The iron law of hierarchy? Institutional differentiation in UK higher education

Linda Croxford, David Raffe

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This paper maps the main dimensions of differentiation among institutions and ‘faculties’ (subject areas within institutions) of higher education in the United Kingdom. It does so through a principal components analysis based on the characteristics of applicants and entrants. A single status dimension accounts for a quarter of the variation, and is associated with the social class, educational background, age (under 21) and non-local origin of students. This dimension is very stable over time and across England, Wales and Scotland. It is robust in the face of alternative specifications. The paper argues that this institutional hierarchy is deeply embedded in wider social structures and reflects the social reproduction role of higher education. Other, somewhat less stable dimensions, are associated with students' ethnic background and domicile.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1625-1640
Number of pages26
JournalStudies in Higher Education
Issue number9
Early online date10 Apr 2014
Publication statusPublished - 21 Oct 2015


  • diversity
  • subject differences
  • stratification
  • social class
  • ethnic inequalitites


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