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Competitive Accountability in Academic Life

The Struggle for Social Impact and Public Legitimacy

Richard Watermeyer

This book considers how a culture of ‘competitive accountability’ in UK higher education produces multiple tensions, contradictions and paradoxes that are destabilizing and deleterious to the work and identities of academics as research scientists. It suggests the potential of a new discourse of scientific accountability, that frees scientists and their public communities from the absurdities and profligacy of ‘performativity’ and ‘managerial governmentality’ encountered in the REF and an impact agenda – the noose of competitive accountability – and a more honest and meaningful public contract.
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Chapter 2: Policy permutations and the elusiveness of a fair system of accountability

Richard Watermeyer


This chapter provides a full introduction to the REF as the UK’s performance-based research funding system and considers recommendations established in a major government review focused on creating a fairer system of accountability. In so doing, the chapter explores the naivety and impotency of higher education policy in effecting positive change for the academic community and the persistence of forms of inequality spawned by the systematic manipulation by universities of research governance technologies. The theoretical perspectives of Frankfurt School luminaries Theodor Adorno, Max Horkheimer and Herbert Marcuse are adopted to illustrate the way in which the REF becomes analogous to a (high-stakes) game members of the higher education community in the UK love to hate, and a quasi-‘cultural industry’.

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