An Organisational Perspective on Social Exclusion in Higher Education: A Case Study

Jelle Mampaey


We explore organisational mechanisms underlying social exclusion in higher education, the latter defined as the underrepresentation of students from lower socio-economic backgrounds. We focus on “decoupling,” which is a central concept in organisational institutionalism referring to the construction of gaps between public commitment and core organisational practices, a common phenomenon in organisations worldwide. In the context of social inclusion this implies that universities are often publicly committed to social inclusion whereas their actual practices reproduce social exclusion. Drawing on an in-depth case study of a Flemish university, we identify four possible antecedents of decoupling: institutional contradictions resulting from the neo-liberalisation of higher education, uncertainty about effective inclusive practices, resistance of key constituencies and resource stringency resulting from experiences of lacking public funding.


decoupling; implementation; organisational perspective; public commitment; social exclusion

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