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Reviewed by:
  • Structuring Mass Higher Education: The Role of Elite Institutions
  • Dorothy E. Finnegan
David Palfreyman and Ted Tapper (Eds.). Structuring Mass Higher Education: The Role of Elite Institutions. New York: Routledge, 2009. 368 pp. Cloth: $160.00. ISBN-13: 978-0415426046.

If I had thought a bit more deeply that day in 1983 when the U.S. News & World Report first announced its collegiate rankings, I might have predicted a time when this volume, edited by David Palfreyman and Ted Tapper, would not only have been published but would also be a welcomed and significant addition to our continued attempts to understand the rapid changes occurring in tertiary systems around the world.

But that day for my colleagues and me was one of celebration. Within 24 hours, the faculty, staff, and students sported buttons claiming "We are No. 1!" The small New England liberal arts college for which we all had worried so much through the 1970s recessions had just "earned" first place in its category. If I had thought a bit more deeply, I might have realized the accumulative effect that the initial rating effort of the news magazine would have. However, at the time, my knowledge about the higher education system in the United States was limited and about tertiary systems worldwide almost nonexistent.

In the past decade and a half, the scholarship focusing on topics in comparative higher education has literally exploded. Even in the last half of the 1990s, few researchers outside of the United States tackled issues related to tertiary education. That landscape has changed though; an increasing number of scholars around the world have sought to explain, compare, and analyze higher education systems around the world.

For this volume, the editors enlisted scholars from a variety of European countries as well as a few from select nations on other continents to detail and analyze their historical policies and modes of operation as well as the current challenges to the higher education systems and structures. The volume is divided into two sections: structural change in systems of higher education and elite institutions in the age of mass higher education.

Although—as any edited volume tends to be—the chapters are somewhat uneven, taken as a whole, the book demonstrates the current state of flux in many systems around the globe; consequently the book will stand as a benchmark anthology for three reasons. Clearly, several distinct national policy models are emerging. Second, a transnational network of scholars creating a new form of the old nation-bound "invisible college" has been developing. Related to these complex connections, the elite institutions are reforming as trans- and extra-national organizations. Third, what appears on the surface to be the ongoing massification of higher education around the world, more often than not appears to be increasingly the stratification of national systems.

I believe that many scholars and students of comparative higher education have begun to think of Burton Clark's (1983) triangle in which he plotted national systems in reference to state, academic oligarchy, and market-driven macro-coordinating patterns as obsolete. The various chapters in this volume belie the triangle's demise. Even though numerous nations appear to respond to the market, and national and state ministries and departments have relinquished some control to provide more autonomy to institutions, new patterns are emerging and old patterns are being dusted off.

Gone are the days (in general and in many countries) of academic drift. Top-down national direction, whether through deliberate funding schemes to entice academics and administrators to compete for limited resources and adopt entrepreneurial activities or through exclusive investment in flagship universities, validates the continued state-controlled peak of the triangle. Such is the case in Germany and in China, for example. The mechanisms may be different but the locus of coordination or control reverts in reality to the nation's goals.

On the other side of the continuum, The Netherlands has chosen to maintain its national pattern of horizontal differentiation by focusing attention across institutions on excellence. The establishment of honors colleges within various institutions shows a determination to maintain access rather than attempting to join the vertical differentiation game as many countries pursue a higher...


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