This paper gives an anthropological comment on what has been called the ‘audit explosion’, the proliferation of procedures for evaluating performance. In higher education the subject of audit (in this sense) is not so much the education of the students as the institutional provision for their education. British universities, as institutions, are increasingly subject to national scrutiny for teaching, research and administrative competence. In the wake of this scrutiny comes a new cultural apparatus of expectations and technologies. While the metaphor of financial auditing points to the important values of accountability, audit does more than monitor—it has a life of its own that jeopardizes the life it audits. The runaway character of assessment practices is analysed in terms of cultural practice. Higher education is intimately bound up with the origins of such practices, and is not just the latter day target of them. © 1997 by John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.
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