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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 7: Disclaiming competitive accountability: pay and pensions

Richard Watermeyer


This chapter explores two of the major events of the 2017–2018 academic year in the UK, namely a ‘crisis’ involving vice-chancellors’ pay and unprecedented industrial action that arose out of an academic pensions dispute. These two case studies are used to reveal how a culture of competitive accountability has caused the UK Academy to consecrate the contribution made by senior administrative leaders in universities while concomitantly desecrating the contribution of ‘rank-and-file’ academics. Large-scale sector-wide disputes of this kind are shown to reveal the potential for the disclaiming of competitive accountability.

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