Sub-theme 25: Higher Education Institutions and Rising Inequality ---> CANCELLED!


Call for Papers

Thomas Piketty’s seminal work has drawn worldwide attention towards the growing socio-economic inequality facing nations (Piketty, 2014). Organizational scholars have started to shed light on the mutually constitutive, non-linear relationships between institutions and organizations in the reproduction of socio-economic inequality (Amis et al., 2018). Several analyses have pointed to the importance of the educational system as the driving force behind changes in social mobility (cf. Breen, 2004). This raises an interesting set of questions with respect to the role of the modern university in this process, not least given earlier assumptions that massification of higher education systems worldwide would increase social mobility and, thus, contribute to a more equalitarian and fairer society.
Yet, despite great strands in the expansion of access to higher education worldwide (Schofer & Meyer, 2005; Trow & Burrage, 2010), and despite evidence of the positive relationship between educational expansion and social mobility in selected countries (Breen, 2010), substantial differences in patterns of intergenerational mobility amongst nations remain (Causa & Johansson, 2010). What is more, recent studies from North America reveal that income-related gaps, both in access to higher education and in graduation rates, are not only large but keep on growing (Haveman & Smeeding, 2006).
This brings to the fore the following relevant queries in the context of a comparative and multi-disciplinary analysis in/around the role of modern higher education institutions in either promoting or mitigating growing social economic inequalities. These include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Can, and should universities and other types of tertiary institutions take bolder steps to address growing social economic inequalities, and if so, how?

  • To what extent should universities and related associations interact with the political system to make politicians aware of unjust social-economic structures with the aim to achieve greater equality in education systems?

  • In what ways do university recruitment structures and procedures contribute to a more unequal distribution of positional goods in the form of higher education degrees?

  • Has international mobility (of students and staff) affected inequality at home and abroad, and if so, in what way?

  • To what extent do past and current patterns of horizontal and vertical differentiation within domestic higher education systems contribute to rising inequality, and why?

  • What role, if any, do new technologies such as MOOCS and blended learning play in addressing growing inequalities both within and between countries?

  • How does the current global competition for talented students affect societies in various geographical contexts?

  • How can HEIs renew their internal structures, functions and values in ways that enable them to play a more active role in the forming and transformation of more equitable societies? What do we know about the interplay between access/participation, graduate employability and social mobility in developing/emerging economies?

  • What role, if any, does life-long learning and other forms of certification outside a traditional university setting play in enabling access to newer professions (e.g. ICT/computer science), and further development as a successful professional?

This sub-theme addresses such critical queries, at a historical time where the legitimacy of modern institutions, including science, is being questioned. In order to address these and related issues, we appeal to organizational scholars working within and across disciplinary fields and resorting to a multiplicity of methodologies. We are particularly keen to receive papers that build on methodological and conceptual/theoretical perspectives that are both novel and critical, and that have the potential for providing a bold framework for re-adjusting our scholarly gaze insofar the role played by science and higher education in more just, equitable and responsible societies.


  • Amis, J.M., Munir, K.A., Lawrence, T.B., Hirsch, P., & McGahan, A. (2018): “Inequality, institutions and organizations.” Organization Studies, 39 (9), 1131–1152.
  • Breen, R. (2004): Social Mobility in Europe. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Breen, R. (2010): “Educational expansion and social mobility in the 20th century.” Social Forces, 89 (2), 365–388.
  • Causa, O., & Johansson, Å. (2010): “Intergenerational Social Mobility in OECD Countries.” OECD Journal: Economic Studies, 2010 (1), 1–44.
  • Haveman, R., & Smeeding, T. (2006): “The Role of Higher Education in Social Mobility.” The Future of Children, 16 (2), 125–150.
  • Piketty, T. (2014): Capital in the 21st Century. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
  • Schofer, E., & Meyer, J.W. (2005): “The worldwide expansion of higher education in the twentieth century.” American Sociological Review, 70 (6), 898–920.
  • Trow, M., & Burrage, M. (2010): Twentieth-Century Higher Education: Elite to Mass to Universal. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.