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Project analyzes the impact of rankings in Brazilian research universities

by Richard Meckien - published Jun 28, 2018 09:15 AM - - last modified Jul 19, 2018 05:18 PM
Rights: Original version in Portuguese by Mauro Bellesa.

Gladys Beatriz Barreyro - 2018

In addition to being a professor at EACH-USP, Barreyro also works in two postgraduate programs at the University: Education and Integration in Latin America. Her main research focus is on policies and evaluation of higher education at the global, regional and national scales.

In these first decades of the 21st century, there is a phase within the process of globalization in which national states are increasingly less autonomous towards other institutions that make up the global governance of higher education, such as the World Trade Organization (WTO,) the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD,) the World Bank, UNESCO, NGOs and various foundations.

This evaluation belongs to educator Gladys Beatriz Barreyro, a professor at USP's School of Arts, Sciences and Humanities (EACH,) and currently a participant of IEA's Sabbatical Year Program. She is developing a study on the impact of international university rankings on the institutional identity, and teaching, research and extension purposes of Brazilian research universities, having USP and UNICAMP as references.

Entitled "Internationalization of Higher Education: Use of Rankings," the research project aims to reduce the lack of studies on the subject in Brazil and disseminate the international literature on it.

Among the educational policies of this phase of globalization, Barreyro identifies the emergence of international university rankings as a new way of dealing with quality on a global scale in the first decade of the century, impacting regional and national scales. There is also a role model of the "world-class university," institutions dedicated to "applied and (if possible) profitable research."

For her, rankings have introduced the logic of competition between institutions in a global perspective and generated impacts on national and institutional policies, "despite their methodological limitations."

Part of the project was developed in the first half of this year, when she was at the IEA on sabbatical leave. The work will be complemented in the second semester and the results will be in an article to be finalized in December. She also intends to present them at a public event.

As it is an exploratory research, Barreyro is analyzing the material published by USP's Journal and UNICAMP's Portal from 2013 to 2017 on the positions occupied by both universities in the rankings. From this examination she will try to answer four questions:

  • What is the use of the rankings at USP and Unicamp, and for what reasons?
  • What changes in the identity and policies of these institutions have been produced by the use of these rankings, and what are the justifications for it?
  • If institutional policies based on rankings have emerged, what are they?
  • If the rankings are affecting the purposes of teaching, research and extension of both universities, what are the affected aspects?


The material is being studied from the critical analysis of the discourse oriented by categories, to be detected in the course of examining the texts.

In parallel to the survey and analysis of the materials published by the media of both universities, Barreyro has been dedicating to two complementary activities: the bibliographic review on international rankings in national and international literature, and on world-class universities; and the systematization of the place occupied by both institutions in international and Latin American rankings, and in the list of BRIC universities.

Evaluation trend

The March issue of UNICAMP's journal on higher education evaluation ("Revista de Avaliação do Ensino Superior") published the article "Global higher education evaluation: on accreditation, rankings and learning outcomes," by Gladys Beatriz Barreyro.

Abstract in English. Complete material available in Portuguese only.


In the final decades of the 20th century, the impact of globalization on educational policies began, creating an internationally structured agenda for the area, according to the researcher. "In the national education systems, there was concern about evaluation. In the case of higher education in the 1980s, policies to measure its quality began, initiating the first phase of the 'Evaluating State,' an expression coined by British sociologist Guy Neave in 2012."

She states that the reduction of expenditures since the 1980s, due to the crisis of the welfare state, "have motivated the adoption of accountability policies, such as evaluations in national education systems started in the 1980s and 1990s in Latin America, stemming from neoliberal reforms."

Two other aspects of globalization have influenced vocational training, according to Barreyro: the processes of flexible accumulation (also called toyotism, which provides for flexibilization of production according to demand) and the emergence of the knowledge society. "They have resulted in the need to train professionals for the so-called knowledge economy," which "put higher education in the spotlight."

"Once considered a public good for the purpose of reproducing values and training human resources, higher education has become a private good, a commodity subject to the rules of commerce," says the researcher. She highlights the contributions to that change provided by the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT,) which was in force until 1994, and by the World Trade Organization negotiations for the inclusion of education in the liberalization of trade in goods and services.

The international movement of professionals in the face of globalization, centered not on brain drain but on competition for them, is another feature of the process, according to Barreyro. On this competition, she cites the evaluation of two authors, Rahul Choudana and Hans de Wit, who assert that the knowledge economies of the OECD countries require highly qualified professionals and must resort to immigrants with this profile, since their population is aging and has diminished the interest of their young people in the hard sciences.

In the global education agenda, quality and its assessment are one of the political priorities, says Barreyro. "In higher education, quality assessment began to be developed in the 1980s and 1990s in European and Latin American countries with the creation of accreditation systems and agencies." She says that these countries have transformed the US accreditation model - "regardless of government" - in the so-called Evaluating State, mentioned by Guy Neave.

Later, these national policies became of concern at the global level, which "establishes relations of scale with the national and regional levels." According to her, Portuguese education sociologist Almerindo Janela Afonso sees a later stage, called by him "Post-Evaluating State," in which the decision is increasingly shunned by the decision of the national states, especially in the peripheral countries.