BRICS: A new force on the international education stage

This blog by Elizabeth Fordham, Education Specialist, UNESCO, lays out the key findings of a new report looking at the changing balance of education power in the world as a result of the growing influence of the five major emerging economies – the BRICS.

BRICS_Report2BRICS nations – Brazil, the Russian Federation, India, China and South Africa – are changing the balance of education power in the world today. In the first comparative study of education trends and challenges across the five countries, a new Report by UNESCO, BRICS: Building Education for the Future, looks at how these major emerging economies are getting more children and adults educated, improving the quality of education available to them,  and developing the skills base needed to reach high-income status.  The report draws five broad conclusions from the analysis of BRICS.

Changing the face of education

Education progress in BRICS, which are home to over 40% of the world’s population, has had a major impact on the global distribution of human talent. India’s success in expanding access to education has created the world’s largest primary school system and brought 42.7 million more pupils into secondary education in just over a decade. In 2004, China outstripped the USA as the country with the world’s largest tertiary population and all BRICS are witnessing remarkable rates of growth in higher education.  Today, BRICS account for over one in three of university students worldwide.

© Wang Ying/China Education Daily
Free textbooks at a rural school in China. © Wang Ying/China Education Daily

The five countries are determined to transform this quantitative advantage into a qualitative one by raising student achievement. Parts of China already top international rankings at secondary level and all BRICS have ambitious learning goals. BRICS’ universities figure prominently in emerging economy ratings, and the countries have bold plans to compete with the top global education performers.  China’s National Education Plan expresses this ambition, promising that by 2020 the country will have world class universities and become ‘a power to be reckoned with in the global higher education landscape’.

Improving quality skills and tackling inequalities

To achieve this ambition for excellence BRICS will need to focus sharply on the quality and equity of education. South African students are lagging behind those of many neighbouring countries in numeracy and literary skills, with implications for its future as a regional economic powerhouse. India’s success in expanding access to education risks being undermined by inadequate infrastructure, poor teaching and high rates of child malnutrition. Children who leave school early remain another major challenge for BRICS. Education is compulsory in Brazil until the age of 17, but statistics show that most children don’t progress beyond lower secondary school, denying them the skills needed to access decent jobs and boost labour productivity.  As they aspire to world-class status in education, all BRICS are confronted with the need to address deepening disparities in the quality of schools, especially between rural and urban areas and those serving children from poor households. Too much talent is being wasted through overlapping inequities that deny many millions of young people in BRICS the opportunity to participate in their country’s economic growth.

Skills training in South Africa © Government of South Africa
Skills training in South Africa © Government of South Africa

Innovation in action

Yet, the new report also demonstrates how the very scale of this challenge has inspired remarkable policy innovation among the five countries.  It shows how BRICS are breaking new education ground, from innovative initiatives in pro-poor financing to bold strategies to engage the business sector in skills development and assess learning outcomes.  Most striking are the ways in which BRICS have sought to expand the financing base for education. Brazil’s system for funding skills enhancement through payroll taxes has built the largest training network in Latin America. The Brazilian government has also set a new standard for resource-rich countries by earmarking 75% of royalties from oil extraction for education. The roll-out of India’s new law requiring companies to spend 2% of their profits on corporate social responsibilities activities will be of interest to all governments looking at ways to fund higher levels of education and skills.

Rising influence on the global stage

In education, as in the economy, the influence of BRICS extends well beyond their own borders.  While BRICS may still only account for a small proportion of international spending on education, their investment is increasing while aid from conventional donors stagnates. China is by far the largest provider of development-related finance, spending more than all the other BRICS combined. This suggests an important potential future role for BRICS in reducing the estimated US$ 26 billion funding gap for primary education in low-income countries.  However, increased spending is just part of the picture. BRICS combine their funding with technical expertise and domestic experience in a way that is transforming the very paradigm of development assistance.

Benefiting from BRICS’ expertise

School children in Brazil. © Eraldo Peres/Photo Agencia
School children in Brazil. © Eraldo Peres/Photo Agencia

An important final conclusion is that the international community at large stands to gain from stronger BRICS collaboration in education. The report provides 12 recommendations of how the five countries can work together to share expertise and address their common challenges. BRICS ministers of education are scheduled to meet for the second time early in 2015 to craft a plan for cooperation. If they can forge a bold agreement at this meeting, with the provision of quality education for all at the heart, then the BRICS will indeed show that they are becoming an international force to be reckoned with.

Read the full Report (available in multiple languages).



  1. BRICS’ has real reach minority,Teachers ,and education stakeholders in rural areas.MDGs are implemented through quality education.Let us share experience and achievements.

  2. Getting to the level of the New force on the international education stage by the BRICS is clear evidence that situations can change for the better if there is the will to do so. Many African countries are in the doldrums in all facets of development as a result corruption, incapacity and vision lessness. In many of these countries, children still sit on bare floor or even under makeshift structures to take their lessons. Teachers are in short supply, schools are poorly managed and poverty is deepening. The implication of all these is that the children of the poor are bonded to slavery for life! African countries cannot attain political stability under a situation of growing inequality perpetrated by a cliques of unpatriotic and irresponsible leaders who are so mindless on the plight of those they govern.

    The BRICs have set the example! It can be done.

    The of reckoning is around the corner!! BE WARNED

  3. It all about the student and teacher studying in an international education. Many reason behind this why every culture are now focusing on international studies and i think it is good way to get succeed and can learn something different

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