This study advocates a social realist ontological framework as an effective, analytical blueprint for identifying problems and solutions in BRICS, educational governance systems; specifically as related to the higher education domain. The methods of the study include a textual analysis and description of a social realist ontology to illustrate how it may be applied towards mapping human experiences, including our undergoing processes of educational governance and their tangible outcomes in society. The study also highlights media and scholarly texts from BRICS nations to illustrate shared, yet contextually diverse educational challenges in the tertiary system. The value of comparing contemporary BRICS-related educational challenges, within a social realist ontology, is that it was possible to identify similar and diverging mechanisms which BRICS nations applied towards solving them. The results of the study indicate that a social realist ontology is also an applicable methodology for comparing challenges in the higher education sector and diverse educational governance responses to them by BRICS nations. The study highlights that in each nation, social structures including statutory bodies, culture, including those of citizens, as well as agency, including administrators and students, equally impacts on the efficacy of educational governance and its goals. The study concludes that by highlighting the powers of culture, social structures and agency in BRICS nation’s educational governance processes, member states may effectively direct necessary human, social and financial capital where they are needed in educational systems. Further, it was found that a social realist ontology enables BRICS nation-states to compare best practices of educational governance in the higher education sphere in order to learn from each other.