Stratified university strategies: The shaping of institutional legitimacy in a global perspective
Globalizing forces have both transformed the higher education sector and made it increasingly homogenous. Growing similarities among universities have been attributed to isomorphic pressures to ensure and/or enhance legitimacy by imitating higher education institutions that are perceived as successful internationally, particularly universities that are highly ranked globally (Cantwell & Kauppinen, 2014; DiMaggio and Powell, 1983). In this study, we compared the strategic plans of 78 high-ranked, low-ranked, and unranked universities in 33 countries in 9 regions of the world. In analyzing the plans of these 78 universities, the study explored patterns of similarity and difference in universities’ strategic positioning according to Suchman’s (1995) 3 types of legitimacy: cognitive, pragmatic, and moral. We found evidence of stratified university strategies in a global higher education landscape that varied by institutional status. In offering a corrective to neoinstitutional theory, we suggest that patterns of globalization are mediated by status-based differences in aspirational behavior (Riesman, 1958) and “old institutional” forces (Stinchcombe, 1997) that contribute to differently situated universities pursuing new paths in seeking to build external legitimacy.