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The Bourdieusian blueprint: How top universities stay ahead

An article co-authored by GSEM Professor Michel Ferrary, Gaëlle Cotterlaz-Rannard, and Rachel Bocquet, was published in The British Journal of Management. The researchers apply Pierre Bourdieu’s sociological theory to understand how prestigious universities maintain their top status. It examines the business models these universities use such as global branding, exclusive partnerships, and innovative programs to preserve their high standing in the academic world. Additionally, it addresses the sustainability of these business models over the long term and considers their impact on the quality and accessibility of education.


As part of her doctoral thesis, Gaëlle Cotterlaz-Rannard co-authored this article during her Ph.D. in Finance at the GSEM, under the supervision of Professor Ferrary. She successfully completed her doctorate in 2021.


This study investigates how the specificity of a university business model supports the dominance and persistence of a handful of elite non-profit universities, while considering the implications this phenomenon has on social responsibility. Despite their longstanding positions at the top of academia for over four decades, these universities often struggle to actively embrace social mobility, diversity and inclusion. The existing literature on business models lacks a comprehensive conceptualization that captures the ability of some institutions to establish and maintain their domination within non-economic fields, such as higher education. Drawing on Bourdieu's framework and a unique dataset comprising 192 private non-profit American universities, the study uncovers two fundamental mechanisms of accumulation and conversion of forms of capital (economic, social, cultural and symbolic) behind the perpetuation of dominance among non-profit universities. This research contributes to both business model and higher education studies by introducing a novel conceptual tool for investigating the business models of non-profit universities. Important managerial and social implications, including a call for leading non-profit universities to enact socially responsible and diversifying measures, follows.

Watch the video abstract.

Access the study: How Do Prestigious Universities Remain at the Summit: A Bourdieusian View of their Business Models

> Click here to view the GSEM faculty’s publications in top-tier journals.



June 20, 2024
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