Brain power

Academic output controlled by a minority of universities

Originally posted on The Horizons Tracker.

As in other walks of life, the flow of ideas benefits greatly from a diverse range of inputs. Research1 from the University of Colorado Boulder suggests that in the US, this doesn’t really occur, with just five universities dominating the flow of ideas. Indeed, the study suggests that 1-in-8 tenure-track faculty members operating in the US were trained in just five universities (Harvard, Stanford, UC Berkeley, the University of Michigan, and the University of Wisconsin-Madison).

“We all know that academic pedigree is important—it’s the first thing professors put in their bios—but it’s hard to measure just how extreme the inequalities are in higher education until you actually analyze the data,” the researchers explain.

Lack of diversity

The findings demonstrate a general lack of diversity across American universities, with the researchers suggesting that while there has been a degree of progress in terms of female representation across faculty, these gains are plateauing.

“We should not expect to see gender parity in academia, unless further initiatives and changes in hiring practices are made,” they explain.

The researchers developed a network of the flow of people between universities. This network illustrated the incredibly strong connections between some universities that tend to dominate the network. Indeed, if you happened to earn your degrees at a less prestigious institutions, it was almost impossible to get a job at a more prestigious school.

For instance, just 12% of computer science faculty managed to get a job in a more prestigious school than the one they attended, with this figure just 6% in economics. These hierarchies also appear to extend beyond recruitment, as academics who went to less prestigious schools were also far more likely to leave the field than their peers from elite institutions.

“Inequalities in academia have effects that we don’t always observe,” the authors conclude. “There’s recent research showing that faculty tend to study topics related to their identities. If we are interested in solving the problems that real people face, we should want to have diverse body of academics.”

Article source: Academic Output Controlled By A Minority Of Universities.

Header image source: Christian Lendl on Unsplash.


  1. Wapman, K. H., Zhang, S., Clauset, A., & Larremore, D. B. (2022). Quantifying hierarchy and dynamics in US faculty hiring and retention. Nature, 610(7930), 120-127.
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Adi Gaskell

I'm an old school liberal with a love of self organizing systems. I hold a masters degree in IT, specializing in artificial intelligence and enjoy exploring the edge of organizational behavior. I specialize in finding the many great things that are happening in the world, and helping organizations apply these changes to their own environments. I also blog for some of the biggest sites in the industry, including Forbes, Social Business News, Social Media Today and, whilst also covering the latest trends in the social business world on my own website. I have also delivered talks on the subject for the likes of the NUJ, the Guardian, Stevenage Bioscience and CMI, whilst also appearing on shows such as BBC Radio 5 Live and Calgary Today.

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