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Philanthropy and the sustaining of global elite university domination

Harvey, Charles; Gibson, Alison; Maclean, Mairi; Mueller, Frank

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Charles Harvey

Alison Gibson

Mairi Maclean


How is it that global elite universities operating in a hyper-competitive world replete with aspirational challengers maintain positions of dominance within the field of higher education decade after decade? Taking a Bourdieusian approach, we argue that the highest-ranking universities strategically leverage pronounced philanthropic advantages to differentiate themselves from would-be challengers. Philanthropy is a critical differentiator because it enables elite universities to sustain privileges that attract highly qualified students, faculty and powerful supporters, who in turn boost their competitive positions through acquisition of valuable cultural, social and symbolic resources. Elite universities co-create with stakeholders strong bonds of identification, honing the disposition to give back philanthropically and complete the socially reproductive cycle of elite domination. At a time of increasing concern about social inequalities, our contribution is to uncover how higher education philanthropy – an essentially conservative force – operates to entrench privilege and magnify social differences while purporting to do the opposite.


Harvey, C., Gibson, A., Maclean, M., & Mueller, F. (2022). Philanthropy and the sustaining of global elite university domination. Organization,

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Jun 25, 2022
Online Publication Date Aug 4, 2022
Publication Date Aug 4, 2022
Deposit Date Jun 27, 2022
Publicly Available Date Jun 27, 2022
Journal Organization
Print ISSN 1350-5084
Electronic ISSN 1461-7323
Publisher SAGE Publications
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Public URL


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