese National Laboratory of Sciences and marine technologies of Qingdao”. Initially scheduled for summer 2020 with the aim of conducting research in the Barents, Kara, the seas of Eastern Siberia and the Sea of Laptev, the expedition has been postponed to 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The project involves around eighty Russian and Chinese scientists and specifically aims to seek a link between the evolution of the Arctic world and climate change as well as to optimize traffic along the North Sea route.

C-ENERGY. As regards the energy sector, the Energy International Thematic Group launched in-depth research and study paths on every aspect of the BRICS cooperation in the energy sector, thus affecting the economy, markets, policies and security, engineering, technologies and infrastructures.

Recent studies are focusing on the Power of Siberia gas pipeline inaugurated on December 2, 2019 by Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin. Power of Siberia is the first gas pipeline linking Russia and China – from the easternmost areas of the Russian Federation to the northernmost areas of the People’s Republic of China – as well as the largest Far Eastern Russian infrastructure for the transportation of natural gas.

Born under an agreement reached in 2014 between the Russian energy giant Gazprom and the China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC), Power of Siberia allows Moscow and Beijing to integrate their respective needs. On the one hand, it allows Russia to expand its exports of natural resources representing a significant share of state revenue. On the other hand, it allows China, the largest consumer of energy sources in the world, to respond to the growing internal demand for gas and to pursue the goal of moving to clean energy sources by replacing coal. A purpose defined through the Three-Year Action Plan for Winning the Blue Sky War 2018-2020 and which has made China the third largest consumer of gas globally.

D – ECONOMICS. The Economics International Thematic Group (Economics ITG) refers to the sphere of BRICS economic sciences, which has decided to focus academic activities on three branches: general study of BRICS economy; the micro-sectors of the economy; economy management.

In April 2020, members of the ITG Economics participated in a round table organized online for the XXI April International Academic Conference on Economic and Social Development[15]. This initiative was an opportunity to start reflections on various questions, among which the following are highlighted: what interests do the BRICS states share in achieving the sustainable development goals? Can the experience gained by the BRICS states in achieving the sustainable development goals be taken into consideration by other emerging countries?

In May 2020, however, always in video conference due to the COVID-19 pandemic, an Economics ITG session was held: BRICS in the world economy[16] The meeting focused on the following topics: Brazil in the BRICS after Dilma Rousseff’s impeachment; inequality and credit growth in Russian regions; BRICS cooperation in the agricultural sector; BRICS economic growth policies.

The Comprehensive Strategic Partnership between China and South Africa, launched in 2010 following the establishment, in 2000, of a High Level SA-China Bi-National Commission, is currently being studied. The partnership is supported by four important forms of cooperation: BRICS, the Belt and Road Initiative, the Forum on cooperation between China and Africa and South-South cooperation.

In 2019, on the occasion of two events, the G20 in Osaka and the BRICS summit in Brasilia, it was decided to deepen the strategic partnership in order to address, among other things, the challenges posed by the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic. The next “level” of cooperation between China and South Africa should register a strengthening of consultations and coordination with the aim of activating, in particular, every mechanism existing within the Comprehensive Strategic Partnership and the High Level SA – China Bi -National Commission.

E-STUDIES ON BRICS. Finally, it should be noted that the study and research activities of the International Thematic Group are at the origin of publications, the Studies on BRICS which function above all as important working tools. The following articles refer to this frame work of initiatives:

  • Eight years of BRICS studies written by Dwyer[17]analyzes the political, economic and social history of the BRICS and consequently also the origins of the BRICS Network University, the meetings organized for the establishment of the network, as well as the measures to be promoted in order to improve coordination, its evolution as well as the dialogue between BRICS states.
  • In more detail, BRICS Internet and the de-Westernization of media studies written by Thussu[18] illustrates how BRICS Network University is also the direct consequence of the rapid progress experienced by BRICS in the field of technologies, communication and media. According to the author, BRICS have the potential to revolutionize the field of research and education, to contribute to the de-Westernization of the media and media studies process[19].
  • Networks or projects of excellence: What do the BRICS countries really need? and BRICS, an ignored area[20]written by Khomyakov[21], on the other hand, examine the collaborative relationship established between the BRICS states in the field of education starting from an analysis of the three phenomena affecting universities: massification, globalization and internationalization . The author explains that the BRICS mainly face the challenges generated by these phenomena in two different ways: by developing projects such as the “Russian Academic excellence project 5-100[22] which contributes to establishing a world university teaching, and the BRICS university network project which allows the states involved to develop appropriate responses to the needs emerged from the comparison of various best practices as well as from the analysis and research of new opportunities.

Closing remark

The BRICS Network University initiative is part of the BRICS strategic design aimed at addressing the continuous challenges related to the evolution of global processes in a coordinated and more effective way than can be achieved with individual national initiatives.

BRICS Network University, as an expression of this choice of cooperation, can function as a powerful, decisive support tool capable of qualifying BRICS projects and initiatives by providing a basis of essential cognitive elements with well-oriented analyzes, studies and research and with the education and training of young generations with open minds, able to understand, evaluate and adequately face the challenges of the contemporary world.

References 

BRICS DOCUMENTS

  • Memorandum of understanding for establishment of the BRICS Network University, Russia, 18.11.2015.
  • Declaration of the II Meeting of BRICS Ministers of Education: Brasilia Declaration, Brazil, 02.03.2015.
  • Declaration of the 5th BRICS Communications Ministers Meeting, Brazil, 14.08.2019.
  • Agreement between the Governments of the BRICS States on Cooperation in the Field of Culture, Russia, 09.07.2015.
  • Minutes of the 3rd Meeting of the BRICS Working Group on Information and Communication Technology and High Performance Computing (WG on ICT and HPC), Brazil, 13-15.05.2019

VIDEO

MAGAZINES

  • Tom Dwyer, Eight years of BRICS studies, in “Hermès, La Revue”, Volume 79, 3, 2017.
  • Maxim Khomyakov, Networks or projects of excellence: What do the BRICS countries really need? in “Hermès, La Revue”, Volume 79, 3, 2017.
  • Maxim Khomyakov, The BRICS, an ignored area, in “Hermès,La Revue”, Volume 79, Issue 3, C.N.R.S. Editions, 2017.
  • DayaThussu, A BRICS Internet and the de-Westernization of media studies, in “Hermès, La Revue”, Volume 79, 3, 2017.

[1]Memorandum of understanding for establishment of the Brics network university, Moscow, 18.11.2015.

[2]Ibidem.

[3] BRICS NU  has structured its activities as follows: masters and research doctorates; training courses; research projects; conferences, seminars, round tables and events on important topics for research; academic mobility of BRICS NU students and staff.

[4]Ibidem (see Note 1)

[5]The Ural Federal University was chosen as the Russian coordination center for the activities of the BRICS Network University and hosted the first BRICS NU Forum, in Russia, from 6 to 9 April 2016. The meeting registered the participation of representatives of the ministries of the education and science and involved 44 universities from Russia, India, China, Brazil and South Africa. The Ural Federal University has not only dealt with processing the documents necessary for the establishment of the university network, but is also planning to establish a BRICS Center of Material Studies to coordinate the efforts of all Russian universities in order to support the BRICS collaboration in the science area.

[6]Video of the first forum of the BRICS Network University: www.youtube.com/ watch?v=3Xt1a7-xekm, 07.04.2016.

[7]Declaration of the II Meeting of BRICS Ministers of Education: Brasilia Declaration, Brasilia, 02.03.2015.

[8] Idem.

[9]5th BRICS Communications Ministers Meeting, Brazil, 14.08.2019.

[10] First Forum of the BRICS Network University, pubblicatoil07/04/2016:www.youtube.com/watch?v=3Xt1a7-xEKM

[11]Meeting of the BRICS Working Group on Information and Communication Technology and High Performance Computing (WG on ICT and HPC), Brazil, 14.05.2019.

[12]Agreement between the Governments of BRICS States on Cooperation in the Field of Culture, Russia, 09.07.2015.

[13]Ibidem.

[14]Ibidem.

[15]Roundtable K-28. BRICs Countries’ Cooperation in Achieving Sustainable Development Goals, 28.04.2020

[16]BRICS in the World Economy, published on 15.05.2020:www.youtube.com/watch?v=kogL5Bk-Xuc

[17]Tom Dwyer, Eight years of BRICS studies,  in “Hermès, La Revue”, Volume 79, 3, 2017.

[18]DayaThussu,  A BRICS Internet and the de-Westernization of media studies, in “Hermès, La Revue”, Volume 79, 3, 2017.

[19]Ibidem.

[20]Maxim Khomyakov, The BRICS, an ignored area, in “Hermès, La Revue”, Volume 79, Issue 3, C.N.R.S. Editions, 2017.

[21]Maxim Khomyakov,  Networks or projects of excellence: What do the BRICS countries really need? in “Hermès, La Revue”, Volume 79, 3, 2017.

[22]Project 5-100 is a program launched by the Russian Ministry of Education and Science, based on a statement issued in 2012 by President Vladimir Putin on the political measures to be taken in the field of education and science. The project has the purpose, specifically, to raise the prestige of Russian higher education and to bring some universities to be among the best in the world taking into consideration the most authoritative world rankings: Quacquarelli Symonds, Times Higher Education or the Academic Ranking of World University.

Prof. Alexandra MARTINO – Assistant, International Organizations Law – International Law,
Faculty of Political Sciences, Sapienza University of Rome; Expert – Economic and monetary union, Economic and Social Cohesion Section; European Economic and Social Committee (EESC); Expert – Socioeconomic and cultural Section, Italian Latin American Institute (IILA)

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