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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 6: Recognizing competitive accountability

Richard Watermeyer


This chapter considers how the impact of academic research generated in UK universities is envisaged by what is alleged to be a major research user constituency – UK parliamentarians. Parliamentarians claim that the potential for academics to have an impact on Parliament is actually limited by their ability to engage with Parliament, which itself is contingent upon academic seniority, social capital, and an ability to complement and adapt to political agendas and the specific needs of policy-makers. The value attributed to university research as evidence that might inform parliamentary debate and decision-making is, furthermore, considered to be low and some way behind the influence of industry and business and those with greater (financial) capacity for political lobbying. Competitive accountability is thus seen, in the case of the parliamentarian as research user, to produce no more than an impact phantom.

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