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Colección: La Educación
Número: (129-131) I,III
Año: 1998

The Evaluative State

Neave’s conceptualization of the “evaluative state” provides a useful framework within which to view establishment of an evaluation and accreditation system in Ecuador. According to Neave (1988), the evaluative state focuses on product rather than process and is a means of “steering” higher education towards a closer alignment with national priorities, which becomes important in a period of mass higher education (10). The instruments of the evaluative state become a way to reformulate the higher education-society relationship by focusing on market needs rather than on individual demand, and a means by which institutional behavior is monitored or regulated through public policy.

It is this use of public policy to regulate or steer institutions indirectly that is particularly interesting in the case of Ecuador. According to Neave, the evaluative state becomes an alternative to regulation by administrative fiat or by law. It seeks a redistribution of functions between the central control agent and the individual institutions. Through the use of an evaluation policy, the central agent is able to maintain overall strategic control “through fewer but precise ‘policy levers’ contained in mission statements, system goals and operationalisation of criteria relating to output quality” (1988, 11). Thus, evaluation becomes a mechanism to “steer higher education by remote control” (1988, 12). As such, it is a form of privatization as decisions regarding program deletion or addition are pushed to the institutional level.

This strategy has a number of advantages: (1) debate is shifted from the central policy agent to the institutional level; (2) greater individual university initiative will be encouraged by institutional freedom; and (3) increased ability of individual universities, and thus the entire system, to undertake “fine tuning” in response to external changes (Neave 1988). In most cases a new state agency—an independent specialist agency—is developed to carry out the activities associated with the evaluative state. Neave describes the process as “bottom-up, though top-down initiated, institutional self-assessment” (1988, 15). Furthermore, in Europe, emergence of new empirical, evaluative strategies is viewed as one indication of a new relation between government and higher education in the form of the evaluative state. Centralized top down control of universities is replaced with remote control of universities by means of empirical evaluative strategies. Underlying this shift is an emphasis on competition as the primary means for reforming and changing higher education.