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Competitive Accountability in Academic Life

The Struggle for Social Impact and Public Legitimacy Richard Watermeyer, Reader, Department of Education, University of Bath, UK
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.
Extent: c 168 pp
Hardback Price: $99.95 Web: $89.95
Publication Date: July 2019
ISBN: 978 1 78897 612 1
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  • eISBN: 978 1 78897 613 8

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Since the onset of the UK’s Research Excellence Framework in 2014, the environment for academic research has changed dramatically. Competitive Accountability in Academic Life goes behind the scenes of the ‘impact’ policy agenda for higher education research and interrogates the effects of the new framework on academic research.

Richard Watermeyer dissects how a new requirement to evidence the economic and societal impact of research has created a culture of intense competitiveness in UK universities. Through the eyes of both those responsible for the REF and those working under its gaze, the author locates the gross deceit spawned from a culture of competitive accountability in UK universities. This challenging book reconceptualises the public role of researchers, posing a new effort to progress the neoliberal malaise by signposting peripheral zones of participation – and non-participation – as viable intellectual alternatives to the university.

Both groundbreaking and provocative, Watermeyer’s book is critical reading for academics working not just in the UK, but also internationally. The author’s crucial insight into modern higher education will also prove indispensable to higher education policy makers looking to innovate and refine education policy, and to university administrators overseeing performance management systems.
‘Competitive Accountability in Academic Life is a challenging text that will appeal to academics and research scientists across different discipline areas. Drawing on UK REF-impact empirical data over a three-year period, a comprehensive sociological analysis accounts for how academics’ public citizenship has been regulated, controlled and hollowed out. By showing how political, economic and cultural dimensions of intellectual life is influenced and informed by competitive accountability, Richard Watermeyer paints a compelling picture of what academics “have (albeit unwittingly) allowed themselves to be used for”. This thought-provoking text provides a strong rationale for reconceptualizing the public worth of academics and reasserting their social value.’
– Richard Winter, The Australian National University, Australia

‘Competitive Accountability in Academic Life is an ambitious book charting the dispiriting, corrosive effects of contemporary academic managerialism. An impressive intellectual tour de force, Watermeyer awakens new possibilities for engaged and impactful academic practices. This book is essential reading for everyone interested in understanding and repairing today’s toxic university governance.’
– Paul Benneworth, Western Norway University of Applied Sciences, Norway

‘This witty, subversive and well-informed book provides an essential guide to the effects of performance measurement in universities. Predictable consequences include growing job insecurity, more stressful working conditions and declining quality of academic life. Even more serious is the loss of incentive for independent original thought and the stifling of debate on controversial social and political issues.’
– Mark Casson, University of Reading, UK
Contents: 1. The noose of competitive accountability 2. Policy permutations and the elusiveness of a fair system of accountability 3. A shortfall of resistance: peripheral yet powerful zones of (non)participation 4. Claiming competitive accountability 5. Evaluating competitive accountability 6. Recognising competitive accountability 7. Declaiming competitive accountability: pay and pensions 8. Paradoxes of competitive accountability References Index