The spectacle of research assessment systems: insights from New Zealand and the United Kingdom

Carolyn J. Cordery, Bikram Chatterjee, Ivo De Loo, Hugo Letiche

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


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. Originality/value: This research provides a unique contextual analysis of accounting academics' perspectives and reactions to RA and RA systems and the impact these have had on their careers across two countries. In addition, the paper offers valuable critical reflections on the application of Debord's (1992) notion of the spectacle society in future accounting studies. We find more mixed and nuanced views on RA in academia than many previous studies have shown.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1219-1246
Number of pages28
JournalAccounting, Auditing and Accountability Journal
Issue number6
Early online date14 Apr 2020
Publication statusPublished - 1 Oct 2020

Bibliographical note

Copyright © 2020, Emerald Publishing Limited


  • Performance measurement
  • Research assessment
  • Spectacle
  • Universities


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