, Volume 48, Issue 1, pp 55-72

First online:

Open Access This content is freely available online to anyone, anywhere at any time.

Is Inequality Among Universities Increasing? Gini Coefficients and the Elusive Rise of Elite Universities

  • Willem HalffmanAffiliated withDepartment of Philosophy and Science Studies, Radboud University Nijmegen—Faculty of Science Email author 
  • , Loet LeydesdorffAffiliated withAmsterdam School of Communications Research (ASCoR), University of Amsterdam


One of the unintended consequences of the New Public Management (NPM) in universities is often feared to be a division between elite institutions focused on research and large institutions with teaching missions. However, institutional isomorphisms provide counter-incentives. For example, university rankings focus on certain output parameters such as publications, but not on others (e.g., patents). In this study, we apply Gini coefficients to university rankings in order to assess whether universities are becoming more unequal, at the level of both the world and individual nations. Our results do not support the thesis that universities are becoming more unequal. If anything, we predominantly find homogenisation, both at the level of the global comparisons and nationally. In a more restricted dataset (using only publications in the natural and life sciences), we find increasing inequality for those countries, which used NPM during the 1990s, but not during the 2000s. Our findings suggest that increased output steering from the policy side leads to a global conformation to performance standards.


Elite universities Gini coefficients Inequality University ranking New public management Output performance