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University Social Responsibility during the COVID-19 Pandemic: Universities’ Case in the BRICS Countries

Abedalqader Rababah
Natalya I. Nikitina
Veronica M. Grebennikova
Zhanna R. Gardanova
Angelina O. Zekiy
Vadim V. Ponkratov
Nadezhda N. Bashkirova
Nikolay V. Kuznetsov
Tatyana I. Volkova
Marina V. Vasiljeva
Marina I. Ivleva
12 and
Izabella D. Elyakova
Faculty of Business, Sohar University, P.O. Box 44, Sohar P.C 311, Oman
Interdisciplinary Research Laboratory, Research Institute for Advanced Directions and Technologies, Russian State Social University, 129226 Moscow, Russia
Department of Pedagogy and Psychology, Faculty of Pedagogy, Psychology and Communication, Kuban State University, 350040 Krasnodar, Russia
Department of Psychotherapy, Faculty of Clinical Psychology and Social Sciences, Pirogov Russian National Research Medical University, 117997 Moscow, Russia
Department of Prosthetic Dentistry, I. M. Sechenov First Moscow State Medical University (Sechenov University), 119991 Moscow, Russia
Department of Public Finance, Financial University under the Government of the Russian Federation, 125993 Moscow, Russia
Higher School of State Audit, Lomonosov Moscow State University, 119234 Moscow, Russia
Department of Finance and Credit, State University of Management, 109542 Moscow, Russia
Department of Economics and Production Organization, Bauman Moscow State Technical University, 105005 Moscow, Russia
Top Management, Atlantic Science and Technology Academic Press, Boston, MA 01233, USA
Founder, General Director, Autonomous Non-Profit Organization “Publishing House Scientific Review” (Nauchnoe Obozrenie), 127051 Moscow, Russia
Humanitarian Training Center, History and Philosophy Department, Plekhanov Russian University of Economics, 115054 Moscow, Russia
Department of Economics and Finance, North-Eastern Federal University, 677000 Yakutsk, Sakha Republic, Russia
Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Sustainability 2021, 13(13), 7035;
Submission received: 20 May 2021 / Revised: 16 June 2021 / Accepted: 20 June 2021 / Published: 23 June 2021


University social responsibility (USR) is an important assessment criterion of the QS Stars. In the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, the social orientation of universities as intellectual leaders in the development of society gains particular importance. The research purpose is to analyze the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the university activity directions in the framework of strategies (USR). An empirical assessment of the level and complementary factors of USR in the BRICS countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa) was conducted, using the method of integral and expert assessment. Grounded on scoring according to the principal component analysis, the structure of the factors of the USR development in the BRICS countries was determined. Multifactor regression modeling allowed substantiating the priority of factors stimulating the development of USR in the BRICS countries in modern conditions and arguing the main barriers to introducing the concept of social responsibility into university activities and expanding the stakeholders’ circle in it. The research results showed that the university management creativity, effective communication with the public and stakeholders, the quality of the educational process and the development of scientific activities stimulate USR development in the BRICS countries and should be used as the basis for the strategic planning of activities in the context of the continuing COVID-19 pandemic. Conceptual trends in the USR development can be useful for universities in the studied countries when adapting strategic development plans regarding the social needs of modern society.

1. Introduction

1.1. Challenges for Universities during the Pandemic

The higher education system in the BRICS countries, in particular, universities, play a fundamental role in the formation and implementation of educational programs and are responsible for ensuring their quality and compliance with current realities. The large-scale COVID-19 pandemic spread has transformed not only the traditional life way, but also the way people receive higher education and education delivery [1,2]. In the BRICS countries, where higher education has become a basic social norm and an important tool for social and economic development, universities have faced a whole system of challenges to ensure the educational process quality (Figure 1).
The pandemic COVID-19 has forced the academic community in the BRICS countries to turn to new teaching methods, including distance and online learning. Experience has shown that, unfortunately, only a few education systems (China and Russia) have appeared to be fully prepared [5,6]. Suspension or inappropriate implementation of educational process nationwide can disrupt the learning process for millions of other students, and will also have large social and economic consequences, especially for the poor [7,8]. It is during this period that the social responsibility of universities becomes extremely important [9].
The USR is a powerful tool for influencing social, economic, and environmental aspects. Universities also participate in determining the course of countries’ development in the face of a deteriorating economic situation and contribute to effective political and social decision making [10]. The ability to balance stakeholders’ expectations and university resources has become the USR core value. The COVID-19 pandemic has made its own adjustments to the USR and sustainable development agenda and changed the priorities in the implementation of educational programs. This is the crucial importance of the USR, due to its high impact on society.
In the current conditions of higher education system adaptations to the modern challenges in the BRICS countries, the priorities and requirements of the social responsibility of universities are changing. The mission in modern conditions should not be limited to an urgent development of curricula immediately available to those who need it most [11], instead ensuring a high level of university teachers’ professionalism and conscientiousness, the possibility of their quick retraining for using educational online platforms, etc. [11]. Undoubtedly, the USR is manifested in the training of highly professional personnel for the country and improving the quality of human capital, which is consistent with such challenges associated with the spread of the COVID 19 pandemic as issues of economic consequences, social activity, and the health care system loads. Currently, there is a political confrontation in society, unfair competition, and an increase in the level of stress among the entire population, all taking place against the backdrop of the coronavirus pandemic [12].
Given that universities as social institutions have the ability to influence a variety of groups of students’ interests, communities and society as a whole, the key task of the USR today should also be preventing discrimination, “stigmatization,” and labeling [11]. During the humanitarian crisis, provoked by the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, the mission of the social responsibility of higher education has been transformed and recognizes the priority of the social significance of the institutional environment of higher education for society over its educational, scientific, and cognitive functions.

1.2. Research Gap

As the analysis of modern scientific literature demonstrates, the studies of the USR development in countries with an emerging market and a low level of university competitiveness are extremely limited [13,14,15]. The priority of social responsibility is mainly attracting students in order to obtain economic benefits, which discredits the public organizations’ initial mission to meet the needs of modern society [14]. In addition, scientists study the USR within the framework of the concept of spreading values by universities aimed to improve educational and social problems through four key processes: training, research and dissemination (usually in the context of the informatization of society) or modern trends in socio-economic development [16]. Due to the unpredictability and detrimental impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, society’s modern conditions are characterized by an economic and social crisis caused by deliberate government actions in response to the risks because of the coronavirus spread [17,18]. The USR development conditions can only be compared with the similar studies of the wartime period [19]. This, in turn, has made many business entities and universities change the public focus and the social responsibility significance. In view of this, an incorrect understanding of the concept and content of the USR can negatively affect its implementation in universities’ practical activities, especially with regard to universities in developing countries, where the USR is only at an early stage of its development. Therefore, there is a need for an adequate definition of the destructive factors of USR development in developing countries for the following reasons [14,15]:
  • A clearer understanding of the universities’ modern social role in the life of society;
  • The development of an effective strategy to remove barriers to the growth of social responsibility;
  • Determining the consequences of inappropriate USR development for both society and the university;
  • Understanding the actions ensuring the implementation of responsibility regarding the specifics of the organizational structure, educational services, and universities’ scientific and social activities.
This research study aims to discuss what has prevented universities in the BRICS countries from developing social responsibility during the COVID-19 pandemic. A distinguishing feature of the higher education system in the BRICS countries is that the universities’ awareness of their social role and social responsibility is at the initial stage of development [14,15] and is accompanied by numerous problems. As practice shows, plenty of universities in developed countries have long gone beyond improving the quality of education and research [20], and also encourage philanthropy among students and teachers, including volunteering, student-led charitable fundraising and community projects, regularly making charitable donations from university funds, etc. [20]. Therefore, social responsibility regarding the BRICS universities should become an integral part of their strategy and long-term policy. A university’s socially responsible behavior is beneficial both for the long-term success of the institution and for society as a whole.
The scientific research has the following structure. The methods section provides a detailed description of the techniques for determining the system of indicators characterizing USR development in the BRICS countries, and the structure of factors determining its development. In the results section, the USR level is empirically determined for each country and the priority of the factors contributing to the development of the USR in the current conditions is established. In the discussion and results section, the prospects for USR development are substantiated.

2. Literature Review

2.1. Why Is Social Responsibility Important for the BRICS Countries Higher Education USR Concept?

Higher education (HE) is multifunctional, and its purpose has evolved alongside the cultural evolution of society. In recent years, this shift has been toward rethinking the social function of HE.
HE is expected to be at the vanguard of innovation, as many great inventions in modern history were born amongst researchers at university. As worldwide issues such as global warming, over-population, and populism continue to escalate, the role of social responsibility in HE has come under increased scrutiny. Social responsibility is best understood as the idea that organizations, institutions, and individuals have an obligation to act for the benefit of society as a whole, drawing on principles around ethics and social welfare.
In most of the BRICS countries, SR has become an independent subject of research and active discussion relatively recently—since the early 2000s. The political, economic and social changes that have taken place in the world over the past decade (digitalization, the pandemic, the desire to ensure sustainable development of societies, etc.) [3,6,14] necessitate transformation and constant reforms in the higher education system to meet the current challenges and needs of the environment. In this case, we are talking not only about the constant improvement of the university reputation by means of SR to attract stakeholders in the conditions of ever fierce competition between universities within the same country, the BRICS countries, but also in the context of global competition. In modern conditions, there are several trends in the changing environment, which are certainly inherent not only in the universities of the BRICS countries, but also in the numerous world universities [14,21,22,23]: a decrease in the level of state funding for higher education as a key sponsor of universities, the commercialization of universities and the active internationalization of higher education, the constantly growing trend toward its availability, the steady demand for adapting educational programs to the volatile needs of the labor market, and so on. These factors determine the need to develop new forms of university social responsibility in the BRICS countries that reflect the desire of the higher education system to increase the level of its social significance in society, and the ability to respond to the current demands of the external environment.
Social responsibility plays a critical role in the HE sector in BRICS, cementing the sector’s place within society as a catalyst for innovation, progress, and social and economic development. A university is not just an institution for education, but also a powerful tool for change. The research and initiatives that a university invests in can have a positive and prevailing impact on society. The knowledge that an institution imparts can have ramifications on the rest of the world. Universities should be ensuring their commitment to a curriculum that teaches social responsibility and encourages philanthropic projects. Universities should consider their role within their local and global community [24]. Therefore, universities in the BRICS countries are increasingly recognizing the importance of the sustainability of basing development strategies by combining economic, social, and environmental factors to reduce reputational risks, strengthen competitiveness, and increase academic staff efficiency and student loyalty. These measures make a positive contribution to the development of business, society, and the economic and social development of university location regions. The aforesaid point creates favorable conditions for the implementation of long-term development strategies based on the harmonization of stakeholders’ interests.

2.2. USR and Stakeholder Theory in the USR Concept

Social responsibility in government organizations and in universities in particular has rarely been an object of scientific research in recent years. It has been studied only regarding the functional purpose of various public organizations and their social mission [25,26,27]. In the most general sense, the scientific literature represents the USR as a voluntary contribution to social, economic, and environmental development through which material, intellectual, managerial, and other resources are most effectively directed to the implementation of social programs and activities developed according to the trends of modern social needs and public interests [5,25,28]. Most scholars consider and study the USR in terms of various changes and shades of interpretation. On the one hand, USR is viewed through the prism of the educational mission of the higher education system, the implementation of which is to ensure the quality of the educational process and convey the value of knowledge and independent thinking in accordance with the current public needs [25,28].
The conceptualization of USR first emerged in the governing sector of higher education institutions to attract students and, as a consequence, obtain economic benefits [29]. However, universities, most of which are public institutions, are socially oriented; their legal and economic obligations (as opposed to corporate sector structures) go far beyond the established framework of political and educational activities and contribute to the achievement of the well-being of society [29]. Thus, it is possible to formulate research
Hypothesis 1 (H1).
The main driver for the USR development is communication between universities and society.
Therefore, the USR should be part of the mission of any university and should be planned as a policy of permanent improvement through a totality of areas of management:
  • The scope of the organizational structure—the university as an entity responsible for its structural units with varying degrees of economic freedom and staff [30,31];
  • The scope of educational services—the university as a subject responsible for the development of students’ professional competencies [32];
  • The scope of scientific activity—the university as a subject responsible for innovative developments useful and necessary for society, meeting current requirements and challenges [21,33,34,35];
  • The scope of social activity—the university as a subject responsible for interaction with other subjects of society, communities and subsystems [29].
USR means that a university commits to act for the sake of achieving public welfare, even if doing so reduces its economic benefits. Therefore, the stakeholders’ concept increases USR efficiency. In 1984, Freeman, defined a stakeholder as “any group or individual who can affect or is affected by the achievement of the organization’s objectives” [36]. The scholar substantiated the process of establishing an organizational strategy, using stakeholders in the strategic management of organizations. This definition shifts the focus; not only those persons in whom the organization has an interest, but also those persons who are interested in the result of the organization’s activities become stakeholders. The identification of university stakeholders enables determining the main directions of social responsibility development and reveals the problems (destructive factors) that arise during the development process. The initial idea of the concept was that in the conditions of the increasingly complicated environment, the need arises for an individual as does, simultaneously, the comprehensive analysis of the university environment. The natural desire of stakeholders to build relationships with reliable legitimate companies is the basis for developing approaches that allow, to a certain extent, to use elements of unification of requirements for them when concluding partnership agreements. Therefore, the need and expediency of using standardization tools arises at the stage of deepening the conceptual foundations and best practice of organizing the stakeholders’ interaction. The creation of an international standard of the ISO 26000 series “Social responsibility” is of fundamental importance. At the end of 2010, it was transformed into the ISO 26000: 2010 “Guidelines for social responsibility” standard [37]. It covers a wide range of issues regarding the content and determination of the boundaries of social responsibility of any organization (including business), the principles to be followed by this concept, and the range of themes that determine the main directions of activity in this area. Under this standard, “social responsibility” is interpreted as “the responsibility of an organization for the impacts of its decisions and activities on society and the environment, resulting in ethical behavior and transparency which contributes to sustainable development, including the health and wellbeing of society; takes into account the expectations of stakeholders; complies with current laws and is consistent with international standards of behavior and is integrated throughout the organization and implemented in its relations” [37].
In view of the fact that institutional decisions affect the entire social system, the practical implementation of the USR is achieved when considering all stakeholders’ needs. Based on the general concept of stakeholders [38], it can be stated that the successful implementation of the USR strategy depends not only on all stakeholders’ engagement, but also on their satisfaction from the involvement in the process. Then, the goal of USR acquires the following meaningfulness—to ensure rational interaction with all subjects of the educational, scientific and economic activities of the university who participate in this amount of detail and with those to whom it is directed:
  • Teachers, students, and families [25];
  • Educational institutions of various types and levels [33];
  • Institutions of translational activity (indirectly influencing the field of education).
They are economic organizations and enterprises, public organizations, cultural and educational institutions (museums, libraries, theaters, etc.), tourist facilities, authority and management bodies, etc. [39].
Within the framework of this study, an attempt is made to investigate the key actors having a direct impact on university activities.

2.3. USR Developmental Factors

This article is based on a management approach and risk theory since the USR is primarily a strategy for creating and disseminating shared value by meeting the needs of all stakeholders of the university. That is why we studied the factors stimulating USR development.
1. Responsible management of personnel and human resources. It is important to comprehend that these are two different things. The main distinction is that in the first case, we consider a person as a full-fledged and self-sufficient individual, his needs and rights are given particular attention [30,40]. In addition, the staff interests are considered when setting commercial goals. Firstly, the staff is perceived as a resource, promoting the university’s strategic and tactical goals. At the same time, they are ready to invest in the resource and contribute to its development. Secondly, it is the university goals that are most significant, not those of the employees [40]. A responsible management system helps to increase the value of university culture and motivate employees to improve their work efficiency and productive relationships with management [30,41].
2. Responsible management of the university provides for concerted practice, which ultimately ensures the implementation of a common goal or a set of goals facing the organization. Effective management and creative administration fosters communication between stakeholders, being key to a successful social responsibility strategy, which is subordinated to the first factor, stimulating the USR [29,38]. Therefore, we can formulate the following research hypothesis:
Hypothesis 2 (H2).
The creativity of the university administration directly affects the level of the USR development.
3. Responsible provision of educational services. Universities face the difficult task of learning to develop such students’ skills as the ability to constantly learn, work with information, quickly master new technologies, and the ability to think rationally and creatively solve problems, while simultaneously giving the students restricted professional knowledge in the chosen specialty. In the traditional education system, the student views the world through the prism of one specialized direction. However, this classical approach is increasingly criticized: studying the phenomenon from one perspective, we do not see the full picture [42]. Alternatively, more and more universities are adopting an interdisciplinary approach, where students explore each topic simultaneously from the point of view of several academic subjects, including those focused on the study of the society’s needs. At the same time, it is necessary to provide students with the opportunity to choose which subjects they want to study and in which way [43]. Thus, students get the opportunity to individually make progress, choosing the subjects that they want to study and the degree of immersion in each of them. This approach significantly increases motivation, gives students real control over their own development, and with it, a sense of responsibility and involvement. This statement gives grounds to formulate the following research hypothesis:
Hypothesis 3 (H3).
Student training is a fundamental driver for the USR development.
4. Responsibility for the development of science. Universities need to strengthen education in science and technology at all levels and develop their research potential to independently cope with the challenges they face and properly participate in the scientific and social life [16]. Scientific knowledge and skills, whether acquired from local and national research or the exchange of technology, play a crucial role in designing and responding to many challenges facing modern society aiming toward sustainable development [39,44]. Since the rankings indicate the development and involvement of the university in scientific activities, the following can be assumed:
Hypothesis 4 (H4).
The higher the ranking of the university, the higher the USR development level.
5. Responsible attitude to social development, which is manifested in the effective interaction of state business and universities. The key mission of universities should be the functions of an information integrator in society, the production of new knowledge through research activities and the use of the new technological potential, the transfer of knowledge through education and the development of human resources, contribution to the social and cultural development of cities, regions and the country as a whole, and assistance in developing innovations required by society at various stages of its evolution [40,45,46,47,48]. The authorities and the university interact at the initial stage of knowledge generation. It is universities that conduct research and make inventions that become the most important resource for high-tech production in this situation. Then, over the course of technology transfer, the university cooperates with business, and the result is brought to the market jointly by the government and business [26,45]. This gives reason for the following research hypotheses:
Hypothesis 5 (H5).
Changing the universities’ livelihoods contributes to USR development.
Hypothesis 6 (H6).
University commercialization drives USR development.

3. Methodology

3.1. Quantitative Assessment of USR Development

The two main quantitative indicators that are used to characterize the levels of USR include the Quacquarelli Symonds (QS) Stars rating of levels of USR [40,49] and the Times Higher Education Impact Rankings [28]. The former is based on assessing how significant the university’s contribution is to the development of human capital, and how important participation is in charity and assistance in protecting the environment in the midst of and in the event of natural disasters [50]. The Times Higher Education Impact Ranking measures the universities’ role in achieving sustainable development goals in four pillars: research, governance, educational outreach, and teaching. An assessment is made for universities’ participation in research that contributes to the implementation of sustainable development goals; the efficiency of human capital management; the universities’ role in informing local, regional, national, and international communities about sustainable development goals and ways to implement them; and the quality of education aimed at ensuring sustainable development [51].
The problems associated with the use of these quantitative indicators in assessing the social responsibility of universities are as follows:
(1) The ranking of QS Stars universities in terms of USR is presented in the form of a 5-point discrete scale, which does not make it possible to specify the assessment for the level of USR and, therefore, to use it for modeling.
(2) The QS Stars world ranking in terms of USR is presented by 97 universities that reported a desire to participate in the ranking, submitted the relevant documents, and are, for the most part, USR. The use of these ratings as an indicator of USR for the countries represented by the universities in the rating leads to overestimations [49]. Brazilian universities are not represented in the QS Stars ranking of USR among the BRICS countries that are the subject of this study. Russia is represented by one university, India by five, China by two, and the Republic of South Africa by one [49]. The representation of countries in the Times Higher Education Impact Rankings is more detailed: Brazil has two universities, Russia has 47, India has 26, and the Republic of South Africa has four. However, this rating is also unsuitable for this study since China is not represented in it [28].
(3) The ratings do not provide an opportunity to assess the development of USR over time, especially in the current conditions under the influence of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has significantly affected higher education systems throughout the world and, in particular, USR. The QS Stars social responsibility rating was published only once, with the occasional addition of universities, and impact rankings were published according to 2018 and 2019 data, which also does not reflect the changes in USR during the pandemic.
To mitigate the above shortcomings, this research assessed the USR development level in the BRICS countries, taking into account its dynamics during the COVID-19 pandemic. The factors stimulating and de-stimulating the USR development were also identified.

3.2. A Survey Aimed to Assess the Levels of the USR Development

Due to the limitations identified above in the use of quantitative data on the level of the USR development and the factors influencing it, the survey method was applied as a methodological basis for this study.
To assess the dynamics in the USR indicators in the BRICS countries, the survey was carried out during the period of September through November 2019 and at the same period in 2020 (during the COVID-19 pandemic). The survey was performed remotely, using email and social networks by prior agreement with the respondents. The research sample features are given in Table 1.
The sample set included universities represented in the QS World University Rankings 2019 and the QS World University Rankings 2020 [52] in the top 500+ positions. The QS World University Rankings are not indicators of USR. However, when higher positions are used in the research of universities, the values of the indicators of USR by country may be overestimated. This is because higher ranked universities have a more developed research and financial base and academic staff potential, which creates advantages in the development of USR. Universities not represented in the rankings, on the contrary, have the lowest potential for the development of USR.
When they are used as a sample, it is possible to obtain low estimates tending to a minimum, which will not allow assessment of the dynamics and identifying differences in indicators of USR with respect to countries. Thus, this study used universities of various profiles, such as technological, engineering, electrical, economic, philological and universal types, to neutralize the influence of the factor of university specialization on the level of development of USR. The respondents were not students but teachers and managers, as they are more responsible for and knowledgeable about university activities to ensure higher adequacy of the results obtained. The sample multitude included persons who had at least 10 years’ experience in the higher education system and had worked in at least three universities in the country. This approach to the selection of respondents made it possible to assess the USR level and factors influencing it, not only at the university of which the respondent was a representative, but in the entire system of higher education. To ensure maximum objectivity in the results of assessing the USR level dynamics, the composition of the respondents did not change during 2019–2020. The change in the number of respondents in 2020 is conditioned by the fact that some respondents no longer work in higher education and cannot give a competent assessment.
The sufficiency of the sample was evidenced by the number of respondents in each country (at least 401 people), which was adequate with a confidence level of 95% and an acceptable margin of error of 5%. The minimum sample size for these parameters is a sample of 384 persons, determined by Formula (1) [53].
S = Z ( p ) 2 × v × ( 1 v ) e 2 ,
where S is the minimum sample size; Z(p) is a standard deviate; p is the confidence coefficient; v is the sampling variability; and e is an acceptable margin of error.
The obtained assessment results were verified using the t-criterion for two independent samples. Within each country, the following assessment results were compared: (1) rankings given by university members (sample 1) and managers (sample 2) for all the studied universities in the country in aggregate; (2) rankings given by representatives of different universities (without breakdown into managers and university members). The calculated t-criterion values do not exceed the critical value at the p = 0.05 significance level. This result indicates the absence of statistically significant differences between the indicated groups of respondents within each of the countries. On this basis, a conclusion can be drawn about the objectivity of the given assessments regarding the factors influencing the USR development, and the USR development level in the BRICS countries.
The estimates obtained through the survey were representative for assessing USR and the factors influencing its development in the BRICS countries based on the following:
1. The sample size (>384 persons);
2. The different geographical and profile representations of universities (universities in one country represented different regions and had different specialist fields);
3. Voluntary participation in the research;
4. The anonymity of the results.
When assessing the USR and the factors influencing its development, the respondents were asked to give assessments according to the corresponding survey questions (Appendix A, Table A1), using a 5-point Likert scale. Grade “5” meant unequivocal agreement with the statement, “4” a greater rate of agreement than disagreement, “3” an equal rate of agreement and disagreement, “2” a greater rate of disagreement than agreement, and “1” unequivocal disagreement. The questionnaire was formed on the basis of [11,20,22,23,27,29,54]. In the first block of questions regarding the USR development, the respondents assessed the following: (1) the system of higher education in the country as a whole; and (2) USR development at the university of which the respondent is a representative. This was done to test H4 hypothesis considering the existence of a relationship between the university ranking and the level of the USR development. The first block of questions was aimed at assessing the development level of universities’ social responsibility to employees, students and the community as stakeholders. Social responsibility to the employees and students was assessed from the standpoint of ensuring safe, legal, non-discriminatory working and training conditions that provide opportunities for professional and personal development. Social responsibility to the community was assessed from the standpoint of promoting the implementation of sustainable development goals through scientific research, educational outreach activities, the development of programs aimed at reducing poverty, using renewable energy sources, implementing programs for efficient resource use and programs to combat climate change, forming gender equality in the society, developing regional infrastructure, sports, culture, health care, conservation of aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems, and maintaining peace and justice in the society [55,56,57,58,59].
The second block of questions was used to assess factors influencing USR development and were formed on the basis of [22,23,27]. The assessment was carried out throughout the higher education system.

3.3. Model for Assessing the USR

The indicators for assessing the USR (SR1–SR17 of Appendix A, Table A1) were established on the basis of the stakeholder theory [24]. They were based on the generalization of existing methods for assessing the USR [11,27,29,54], adjusted for sustainable development goals on which the USR will focus for modern conditions [20]. Statistical processing of the estimates revealed a statistically significant relationship between the indicators SR1–SR12, SR1–SR15, SR4–SR5, SR8–SR16, SR10–SR15, and SR15-SR16. The paired correlation coefficient was used to assess the strength of the bond. For the mentioned pairs of indicators, the value of the correlation coefficients was ≥|0.79|, which is statistically significant at the p = 0.05 confidence level. To eliminate multicollinearity from the model, which biases the results toward the group of correlated indicators, one indicator was left in each pair of correlated indicators. Indicators that, according to experts, are less significant when assessing the USR level were excluded. After eliminating the correlation, with regard to the significance of the indicators, the indicators SR2–SR4, SR6–SR14, SR17 were left; these were then used to assess the USR.
Since there is no generally accepted indicator for assessing the USR level in the scientific literature, and the existing ranking assessments (described in Section 3.1) have a number of shortcomings, for this research, we calculated the integral indicator of USR development. This indicator is a synthetic value and does not imply the presence of coefficients of significance for particular indicators that can be determined, using quantitative statistical methods. Therefore, an expert method was used to quantitatively measure the coefficients of the significance for particular indicators in the integral model. For more objective assessments, a specially formed group of experts competent in these matters acted in the role of experts instead of universities’ representatives. The expert group was formed of 47 representatives of the Ministry of Science and Higher Education of the Russian Federation, the Russian rating agency RAEX, and the international company Clarivate Analytics. The experts were asked to rank the indicators, according to their importance in assessing USR, where 1 equaled the highest possible significance. The maximum possible rank, provided that the ranks are not repeated, corresponds to the number of the analyzed indicators and accounts for 13. It correlates with the least significance of the indicator. The indicators’ ranks can be repeated with the indicators’ similar significance. For such indicators, the rank is defined as the arithmetic mean of the ordinal numbers of equivalent indicators in the comprehensive list, ranked in order of decreasing significance of all indicators.
The level of agreement among the experts’ opinions was assessed, using the coefficient of concordance. The resultant value (0.87) and the experts’ competence in assessing USR ensured the representativeness of the results.
All the indicators were boosters (their growth showed an increase in the level of USR); therefore, the integral indicator of the USR in the BRICS countries was calculated as the sum of scores of the indicators of USR, uncorrelated with each other, and weighted by the coefficient of their significance. Rational standards-setting was not carried out when calculating the integral indicator, as the standards were already comparable: all were measured in the same range (natural numbers ranging from 1 to 5) and had the same measurement units (i.e., points).
Considering that the importance coefficients of particular indicators were determined using Fishburne’s rule, the following equation was used to calculate the integral indicator of the USR:
I U S R = i = 1 n [ ( j = 1 m 2 × ( n r i j + 1 ) n × ( n + 1 ) / m ) × b Y i ] ,
where IUSR is the integrated index of USR; n is the number of particular indicators of USR; m is the number of experts–expert group members (m = 47); rij is the rating assessment of the i-th indicator importance of the USR, given by the j-th expert; and bYi is the scoring of the value of the i-th indicator of the USR.

3.4. Methodology for Determining the Factors Influencing the USR Development and Testing Research Hypotheses

To assess the factors affecting the USR development in the BRICS countries, based on [22,23,27], a list of FS1–FS27 indicators was formed, given in Appendix A, Table A1. The principal component analysis was used to determine the structure of factors. The number of observations corresponded to the number of completed questionnaires, and the number of variables corresponded to the number of indicators FS1–FS27. Factor analysis via principal component analysis was carried out using Statistica 12.0, done separately based on countries and periods. The indicators of the factor analysis accuracy were the size of the sample, which was twice the number of variables: the cumulative percentage of variance. The cumulative percentage of variance of the selected factors (89.1–92.4%) exceeds a percentage of the cumulative variance, sufficient to ensure the representativeness of the factor analysis, which makes 80% [60].
The research hypotheses (H1–H3, H5–H6) testing was carried out by constructing multivariate regression models for assessing the influence of factors on the USR development. For this purpose, the EViews 10 program was used. The dependent variable of the constructed models was the integral indicator of USR in the five studied countries, calculated using Equation (2). The independent values were the values of factors of the USR development calculated using Statistica 12.0 and based on the indicators forming the factors and their factor loads. The number of observations for the building models by country ranged from 808 to 1020: for South Africa—808 observations, corresponding to the total number of respondents’ assessments over the survey (2019–2020); for Brazil—837; for India—839; for China—958; and for Russia—1020 observations. The possibility of using linear regression models was confirmed by the normal distribution of the dependent and independent variables. The probabilities of accepting the hypothesis of the normal distribution of variables calculated in the EViews 10 program ranged within 0.79–0.82. The calculated probabilities exceeded the critical 0.05 value, which indicated a normal distribution of the variables.
To test the H4 hypothesis, a pairwise coefficient of correlation between the integrated index of USR in the context of the universities represented in the study and their positions (places) in the QS World University Rankings 2019 and the QS World University Rankings 2020 was applied.

4. Results

4.1. Assessment of the USR Level in the BRICS Countries

The survey that the expert group performed revealed the coefficients of significance of particular indicators of the USR. Table 2 illustrates the arithmetic average of the expert group coefficients of significance. The ranking of indicators according to the degree of their significance when assessing the USR and the coefficients of relative significance in the opinion of each expert is given in Appendix B, Table A2 and Table A3.
Expert evaluation of the indicators’ significance was carried out in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. Therefore, the most significant indicator of USR was indicator SR7, which characterizes these institutions’ efforts to ensure safe working conditions for employees and students and appropriate sanitary conditions. During a pandemic, this indicator is manifested in the ability to provide effective distance learning for students and remote work for teachers, compliant with anti-epidemiological measures at the university. The coefficient of relative importance of this indicator was 0.14, which is 16.7% higher compared to the next most important indicator (SR9), for which the coefficient equaled to 0.12.
The SR11 indicator also plays a significant role in the realization of USR, which characterizes the participation of universities in the provision of material, psychological assistance to health facilities and medical staff, strengthening scientific developments aimed at maintaining the health care system. This indicator significance was 0.11. Along with the mentioned indicators, the importance of which significantly increased during the pandemic, the indicators SR9 (0.12), SR13 (0.11), SR6 (0.10) are characterized by a high level of significance, which are the basis for the development of USR and the foundation of the education system performance, the direct purpose of the university activities. These are compliance with the code of ethics (SR9), provision of quality socially-oriented education (SR13), fair and non-discriminatory communication between management, teachers, and students (SR6). The significance of other indicators varies in the range of [0.02–0.09].
Based on the results of the survey aimed at assessing the USR, taking into account the significance coefficients presented in Table 2, integral indicators of the USR were calculated using Formula (2). Table 3 shows the average indicators of the USR in the surveyed countries for the sample of respondents. The calculation of average values was possible due to the homogeneity of the sample within the country: deviations in the values of particular indicators of USR (SR1–SR17) of the assessments given by respondents from different universities within the country are statistically insignificant according to the t-test at a significance level of p = 0.05.
Among the BRICS countries, the highest level of USR during 2019–2020 was demonstrated by China. Its value of the integral indicator USR (IUSR) was 3.7 according to the survey findings in 2019 and 4.2 according to the outcomes in 2020. Despite the highest values of the indicator, the actual values are significantly lower than the potential one (5 points). For other countries, the integral indicator of USR was at the level of 2.3–3.0 in 2019 and 2.5–3.3 in 2020, which indicates a low level of development of USR among the BRICS countries. The main disincentive indicator characterizing the USR development is the low level of participation of universities in ensuring the sustainable development of the geographic area (city, region, country): financing public cultural, educational, sports events (SR2); developing regional infrastructure (SR10); reducing the level of poverty; reducing social inequality; and overcoming hunger (SR12). In 2019–2020, deviation of the actual values of these indicators from the potential was 40–80%.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, an increase in the integral indicator of USR has been observed in all countries: by 0.3 in Brazil and Russia, by 0.2 in India and South Africa, and by 0.5 in China. The growth in USR is due to the growth of SR7 indicators by 22.6–25.7% and SR11 by 63.2–71.4%, which compensates for the decrease in indicators, such as SR2, SR10. The identified changes indicate the universities’ focus on countering the spread of COVID-19 in the following ways: creating safe working and learning conditions, primarily the transition to distance learning; focusing efforts on scientific developments aimed at overcoming the virus; and redistributing funding in favor of the healthcare system.

4.2. Factors Affecting the USR Development in the BRICS Countries

The structure of factors influencing the USR development in the BRICS countries, determined using factor analysis by the principal component analysis, is presented in Table 4.
The number of factors of USR development (Table 4) was determined using the Kaiser criterion—factors with an eigenvalue ≥ 1.0 were taken as significant. The ranges for factor eigenvalues are given in Table 4.
The factors were interpreted using the indicators that formed them. We used factor loadings between the indicator and the factor as a criterion for assigning an indicator to a certain factor; these factor loadings are ≥|0.7| [60].
The results of the factor analysis, carried out separately for countries in 2019 and 2020, indicate an identical structure of the factors for the studied countries but with different priorities. Differences in the structure of factors include particular indicators: FS11 is included in the factor of socially responsible management for Brazil and Russia, FS3 and FS5 in the factor of socially oriented students’ learning for Brazil and India, respectively. For other countries, these indicators are not referred to any factor in the case that the values of factor loadings for them are <|0.7|. For this reason, the FS26 indicator is not included in the list of factors given in Table 4.
The priority factors influencing the USR development in the BRICS countries are as follows:
1. The factor of socially responsible management describes the possibilities for USR development due to the social orientation of the university administration, having the professional and personal characteristics necessary for the development of social responsibility. The factor is formed from indicators of the availability of effective experience in the country’s USR management; the administration’s awareness of the need to develop USR and support socially responsible events at the university; defining the USR development as a priority goal of the university development, which is accompanied by information sessions aimed to promote the administration and teachers’ social responsibility; and USR development through a high level of administrative creativity.
2. The factor of the effectiveness of communication between universities and stakeholders describes the effectiveness of the organization of interaction between universities on the one hand and stakeholders on the other. Within the framework of this factor, the USR development is facilitated by an effective communication system between administration, teachers, students, and stakeholders; the focus on the interests of teachers, students, stakeholders in the development of strategies and tasks for universities’ functioning; the consistency of opinions and interests of stakeholders in the university management process; the consistency of the responsibilities of administration, teachers, staff, and students with the universities’ institutional development goals; the orientation of universities to the social and cultural development of society, regions, and their country.
3. The factor of socially oriented students’ learning describes the focus of university curricula on the USR development by orienting students toward the implementation of sustainable development goals; teaching students environmentally friendly, resource-saving habits and energy-saving innovative technologies; raising students’ awareness to protect the environment; and the formation of the ability to constantly learn, work with information, quickly master new technologies, and think critically.
4. The university funding factor determines the financial opportunities for USR development through public and private funding, the attraction of domestic and foreign investments, and the commercialization of universities.
5. The factor of the universities’ research potential characterizes the universities’ innovative activity, the orientation toward research work, and the level of research potential. A high research potential contributes to the implementation of socially oriented developments, for instance, aimed to introduce resource-saving technologies, programs for efficient resource use, combating climate change, technologies for protecting aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems, programs to combat poverty and hunger, treatment technologies, and programs for health system development.
The indicated list of factors correlates with the studies of [30,38,40], but it is more extended and more specific in terms of priority for the BRICS countries.
For the BRICS countries, the socially responsible management factor has the highest percentage of variance. However, this does not mean that this factor determines the trends in these countries’ USR development. The regression models were built to determine the significance of factors in USR development and the test research hypotheses (Table 5).
The significance of the factor influence on the USR development is statistically confirmed by the model adequacy indicators: the F-criterion and the t-criterion. Empirical values of F-criterion range within 43.65–95.11, and critical values equal to 2.22–2.23 at a significance level of p = 0.05. The excess of empirical values over critical ones indicates the adequacy of the constructed regression models of the factor impact on USR development.
The empirical values of t-criterion for the independent variables exceed the critical one, making 1.96 at p = 0.05 (excluding the FL indicator for China). This result indicates a statistically significant (with the exception of FL) influence of the selected factors on USR development in the BRICS countries.
The possible influence of the study period on the simulation results was tested using the Chow test in the EViews 10 program. The probability of accepting the null hypothesis about the insignificance of the influence of the study period on the simulation results is not lower than 0.694. The excess of the calculated value over the critical 0.05 asserts that the revealed patterns of the factors impact on the USR indicator are identical over the period of 2019–2020. In this regard, models presented in Table 5 are built on a single data set for 2019 and 2020.
All FS1–FS27 indicators that affect the USR development have positive values of factor loadings with the factors to which they are assigned. This means that the nature of the influence of particular indicators on USR development is similar to the influence of the factors that formed these indicators.
The constructed models showed that the most significant influence on the USR integral indicator in the BRICS countries is exerted by the factor of the effectiveness of university communication with stakeholders (FC). The t-criterion by country is in the 7.5–9.2 range. Positive values of the criterion and positive values of the coefficients of significance near this factor in the constructed models indicate the stimulating influence of this factor on USR development.
The FS12 indicator is among the indicators that form the factor FM. This indicator describes the level of management creativity. The positive value of the factor loading between FS12 indicator and FM factor, together with the direct nature of the FM factor influence on the level of the USR development (as reflected by the constructed regression models) indicates the same nature of the FS12 indicator influence on the IUSR. However, based on these data, one cannot state the statistical significance of such an influence. In this regard, additional regression models were built, reflecting the influence of the particular indicators forming the FM factor on the level of USR development (Table 6). A similar situation arises when testing H6 hypothesis: the indicator characterizing the commercialization of the university (FS20) is included in the university funding factor (FF). Table 6 shows the models describing the influence of this factor indicators on the level of USR development.
The influence of the FS12 indicator on IUSR is directly proportional and statistically significant, as evidenced by the t-criterion values in the range of 6.8–8.9 with a critical value of the criterion, making 1.96. This confirms the H2 hypothesis regarding the stimulating influence of the university management creativity on the USR development in the BRICS countries.
According to the FS20 indicator, a statistically significant positive impact was recorded for India and China. After analyzing the structure of the indicators that formed the factors influencing the USR development for India and China, a close direct relationship was found between the FS20 and FS24 indicators (the value of the paired correlation coefficient is 0.77). For other countries, the value of the correlation coefficient between these indicators is in the (−0.21) − (+0.08) range. The revealed regularity can be explained as follows: the commercialization of universities brings a positive effect provided that universities are socially oriented, when the key principles of university functioning include an orientation toward the social and cultural development of society, regions, and the country, the achievement of sustainable development goals through research activities. In this case, a double positive effect is created: (1) developments lead to an increase in USR since they have a social orientation; (2) the applied nature of the developments stimulates new similar orders, which expands the financial base of universities and stimulates USR growth. This confirms H6 hypothesis that the commercialization of universities is a USR development driver. The hypothesis is not confirmed for countries, where the commercialization of universities is not social in nature.
H3, H5 hypotheses were tested based on the factors of socially oriented students’ learning (FL) and university funding (FF), respectively.
Models presented in Table 5 indicate the stimulating influence of the factor of socially oriented students’ learning (FL) on USR development in the BRICS countries. However, if for Brazil, Russia, India, and South Africa this influence is statistically significant in terms of the t-criterion, then for China, the empirical value of the criterion is 1.9 (as shown in Table 5), which is lower than the critical one. This indicates an insignificant influence of this factor on USR development in the country. The regularity is also noted that the positive influence of the factor decreases (the empirical values of the t-criterion decrease at the same level of critical value) with an increase in the USR level in the country. In China, the level of USR development is the highest, and the influence of the factor of socially oriented students’ learning is insignificant; in Brazil and India, the level of USR development is the lowest, and the influence of the factor has the most significant positive effect. In countries with a lower level of USR development, the orientation of the educational process toward the formation of students’ competencies for achieving sustainable development goals, the ability to constantly learn, work with information, quickly master brand new technologies, and think critically contribute to USR development [61]. This confirms H3 hypothesis but it is adjusted for the level of USR development in the country.
The acceptance of H5 hypothesis is evidenced by the statistically significant positive influence of the funding factor on the integral indicator of USR development. This factor is more significant for Brazil and India.
To test H4 hypothesis, we used the respondents’ assessments for the 1st block of questions. These assessments were made regarding the USR development at the university represented by the respondent, rather than in the country as a whole.
Based on these values, the integral indicator of USR development for 2019 and 2020 was calculated and used as a data set for calculating the paired correlation coefficient. The second data set was formed from universities’ ranking positions in the QS World University Rankings 2019 and the QS World University Rankings 2020. The calculated values of the correlation coefficient were 0.73 for 2019 and 0.68 for 2020, which is statistically significant, since the empirical t-criterion values (4.91, 5.65) exceed the critical one 2.76 at a significance level of 0.01.
The positive value of the correlation coefficient and its static significance, confirmed by the t-criterion, indicate a direct relationship between the level of USR development and university rankings, which validates H4 hypothesis. This connection is explained by the fact that the highest positions in the ranking indicate the high quality of the educational process, confirmed by a high academic reputation and employers’ reputation, a high proportion of foreign teachers and students, and the availability of high-quality research (including the field of sustainable development), which the citation index demonstrates [62]. This creates the prerequisites for the USR development.

5. Discussion

The theory does not allow unambiguously answering about the level of USR development in a particular country, region or university. This requires an in-depth analysis based on empirical assessment, which has signs of a high-quality scientific study and is characterized by representativeness, reliability, accuracy, etc. In addition, empirical analysis reveals the implicit causes of the emergence and features of USR development. The results obtained empirically testified the predominantly low level of development of social responsibility in the universities of the BRICS countries in the modern context. Higher scores for USR development level are typical for China. The research findings testified that under the influence of the pandemic, the USR levels of the studied countries have decreased. This can be explained by the inconsistency between the university management system and socially oriented principles, social inertia, the leadership, teachers’ and students’ lack of social awareness, the discrepancy between the students’ individual psychological characteristics and the principles of social responsibility, and low innovative activity, which is due to the wider practice of using the principles of social responsibility by universities. Along with this, there is a threat that the revealed trend of growth in social responsibility in 2020 is a short-term reaction to a strong impulse caused by the psychological shock of the pandemic and administrative measures at the state level (for instance, the forced transition to distance learning and the introduction of administrative responsibility for non-compliance with sanitary requirements), and will not be sustained in the long term due to a reduction in funding, a significant risk of the management, teachers’ and students’ lack of social awareness, and the risk of discrepancy between the students’ individual psychological characteristics and the principles of social responsibility.
The study confirmed the H1 and H2 hypotheses, which acknowledged the importance of the communicative factor between all subjects of the university environment and stakeholders for USR development. That is, we are talking about a directly proportional dependence of the stakeholders’ and universities’ information satisfaction. Given that the emergence of social responsibility among the subjects of the socio-economic system (for those whose mission is not based on its principles) begins with the formation of personal understanding of social responsibility [29,39,46,63]. Consequently, an insufficiently effective and stable communication link at this detail level between the subjects of educational, scientific, and economic activities at the university and those to whom it is directed weakens such USR components as the idea of its content and significance for society, trust in universities as guides of social responsibility, community spirit, social identity, revaluation of moral ideals, etc. Therefore, the low level of USR in the BRICS countries primarily indicates the absence of an established communication channel with stakeholders in the universities’ activities.
If we consider the confirmation of H3 hypothesis—student education is the fundamental driver of USR development, but only at the initial stages of its development—then we can confidently assert that the more stakeholders in university activities, the wider the sphere of USR influence and the higher the level of its development, which is confirmed in [63,64]. Expanding the circle of stakeholders and establishing communication links with them in the studied countries, first of all, should be carried out through institutional changes. Expansion of the circle of stakeholders and the establishment of communication links with them in the studied countries should be carried out primarily by means of institutional changes. For example, the rationing of teaching hours to avoid teachers’ overload, which will help to normalize the contact between the teacher and students, ensure the status of permanent and socially protected workers, etc. The idea of a new university should be developed, aimed not at obtaining economic benefits but meeting social needs and engagement. Engagement is understood as interaction with different communities, entering into an alliance with industrial associations, and the ability to speak a language that is familiar to these communities [65].
The university activities are credence goods, the production of which, from the point of view of efficiency and quality, is advisable to arrange so that strong economic incentives do not distort their producers’ behavior, or do not generate the indicator-oriented work. In this direction, especially in the context of significant institutional and organizational problems, a special role for USR development is played by the university administration creativity, the importance of which was proved, using the H2 hypothesis. The creative approaches and non-standard thinking of the management can help expand the circle of stakeholders in the university’s activities by implementing interesting and socially useful projects and establishing socially advantageous and effective ties.
The creativity of university administration, staff and faculty can also contribute to the successful commercialization of universities and funding source diversification. This also has a positive effect on USR development, as was substantiated by confirming H5 and H6 hypotheses. The increase in funding for university activities helps to improve the quality of educational services and the development of socially useful scientific activities at the university, which in turn will affect the increase in the rating and universal recognition of the university (confirmed H4 hypothesis). However, given the significant institutional peculiarity in the BRICS countries, determined by historical, economic, and cultural characteristics, both national and regional, these factors positively affect the development and increase of the USR level only if guided, in this case, primarily by ethical norms and not the desire for economic benefits. For example, in many universities in the studied countries, adapting to the ranking indicators distorts the real state and needs of national science and education, forcing to direct resources toward achieving indicators that improve the university ranking, or promoting projects that are profitable economically rather than socially.

6. Conclusions

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused a general recession and has had an enormous impact on universities around the world, so the development of university social responsibility programs confirms the commitment of universities to greater goals and service to the community. Universities must ensure the safety of their employees, students, and their families, maintain public trust and confidence in providing high quality education. It is in these matters that USR development serves as the primary response driver. The decisions that universities make now will lay the foundation for relationships with employees, government, investors, and consumers. It is important not just to act, but to act consciously and responsibly.
Based on the above, it can be stated that the problem of USR development in the BRICS countries is fragmented and demonstrates the absence of a single comprehensive approach to solving the key problems of its development and introducing legal mechanisms for integrating the principles of social responsibility into the development strategy of the higher education system. Despite the voluntary and recommendatory nature of university merger proposals, most of them are indirectly promoted by public authorities. Consequently, the USR development concept should be included in the mission and strategic planning of universities as a formal process with the aim of expanding the circle of stakeholders in university activities and establishing socially useful ties through effective and constant communication.
The theoretical contribution of the research is determined by the development of an empirical approach to assessing the universities’ social responsibility in the BRICS countries, which is based on the stakeholder theory, with regard to the orientation toward sustainable development goals. The results obtained can be useful for universities in the studied countries in developing anti-crisis policies during the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, and also allow structuring the constituting components of the university’s mission, taking into account their social purpose in the community.
The results obtained cannot be implemented at universities in other countries because the sample set of the study is limited to the universities whose representatives took part in the survey (five to seven universities from each country). However, the impact of the restricted research outcomes is minimized, due to the fact that (1) the survey questions were formulated to assess the development of USR not of a specific university—the representative of which are the respondent—but of the higher education system in the country; (2) the respondents have significant work experience in the higher education system and have worked at more than one university, and thus, they are aware of the USR in their country. It should be noted that since this research was conducted only during two periods (2019 and 2020), it is not possible to predict the development of USR. Forecasting the level of USR development and its distinctive features in developed and developing economies will be our future scientific research priority. Additionally, in this research, we did not consider and develop recommendations for USR development in the BRICS countries since, in our opinion, this requires a fundamental analysis of their practical effectiveness. This is advisable to do in the context of each country, taking into account the peculiarities of USR development, the higher education system, forms of relations between communities and governments (totalitarian or democratic ones) and so on. Therefore, this line of research deserves a separate study, which forms our further scientific priority.

Author Contributions

Conceptualization, A.R., N.I.N. and M.V.V.; data curation, N.I.N.; formal analysis, V.M.G. and N.V.K.; funding acquisition, Z.R.G., A.O.Z., N.V.K., T.I.V. and M.V.V.; investigation, T.I.V.; methodology, V.M.G.; project administration, N.N.B.; resources, A.R., V.V.P. and N.N.B.; software, Z.R.G.; supervision, V.V.P.; validation, A.O.Z., V.V.P., N.N.B. and N.V.K.; visualization, A.O.Z.; writing—original draft, V.M.G. and T.I.V.; writing—review and editing, Z.R.G., T.I.V., M.I.I., I.D.E. All authors have read and agreed to the published version of the manuscript.


This research received no external funding.

Institutional Review Board Statement

The study was conducted according to the guidelines of the Declaration of Helsinki. The study did not require formal ethical approval because, following the rules in force in Russia, the Bioethics Committee did not submit applications for surveys consisting in the use of standardized surveys, used by their intended purpose when the research will develop statistically selected elements of the survey.

Informed Consent Statement

Informed consent was obtained from all subjects involved in the study.

Data Availability Statement

Publicly available datasets were analyzed in this study. This data can be found here: [], accessed on 18 February 2021.

Conflicts of Interest

The authors declare no conflict of interest.

Appendix A

Table A1. Indicators for assessing the level of USR development and factors affecting it in the BRICS countries (developed based on [11,20,22,23,27,29,54]).
Table A1. Indicators for assessing the level of USR development and factors affecting it in the BRICS countries (developed based on [11,20,22,23,27,29,54]).
IndicatorSurvey Question
Module 1. Indicators for assessing the USR
SR1You know the cases of universities participation in charity, volunteering aimed at helping needy segments of the population in your country
SR2There is a widespread practice of investing significant funds in financing public cultural, educational, and sports events in the higher education system
SR3Universities follow the rules of the labor code and conventions of the International Labor Organization: non-use of child labor, work schedule adherence
SR4Universities provide career and personal development opportunities for management, teachers, and staff
SR5Universities guarantee a stable job
SR6There is a fair and non-discriminatory communication between management, teachers, and students in universities
SR7Universities provide safe working conditions for employees’ work and students’ training, appropriate sanitary conditions
SR8Universities conduct pilot projects and research work on renewable energy sources, resource efficiency programs, and climate change programs
SR9Universities adhere to a code of ethics
SR10Universities take part in the development of the infrastructure of the geographical area (city, region, country)
SR11Universities provide material and psychological assistance to health care facilities and medical workers, participate in scientific research aimed at maintaining the health care system, and finance health care costs
SR12Universities in your country cooperate with public organizations, charitable foundations to reduce poverty, social inequality, and overcome hunger
SR13Universities provide quality, socially oriented education
SR14Universities promote gender equality in society
SR15Universities offer programs for sustainable development of cities, villages, regions and participate in their implementation
SR16University activities (policy, research) contribute to the preservation of aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems
SR17Universities conduct outreach campaigns, educational activities aimed to promote peace and justice in society
Module 2. Factors affecting USR development
FS1Universities have established an effective communication system between administration, teachers, students, and stakeholders to develop USR
FS2Responsibilities of administration, teachers, staff, and students closely correlate with the universities’ institutional development goals
FS3Implementing research projects and educational events to promote an understanding of the principles of students’ social responsibility is widespread in universities
FS4Holding events aimed to raise students’ awareness of the environmental protection is widespread in universities
FS5Implementing scientific projects to increase the students’ social awareness by studying society’s social problems is common in universities.
FS6For the system of higher education in your country, the problem associated with the reduction in public funding is not relevant
FS7The system of higher education is sufficiently funded by individuals and legal entities
FS8Over the past years, there has been a tendency to increase the volume of domestic and foreign investment in the USR development
FS9There are precedents for effective socially responsible management in the country’s higher education system
FS10University-level socially responsible events are supported by administration
FS11The development of socially responsible university management in your country is due to the high level of administration’s intellectual potential
FS12The USR development in your country is greatly facilitated by a high level of administration creativity
FS13Universities in the country have a high level of research potential (modern material and technical base, availability of teachers integrating research, and sufficient funding for scientific activities)
FS14Along with educational activities, research is among the priority areas of the higher education system
FS15When developing strategies and tasks for universities’ functioning, the management focuses on the interests of teachers, students, and stakeholders
FS16University management is based on the consistency of stakeholders’ views and interests
FS17A factor in the development of social responsibility in your country is the orientation of curricula towards obtaining students’ professional competencies and general ones, the priority of which includes the development of social responsibility and the implementation of sustainable development goals
FS18In universities, programs have been developed to teach students environmentally friendly and resource-saving habits and energy-saving innovative technologies
FS19Education at universities is aimed to develop students’ ability to constantly learn, work with information, quickly master new technologies, and think critically
FS20There is an increase in the universities’ commercialization in the country
FS21A factor in the USR development in the country is the university administration’s awareness of this need
FS22The higher education system in your country is characterized by high innovative activity
FS23The development of social responsibility is among the priority goals of universities’ development
FS24The key principles of functioning of universities include an orientation towards the social and cultural development of society, regions, and the country, achieving sustainable development goals through research activities
FS25The higher education system management is based on the observance of the principles of democracy, legitimacy, and absence of corruption
FS26The higher education system is characterized by a high level of activity of the student community in university’s social events
FS27In universities, information activities are carried out to develop the administration and teachers’ social responsibility

Appendix B

Table A2. Ranking of the USR indicators depending on the degree of their significance in the integrated assessment of the USR level by each expert.
Table A2. Ranking of the USR indicators depending on the degree of their significance in the integrated assessment of the USR level by each expert.
ExpertsIndicator Ranking
Table A3. Relative importance indexes of the USR indicators in the integrated assessment of the USR level.
Table A3. Relative importance indexes of the USR indicators in the integrated assessment of the USR level.
ExpertsRelative Importance Indexes of the USR Indicators


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Figure 1. Challenges for universities during the pandemic in the BRICS countries (developed by the authors based on [3,4]).
Figure 1. Challenges for universities during the pandemic in the BRICS countries (developed by the authors based on [3,4]).
Sustainability 13 07035 g001
Table 1. Features of the sample population of the study aimed to assess the USR in the BRICS countries factors influencing its development (Compiled based on the survey results).
Table 1. Features of the sample population of the study aimed to assess the USR in the BRICS countries factors influencing its development (Compiled based on the survey results).
CountryUniversities Represented by the RespondentsUniversity’s Position in the QS World University RankingsNumber of Respondents, Persons
BrazilUniversidade Federal do Rio Grande Do Sul601–650651–70042284228
Universidade de Brasília751–800801–100042274224
Universidade Federal de Santa Catarina751–800701–75061425842
Universidade Federal de São Carlos701–750801–100031203120
Universidade Federal de Pernambuco801–1000801–100040223921
The Federal University of Paraná801–1000801–100041274126
Number of respondents--257166253161
RussiaNational Research Saratov State University501–510521–53055395435
Novosibirsk State Technical University801–1000801–100042214220
Lobachevsky University601–650601–65045314531
South Ural State University801–1000801–100040274027
Plekhanov Russian University of Economics801–1000751–80031323132
Southern Federal University531–540541–55044314431
Voronezh State University801–1000801–100045304530
Number of respondents--302211301206
IndiaAmrita Vishwa Vidyapeetham801–1000801–100045234523
University of Calcutta801–1000801–100041264126
Banaras Hindu University801–1000801–100055335330
Anna University751–800751–80040204019
Manipal Academy of Higher Education751–800701–75046214521
Jamia Millia Islamia751–800751–80047284724
Number of respondents--274151271143
ChinaBeijing Foreign Studies University751–800801–100064316029
Sichuan University601–650601–65072387237
Lanzhou University601–650751–80063286224
Southeast University511–520501–51068306629
Beijing Jiaotong University751–800701–75062325932
Number of respondents--329159319151
South AfricaUniversity of Kwazulu-Natal751–800801–100054285426
Rhodes University801–1000801–100048204820
University of Johannesburg551–560501–51067396738
University of Pretoria561–570551–56047274427
University of the Western Cape801–1000801–100048294829
Number of respondents--264143261140
Total number of respondents--14268301405801
Table 2. Significance coefficients of particular indicators of USR (calculated based on expert assessment).
Table 2. Significance coefficients of particular indicators of USR (calculated based on expert assessment).
IndicatorSignificance CoefficientIndicatorSignificance CoefficientIndicatorSignificance Coefficient
Table 3. Levels of the integral indicator of the USR development in the BRICS countries (calculated based on respondents’ assessments).
Table 3. Levels of the integral indicator of the USR development in the BRICS countries (calculated based on respondents’ assessments).
CountryLevel of the USR Indicator (IUSR)Change in the USR Indicator
South Africa2.83.00.2
Table 4. The structure of factors influencing the USR development in the BRICS countries (calculated based on respondents’ assessments).
Table 4. The structure of factors influencing the USR development in the BRICS countries (calculated based on respondents’ assessments).
FactorFactor of Socially Responsible Management (FM)Factor of Effectiveness of Communication between Universities and Stakeholders (FC)Factor of Socially Oriented Students’ Learning (FL)University Funding Factor (FF)Factor of Universities’ Research Potential (FR)
Factor Eigenvalues3.35–8.052.22–6.891.62–3.921.24–2.481.01–1.07
Indicators that Formed the FactorFS9, FS10, FS12, FS21, FS23, FS25, FS27, FS11(B,R) *FS1, FS2, FS15, FS16, FS24FS4, FS17–FS19, FS3(B) *, FS5(I) *FS6–FS8, FS20 **FS13, FS14, FS22
Percentage of Variance, %
South Africa201931.6420.9615.3513.349.64
*—indicators as part of the factor only for certain BRICS countries: (B)—Brazil; (R)—Russia; (I)—India; **—for the FS20 indicator, factor loadings ≥ 0.7 are recorded between the indicator and the FF, FC factors (for India and China). The assignment of this indicator to the FF factor was carried out based on a higher value of the factor loading (0.84, compared to 0.72 for the FC factor).
Table 5. Models of the impact of factors on USR development in the BRICS countries (based on respondents’ assessments).
Table 5. Models of the impact of factors on USR development in the BRICS countries (based on respondents’ assessments).
Dependent VariablesIndependent VariablesRegression Model CoefficientsModel Adequacy Indicators
An Empirical Value of Fisher’s TestA Critical Value of Fisher’s Test at p = 0.05An Empirical Value of Student’s TestA Critical Value of Student’s Test at p = 0.05
IUSR 1FM 21.2143.652.237.31.96
FC 31.348.1
FL 41.075.8
FF 51.146.6
FR 60.694.1
Constant term1.55-
Constant term0.33-
Constant term1.42-
Constant term0.23-
South Africa
Constant term0.83-
1 The integral indicator of USR. 2 The value of the factor of socially responsible management. 3 The value of the factor of the effectiveness of communication between universities and stakeholders. 4 The value of the factor of socially oriented students’ learning. 5 The value of the university funding factor. 6 The value of the factor of the universities’ research potential.
Table 6. Models of the impact of indicators of socially responsible management and university funding on USR development in the BRICS countries (based on respondents’ assessments).
Table 6. Models of the impact of indicators of socially responsible management and university funding on USR development in the BRICS countries (based on respondents’ assessments).
CountryDependent VariablesIndependent VariablesRegression Model CoefficientsModel Adequacy Indicators
An Empirical Value of Fisher’s TestAn Empirical Value of Student’s Test
Models of the impact of indicators of socially responsible management on USR development
Constant term−10.9-
Constant term−13.7-
Constant term−7.60-
Constant term−11.2-
South AfricaIUSRFS90.5266.976.2
Constant term−8.50-
Models of the impact of university funding indicators on USR development
Constant term0.08-
Constant term−0.39-
Constant term−0.32-
Constant term−0.42-
South AfricaIUSRFS60.2450.473.2
Constant term−0.66-
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Rababah, A.; Nikitina, N.I.; Grebennikova, V.M.; Gardanova, Z.R.; Zekiy, A.O.; Ponkratov, V.V.; Bashkirova, N.N.; Kuznetsov, N.V.; Volkova, T.I.; Vasiljeva, M.V.; et al. University Social Responsibility during the COVID-19 Pandemic: Universities’ Case in the BRICS Countries. Sustainability 2021, 13, 7035.

AMA Style

Rababah A, Nikitina NI, Grebennikova VM, Gardanova ZR, Zekiy AO, Ponkratov VV, Bashkirova NN, Kuznetsov NV, Volkova TI, Vasiljeva MV, et al. University Social Responsibility during the COVID-19 Pandemic: Universities’ Case in the BRICS Countries. Sustainability. 2021; 13(13):7035.

Chicago/Turabian Style

Rababah, Abedalqader, Natalya I. Nikitina, Veronica M. Grebennikova, Zhanna R. Gardanova, Angelina O. Zekiy, Vadim V. Ponkratov, Nadezhda N. Bashkirova, Nikolay V. Kuznetsov, Tatyana I. Volkova, Marina V. Vasiljeva, and et al. 2021. "University Social Responsibility during the COVID-19 Pandemic: Universities’ Case in the BRICS Countries" Sustainability 13, no. 13: 7035.

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