The efficient university

Image: Anderson Antonangelo


Reflections on the national evaluation policy and university management

A thesis is circumscribed in a specific process, its plan, its execution and the textual characteristics of its presentation do not always allow to develop all the reflections that the research and its empirical findings suggest. We agree that many of these reflections may be points not connected with the common thread of the proposed research, which may cause an effect that is well illustrated by the expression “losing the thread”. However, the defense of a thesis and the dialogue with the committee and the process of correcting its final version are generally susceptible to enriching these reflections, exposing some threads that can be pulled and help to unravel the skein of reality a little more. which we seek to understand.

So far, we have come a long way guided by the question that summarizes the problem of our research, which aimed to understand the purpose of the national policy for evaluating higher education, whose current expression is the National System for the Evaluation of Higher Education, SINAES. In our journey, the university was the setting, subject and field of research. University management was the backdrop when we studied the synthesis documents of the planning processes – Institutional Development Plan (PDI) – and evaluation – Report of the Own Evaluation Committee (RCPA) – of the sample universities (UFF, UnB, UFPA, UFBA and UTFPR). This triangulation was always present in our path during the research, so that the reflections we made, with the aim of evaluating the national evaluation policy, led us to also reflect on university management and on the university itself.

Our reflections on the national evaluation policy and university management led us to an understanding of the university model that emerges, or rather, that is consolidated at the “institution's ground level”. Such a model is driven by a set of policies that are both induced and validated through the national evaluation policy. This university model, which Marilena Chauí (2003, 1999) and Michel Freitag (1996) called an operational university, we call, based on these reflections, by way of conclusion, an “efficient university”.

We understand that there was a kind of development of the concept of operational university, described in a context of dispute, still with some amplitude, for the concept of “efficient university”. The latter is the expression of a context of hegemony of managerialism and New Public Management, whose university organization [and not a university institution] that was previously to be built and disputed, is now practically defined, at least in the scope of the official synthesis documents, which are representations of hegemonic thought and practice in universities.

Although we must relativize the reflections and hypotheses so as not to fall into the naivety of generalist correlations, we must also consider that there is considerable unity between the administrative practices of federal educational institutions. Such unity occurs given the systemic and centralized nature of Brazilian higher education legislation, as well as the organization of federal universities in a management network connected and mobilized by the National Association of Directors of Federal Education Institutions (Anfides). Therefore, the research findings that support this book and the reflections of this conclusive essay, although they cannot and should not be generalized, should not be considered in isolation, under penalty of falling into the same naivety of generalist correlations.

In this essay, by way of concluding this book, we argue that a university model is in an advanced stage of consolidation in Brazil and has achieved hegemony in university management, driven by the national evaluation policy. The consequence of this hegemony is what we call the Efficient University. Our intention is not to describe a model, as this is already done in this book when we deal with the new public management. The objective is to establish the connections that identify it, boosting the university's reading beyond the conformed understanding, in which things are as they are. For us, things are as they are because they were built, and in the same way, or in other ways, they could be deconstructed and/or rebuilt.

Let us consider, for example, the following question: would anyone be able to be against efficient management at the university, public school or any other public body? The answer is intuitive: no! After all, efficiency is a principle of public administration, provided for in article 37 of the federal constitution and as such, it has intrinsic value, not only as a law, but as a principle of the greatest Brazilian law. It is a very strong and apparently unquestionable symbol. However, after the path taken in the research that supported our doctoral thesis and supports this book, we will fulfill the role of questioning this unquestionable.

The first question concerns the symbolic-legal aspect, supported by the fact that efficiency is a constitutional principle. We intend to relativize and historicize this force so as not to run the risk of assuming a naive position, lending all the symbolic force of the citizen constitution to this principle, which is a managerial “value”, as we have seen throughout the book, specifically in chapter 2, when we had a discussion about New Public Management.

Article 37 of the constitution of the federative republic of Brazil enacted in 1989 deals with direct and indirect public administration, the three powers in any federated entity. It covers the executive, legislative and judicial branches of the Union and States and the executive and legislative bodies of the Municipalities, as well as public companies, foundations and autarchies. Its items, paragraphs and paragraphs deal with various aspects related to public administration, but it is right in its caput that configure the principles of legality, impersonality, morality, publicity and efficiency.

Originally in article 37, the principle of efficiency did not configure, which was inserted in the constitution through the approval of Constitutional Amendment nº 19, of June 04, 1998, that is, 10 years after its approval, already under the influences of the Reform of the State Apparatus, from 1995. This is important to emphasize

The formal changes produced by EC-19/98 interfered in the admission of personnel, in the remuneration policy, in the stability and in the decentralization of functions of the administrative entities. According to Bulos (1998), in his first impressions of the administrative reform in question, “management techniques were applied to constitutional amendments, on the grounds that such a measure would improve the efficiency and performance of civil servants” (p.71).

The second question we ask deals with the conceptual aspect. From this point of view, it would be naive to look at the meaning of the word in the dictionary, since this word represents a concept linked to a certain conception and to understand it, we need to consider it within this conception and not from its social use, as is usually the case. be defined in dictionaries. Efficiency, within the conception of managerial public administration, indicates a solution to a problem that would be in the State and originates in the crisis of its apparatus, a crisis that is characterized as fiscal. Thus, efficiency is an economic and administrative concept that is directly related to budgetary and financial resources of the State apparatus.

It is important to remember that the characterization of the economic, political and social crisis that began in the 1970s, as a fiscal crisis, indicates a criticism of the Social Welfare State model, in which, roughly speaking, there is an active State in the economy, inducing of Development, investor, financier and executor of public policies. For the defenders of managerial public administration, or new public management, the cause of the crisis was precisely this model of development, the State being inefficient, both in financing and in the execution of policies.

The proposed solution for overcoming the fiscal crisis involves efficient managerial management, based on business principles and practices. In this model, the basis of administrative practice takes place by mobilizing several other instruments and concepts that complete the New Public Management framework, such as decentralization, strategic planning, focus on results, performance, income and performance evaluation, the latter being the main line that guarantees the too much.

From its conceptual aspect, we perceive that efficiency, in public administration, essentially deals with the use and allocation of resources from the public fund, which necessarily implies less resources for social policies and State investments, as these were, roughly speaking, the cause of the fiscal crisis. The proposed solution, as we have already seen, is the reduction of the State's presence in several areas and the reduction of “public expenses”, which generates the virtual need to do more and better with the few resources that remain.

The third and final question reaches what we call here the ideological aspect of efficiency, in which it becomes a general value of society, associated with something necessarily good, to the point that we assume this word as a synonym for “well done”. The consolidation of this aspect would not be possible without the help of the media, which massifies the idea behind the concept in the popular imagination. Based on this aspect, we were able to articulate the other two aspects and reflect on the effective consequences of its insertion as a constitutional principle of public administration.

Government propaganda helps a lot to consolidate the ideological aspect of efficiency. As an example, we can mention the propaganda for the privatization program of the government of Fernando Collor de Melo in 1990. In several insertions on TV, the State and public administration in general, she was portrayed as an elephant that bothered many people, strong, slow, uncomfortable and anachronistic. In addition to inefficiency, associated with the bureaucratic model, there are also associations of the State and Public Service with privileges, the main characteristic of the patrimonialist model.

It is common to see simplistic and generalized comparisons between the salaries of workers in the private sector and workers in the public service, which ends up leading to levels of understanding about efficiency, after all, these reports include the subtext of efficiency in which the public service does little for the population at a high cost and the private sector is cheaper and better. Comparisons between academic performance of private schools and public schools are also commonly associated with the subtext of efficiency.

Can we ask ourselves if the objective of a public policy is to achieve its objective absolutely or relatively? Or rather, is the objective of a public policy to do the best possible with few resources or to do the best possible? We can go a little further: considering that the objective of a social public policy is the guarantee of a human, social and legal right, would it not be more appropriate for society to allocate the necessary resources to achieve the policy objectives instead of regulating such resources? ?

In view of the above, it may even seem inappropriate and that we are not understanding the “correct” concept of efficiency, but these questions make more sense when we observe in the documents analyzed and also in general, the social diagnosis for the analysis of the conjuncture made to apply such a concept. It is common to consider that we live in times of “scarce resources” and that public management must be innovative to fulfill its social function. We saw this in all the documents that we analyzed in our doctoral research, documents that guide the management of federal universities. It is necessary to question the premise: “we are in times of scarce resources”, at least asking “scarce for whom?”

These questions lead us to a critical attitude towards the word efficiency, when used in policy documents, reports and speeches whose object is the public administration and the State. We can also hypothesize that efficiency may not be a universally positive guideline, in addition to its pertinence when applied to the public service. After all, linked to this constitutional principle, as well as to all legislation and all policies, is a conception of the State, public administration and, certainly, of society.

What we could observe during our research is that since the 1970s there have been proposals, projects and programs for the evaluation of higher education. These propositions are not innocent or “natural consequences” of a modernization process, so understanding the national evaluation policy from a historical perspective is essential for the development of this discussion. In chapter 1, we demonstrate how the national assessment policy has been consolidated over time in the midst of disputes over the conception of the State and education. In chapter 2 we present the intersections between the proposals for reforms to solve the problems of the crisis and the evaluation of policies and the evaluation of higher education, which induced the substitution of the providing State for the evaluating State.

The idea of ​​efficiency in public administration, it bears repeating, is embedded in the critique of the developmental State model, promoter and financier of policies, considered the cause of the crisis, which would be fiscal. For this reason, the idea of ​​improving the performance of the State in terms of the use of “scarce” public resources emerges with force. And it is precisely the evaluation of policies, as well as the policy of systemic evaluation of education, that will guarantee the production of information aimed at decision-making by managers about public policies and, most importantly, induce state bureaucracy and society to organize itself based on this logic of efficiency.

The evaluation establishes parameters, guidelines, indicators, indices, judgments and often rewards and punishments, in order to conform the object that is evaluated. Thus, the hypothesis that the crisis is fiscal, due to the State spending a lot of resources to maintain a system of social policies, becomes a theory based on evidence.

But what evidence? In the context of managerial reform, those produced by evaluations of public policies and evaluation policies, in the case of higher education, the “evidence” produced by SINAES. They educate society about what is “good” and what is “bad” and what “can be improved”. They define, mainly, what should not have, or how much should have, of state resources, either because it is already “good enough” with the available resources, or because it is too bad that it needs to be transferred to the private sector. I used quotation marks in the judgments to highlight their relativity, since they depend on previously defined parameters according to the conceptions of the State that guide the evaluations.

To quickly illustrate what we are saying, we will use an objective example from the economy: the minimum wage appreciation policy adopted from 2004 to 2019 in Brazil. There are perspectives referenced in liberalism that defend that this policy should never occur at the initiative of the State, and that a minimum wage should exist, with the market, and only the market, responsible for regulating it. Other perspectives, still in the field of liberalism, will consider that the policy as it existed, was a failure and is even among the variables that contributed to the economic crisis that started in 2015 precisely because it was aggressive with excessive state interference. The national developmentalist perspective that designed and implemented the policy tends to consider that it was a success and even prevented the crisis from coming earlier. Finally, we still find perspectives that consider that the policy of valuing the minimum wage was insufficient.

In higher education, the national evaluation policy, as it was developed in the Brazilian State, fulfills the role of justifying budget cuts and the prioritization of certain areas of knowledge, after all, the quality of Brazilian public higher education is a concept self-referential and socially accepted, different from basic public education. The move is to reinforce a narrative that universities have more money than they need and basic education has less than it needs. In this way, an attempt is made to justify the withdrawal of state resources from public higher education and transfer to basic education, but to be destined for the private sector, since the indicators produced by the national policy for the evaluation of basic education, "evidence" that education private education is “good” and basic public education is “bad”.

It is also important to remember that such judgments, based on scores produced mainly on the basis of standardized exams, as is the case of ENADE, disregard several determinants that influence student performance and, consequently, the performance of institutions. Therefore, it is worth questioning, even technically, whether the evaluation methods currently applied, both in higher education and in basic education, are adequate to produce information with a view to corrective institutional policies and development, or with a view to pressing for managerial reforms of the State.

The analysis of the Institutional Development Plans (PDI) and Reports of the Evaluation Committees, documents that made up our research field, indicated a very close relationship between the national evaluation policy, especially ENADE, and the management of the universities studied. This high correlation, associated with the managerial language and discourse used in writing the documents and their method of elaboration, primarily strategic planning, led us to understand that university management is hegemonized by managerial public administration. This means that the process of reforming the State apparatus, initiated in the 1970s and formalized in 1995, which was in dispute within the context of the conjuncture and general policy, is now proving to be strong and rooted in institutional politics, that is, in the university ground, supported precisely by the longevity of the national evaluation policy.

University management is being shaped with invaluable help from the regulatory nature of the national evaluation policy, which obliges the university to submit the PDI and RCPA, in addition to participating in ENADE. At the same time, it offers models of “how to do it” as a technical support, and rewards good innovation practices in public administration, through contests that encourage inter and intra-institutional competition. The cycle is completed with the rankings which, although not produced by the evaluation policy, or even by the central government, use all the data produced by the evaluation processes. Organized by the press or international organizations, the rankings are strongly associated with quality and function as a prize for institutions that walk the paths of productivity based on results demonstrated by indicators and synthetic indices, such as CGC (General Course Concept), IGC ( General Index of Courses), impact factors, Qualis Capes strata and positions in international rankings.

Over time, the budget scarcity produced by fiscal adjustments responding to the economic policy referenced in the old discourse of the fiscal crisis and the inefficiency of the State, which is based on the concept of a regulating/evaluating State (neoliberal), generates institutional policies aimed at coexisting with the few resources. It is at this moment that the entire framework of managerial public administration, supported by the national assessment policy, “makes sense” and deepens into university management, which begins to adapt, transforming the operational university into an Efficient University, the one that has its “good” quality attested by the rankings, regardless of the state resources available to produce its “good” performance.

Rafael dos Santos Pereira He holds a PhD in Education from the Federal University of Paraná (UFPR).

Originally published, by way of conclusion, in the book The Efficient University in Brazil: reflections on the national evaluation policy and university management (Statement Publications, 2020)


CHAUÍ, M. “The operational University”. Evaluation: Higher Education Evaluation Magazine, v. 4, no. 3, 11. p. 3-8, Supplement 01. 1999. Available at:

CHAUÍ, Marilena. “The public university in a new perspective”. Rev. Bras. educate., Rio de Janeiro , n. 24, p. 5-15, Dec. 2003. Available at:

BULOS, Uadi Lammego. Administrative reform: first impressions. R. Dir. admin, Rio de Janeiro, p. 69-98, Oct./Dec. 1998. Available at:

FREITAG, Michael. The shipwreck of the university. Paris: Editions de La Découverte, 1996

PEREIRA, RS The Efficient University in Brazil: reflections on the national evaluation policy and university management. Florianópolis, Enunciado Publications, 2020.

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