Higher Education

, Volume 75, Issue 4, pp 695–709 | Cite as

The status games they play: unpacking the dynamics of organisational status competition in higher education

  • Jelena BrankovicEmail author


The article uses the concept of organisational status to explore how universities respond to intensifying competition. Although status is not a novel phenomenon in higher education, recent insights show that the concerns with vertical positioning, both nationally and internationally, are gaining prominence with a growing number of universities worldwide. As global competition becomes as fierce as ever, universities’ efforts to maintain or advance their position vis-à-vis each other are becoming more salient. The paper draws from extant literature to identify three mechanisms of organisational status construction—categories, intermediaries and affiliations—and offers a set of propositions as to how universities of different status rank are expected to act when seeking to maintain or advance their status. Such activities, it is argued, shape status hierarchies, which, in turn, affect the scope of organisational action. The article contributes to the discussions on competition in higher-education literature and, more broadly, to the theory of organisational action in the tradition of sociological institutionalism.


Universities Organisations Competition Status Hierarchies Organisational sociology Sociological institutionalism 



I would like to thank Dominik Antonowicz, Gary Barron, Meta Gorup, Jeroen Huisman, Renze Kolster, Georg Krücken, Jelle Mampaey, Leopold Ringel, Marco Seeber, Daniel Semper, Tobias Werron and two anonymous reviewers for having read previous versions of the paper and invaluably contributing to its improvement. All errors are my own.

Compliance with ethical standards

Funding information

The author acknowledges the financial support from the Research Foundation—Flanders (FWO), grant number G.OC42.13N.


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© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Faculty of SociologyBielefeld UniversityBielefeldGermany
  2. 2.Department of SociologyGhent University, Centre for Higher Education Governance GhentGhentBelgium

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