Declining trust in public services has led to increasing calls for higher education to be ‘accountable’ for the quality of its teaching and learning provision. However, increasing levels of quality evaluation have led academics to feel that their professionalism is under attack. Reflecting on this history and various dimensions of accountability, this paper seeks to interpret accountability by addressing two questions: What is accountability in higher education? How can it be related to academic professionalism? The paper argues that professionalism and accountability appear to be contradictory terms, but can exist simultaneously. If academics' moral and social responsibility becomes requisite to an enhanced social accounting for the quality of university teaching and learning, there could be less perceived tension between academic professionalism and accountability.