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The spectacle of research assessment systems: insights from New Zealand and the United Kingdom
Purpose:In this paper, we concentrate on the use of research assessment (RA) systems in universities in New Zealand (NZ) and the United Kingdom (UK). Primarily we focus on PBRF and REF, and explore differences between these systems on individual and systemic levels. We ask, these days, in what way(s) the systemic differences between PBRF and REF actually make a difference on how the two RA systems are experienced by academic staff.
Design/methodology/approach: This research is exploratory and draws on 19 interviews in which accounting researchers from both countries offer reflections on their careers and how RA (systems) have influenced these careers. The stories they tell are classified by regarding RA in universities as a manifestation of the spectacle society, following Debord (1992) and Flyverbom and Reinecke (2017).
Findings: Both UK and New Zealand academics concur that their research activities and views on research are very much shaped by journal rankings and citations. Among UK academics, there seems to be a greater critical attitude towards the benefits and drawbacks of REF, which may be related to the history of REF in their country. Relatively speaking, in New Zealand, individualism seems to have grown after the introduction of the PBRF, with little active pushback against the system. Cultural aspects may partially explain this outcome. Academics in both countries lament the lack of focus on practitioner issues that the increased significance of RA seems to have evoked.
Research limitations/implications: This research is context-specific and may have limited applicability to other situations, academics or countries.
Practical implications: RA and RA systems seem to be here to stay. However, as academics we can, and ought to, take responsibility to try to ensure that these systems reflect the future of accounting (research) we wish to create. It is certainly not mainly or solely up to upper management officials to set this in motion, as has occasionally been claimed in previous literature. Some of the academics who participated in this research actively sought to bring about a different future.
Publication titleAccounting, Auditing and Accountability Journal
PublisherEmerald Publishing Limited
Place of publicationUnited Kingdom
Rights statement© Emerald Publishing Limited