Accountability in Higher Education: A Comprehensive Analytical Framework

Concomitant with the rise of rationalizing accountability in higher education has been an increase in theoretical reflection about the forms accountability has taken and the ones it should take. The literature is now peppered by a wide array of distinctions (e.g. internal/external, inward/ outward, vertical/horizontal, upward/downward, professional/public, political/economic, soft/ hard, positive/negative), to the point that when people speak of ‘accountability’ they risk speaking past one another, having some of these distinctions in mind and not others. Furthermore, often these distinctions are vague and cross-cut each other in ways that are as yet unclear. The field could benefit from having a comprehensive framework in which to place these distinctions and to view their relations. My aim in this article is to provide an analytical tool by which to classify important debate about what accountability in higher education has been and ought to be. Beyond organizing such debate, this schema will serve the purposes of revealing ambiguities in terms, conflations of ideas, assumptions that warrant questioning, and gaps in present research agendas.
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