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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 4: Producing competitive accountability

Richard Watermeyer


This chapter moves into the empirical heart of the book and explores the testimony of researchers represented in REF2014 impact case studies. It considers their views on the influence of a REF impact agenda on their research praxis and how a demand for the economic and societal impact of research is influencing and potentially changing research behaviours in UK universities. A REF impact agenda is seen to have produced a swing to and crowding out of applied research, a cult of impactful individuals or impact superstars, and impact as corruptive to academic researchers’ public interface. Competitive accountability is thus blamed for being corruptive to academics’ public role and contribution.

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