Living Reference Work Entry

Encyclopedia of International Higher Education Systems and Institutions

pp 1-9

Date: Latest Version

Elite, Mass, and High-Participation Higher Education

  • Simon MarginsonAffiliated withUCL Institute of Education, University College London Email author 


In 1973 the University of California Berkeley sociologist Martin Trow published an essay titled “Problems in the transition from elite to mass higher education.” It became perhaps the most influential single work written on modern higher education. Trow (1973) identified a “broad pattern of development of higher education” in “every advanced society” (p. 1). Higher education was growing from an “elite” system enrolling less than 15% of the school leaver age group to a “mass” system with 15–50% and then a “universal” system with over 50%. Higher education was “universal” at 50% because at that stage it was necessary to enter higher education for the full exercise of effective citizenship. Trow also noted that in relation to individual institutions, in what he called the “universal” phase, elite higher education continued alongside mass and universal forms.

For the most part, Trow’s distinctions remain helpful. However, in the more conventional understanding of “universal,” the ...

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