Quality & Quantity

, Volume 48, Issue 3, pp 1685–1703 | Cite as

Higher education regimes: an empirical classification of higher education systems and its relationship with student accessibility



This article proposes a multidimensional empirical classification of higher education systems on the basis of several institutional characteristics, which are likely to affect student participation and social inequality (tracking, expenditures, structural differentiation, institutional autonomy and accountability, affordability for students, graduates’ occupational returns). We develop a theoretical framework in which higher education systems are related to four main institutional domains: school system, State, labour market, students and their families. In the second part, an empirical analysis of the institutional profiles of higher education systems of 16 Oecd countries is performed. An empirical classification of higher education systems is elaborated applying hierarchical cluster analysis and multidimensional scaling on macro-indicators. The analyses identify four clusters, that have been labelled the Continental, Nordic, Anglo-Saxon and North-American regime. Fuzzy cluster analysis is used to assess the robustness of the results and to identify systems with an hybrid institutional configuration, which are difficult to classify. At the end, a detailed description of the four higher education regimes is provided and the relationship with student access is analysed.


Higher education systems Student access Social Inequality  Cluster analysis Multidimensional scaling Fuzzy clustering 



I would like to thank Maurizio Pisati, Paolo Trivellato, the participants to the Conference ‘Higher Education and Beyond’ (Monte Verità-Ascona, July 2010) for useful comments to a previous version of this article.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Sociology and social researchUniversity of Milano-BicoccaMilanItaly

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