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Diverging Reform Pathways under Federalism

Across much of the world, higher education has experienced rapid expansion and structural changes. Yet, countries’ patterns of institutional change have varied significantly, with far-reaching consequences for the distribution of life chances across societies. This article explores an important causal pathway shaping contrasting national outcomes by focusing on the influence of state structures on liberalization processes. As the analysis demonstrates for American and German higher education, policymakers in federally-fragmented welfare states have sought to increase and control competition among universities, yet public authorities’ different capacities for cooperation have produced unique modes of institutional change as well as diverging degrees of capitalistic tendencies within academia. Highlighting the influence of state organization on social citizenship in a key sector of today’s knowledge economy, the article uncovers a crucial – yet underappreciated – dynamic in the contemporary politics of egalitarianism across the rich democracies.

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