Slipping the noose of 'competitive accountability’

CHEF Lunch Talk by Richard Watermeyer, University of Bath, United Kingdom.

26.10.2018 | Kristoffer Ingemand Petersen

Dato tor 29 nov
Tid 12:00 11:40
Sted Danish School of Education, Campus Emdrup, Room D 118. Video-linked to CUDiM, Aarhus University, Building 1483, Room 656.


The state of health of the academic profession in the UK is poor. While many aspiring academics either fail to transition into or otherwise suffer the myriad precarities of an increasingly unstable and unforgiving labour market, others are surrendering the fight against what they perceive as the institutionalisation of their intellectual lives.

Intimations of an academic diaspora and a sense of deepening frailty in academics’ resolve are attributed to the enervations wrought by higher education’s neoliberalisation, of which may be counted: the university’s capitulation to bureaucratic fundamentalism, managerial governmentality and fiscal rationality; the creep of cognate cultures of hyper-competiveness, performativity, and individualistic survivalism; and the respective inter-related decline of academic sovereignty and rise of the ‘administrative estate’ (Altbach 2016).

These pathological features of higher education’s (new public) management are whilst both disturbing and compelling, compromised by an overt if ineluctable emotionalism, nostalgia and proclivity among academics for romanticizing, and to be frank, distorting the historical record. Yet there seems no escaping a sense of academia’s fading allure – the scientific (and social and economic) consequences for which are disastrous. 

In this presentation, I will explore one dimension of this ‘crisis’ of academic personhood by exploring the contradictions of higher education policy, specifically as relates to demands for academics in UK universities to ‘evidence’ the societal impact of their research.

I will discuss how an impact agenda – a ubiquitous aspect of the UK’s research performance management regime – creates conditions that are antagonistic to established forms of academic praxis and the potential for scientific breakthrough, and are paradoxically injurious to the science and society nexus an impact agenda is intended to facilitate.

Furthermore, I will argue that a turn towards ‘competitive accountability’ (Watermeyer and Tomlinson 2017) – expedited through a regulatory instrument like the Research Excellence Framework (REF) – is contributive to the subjugation of the ‘public’ intellectual by an ‘institutionalized’ counterpart.​

Tags: Education