The concept of the BRICS arouses strong emotions, and has been doing so since Jim O’Neill, then of Goldman Sachs, launched the term in 2001. You may well ask what sense it makes to group Brazil, India, China and Russia together as a single unit. They vary widely in population, culture and history, and nobody would mistake Siberia for Rio at this time of year.
Things have now become even more complex, with the addition of South Africa to the generally accepted definition. Its extraordinary history, underlined by the recent death of Nelson Mandela, adds yet again to the diversity of the BRICS.What is more, it has less than 5 per cent the population of China. In addition, further nations such as Nigeria, Indonesia and Turkey are often proposed as possible extra members of the group.
The thing that marks out the BRICS is the way in which they are trying to develop economically without copying the path taken by Europe, the US and Japan. Because an advanced higher education system is an essential part of this process, the relative strength of their universities is of vital importance. At QS, we have now produced a ranking that allows their academic prowess to be compared directly.
Working in partnership with RAI Novosti in Russia, we ranked the top 100 BRICS universities on eight criteria. Five will be familiar to anyone who knows the QS World University Rankings. They are academic and employer opinion; faculty/student ratio; and the percentage of international faculty and students. However, we weight international faculty and students less heavily here than in the World Rankings, because none of the BRICS nations is yet a significant attractor for globally mobile talent.
The other three criteria we applied, developed in consultation with experts in the BRICS nations, are faculty members with a PhD; the number of papers published per faculty member; and the frequency with which their papers are cited. As with the World University Rankings, the publishing and citations data comes from the Elsevier Scopus database.
This ranking shows that China lead the BRICS as a world higher education power, with seven of the top 10 institutions and 40 of the top 100. This result is achieved without including the highly-rated universities of Hong Kong, which we regard as being too connected to the UK and the US to include in a BRICS analysis.
However, we also find that academic excellence is widespread in the five BRICS nations. Russia’s leading university, Moscow State, is third, and Brazil has two top ten entrants, Sao Paulo and Unicamp. The top South African university is Cape Town in 11th place, while five of the Indian Institutes of Technology occupy positions between 13 and 18.
The full table shows some areas in which we might expect the BRICS universities to improve in future years, such as scholarly publishing in the case of Russian universities. We also find low faculty/student ratios in China and India. The pressure of applicant numbers on the higher education systems in both of these countries suggests that this will be a problem issue for the foreseeable future.
This is the first time we have published a BRICS ranking. We welcome response and opinion via the web site, especially from readers in the BRICS countries.