Elite universities in Chile: Between social mobility and reproduction of inequality

Keywords: Chile, elite, universities, reproduction of inequality, social mobility, social diversity, selection mechanisms


The Chilean Higher Education System can be considered an exemplary case of massification based on the privatisation and heterogenisation of universities. These processes have created a dual system, with a large group of universities for mass education versus a small group of universities focused on educating elites. In this context, this paper aims to analyse the ethos and missions of elite universities and programmes, their selection mechanisms, and students’ socioeconomic and cultural background. Eight case studies were selected, and different data collection techniques were used: interviews with academics, non-participant observations, students’ survey and secondary data analysis. Results show that these elite universities (characterised by overrepresentation of students from the upper and middle-upper classes, high levels of excellence and prestige, and academic selection processes or high fees) respond to their own market niche’s needs, differentiating themselves not only from ‘mass universities’ but also from each other. To achieve this, each elite university has its own vision, set of values and practices. Despite these differences, all the elite universities and programmes seek to face the current tertiary massification scenario by opening up to student social diversity ensuring, however, that these changes do not structurally modify their sociocultural composition or their institutional mission.

Received: 4 December 2020
Accepted: 20 April 2022


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Author Biographies

María Luisa Quaresma, Universidad Autónoma de Chile, Chile

PhD in Sociology, University of Porto, Portugal and a Degree in Sociology, at the same university. Actually, she is an Associate Professor and Researcher at Universidad Autónoma de Chile, Instituto Iberoamericano de Desarrollo Sostenible. Her main research topics are elite education, social inequality and social mobility, educational policy, and higher education. She has participated in several research projects as Principal Investigator and Co-investigator in Portugal, Chile and Brazil and she awarded two Postdoctoral Fellowships. She had published several academic papers in indexed international journals related to education and social sciences, and she has published books and book chapters in Europe, United States and South America. Additionally, she has collaborated in international and national research developed by organizations such as UNSRID and governmental institutions such as the Portuguese Department of Education.

Cristóbal Villalobos, Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile, Chile

PhD in Social Sciences, Universidad de Chile (Chile). Master in Applied Economics, Universidad Alberto Hurtado (Chile) and Georgetown University (United States), and a double BA in Sociology and Social Work, Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile (Chile). Actually, is Deputy Director at Centro de Políticas y Prácticas en Educación (CEPPE-UC) from Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile, Chile. His research work focuses on social movements in education, educational inequalities, educational policy, comparative education, civic and citizenship education, democratic education, higher education and sociology of science. To date, he has published more than 50 papers in academic journals, has written more than 10 book chapters and edited 5 academic books. He has collaborated in national and international research with several organizations, such as UNESCO, IDB, UNICEF and UNSRID, among others. Additionally, in recent years he has directed research on educational policy, educational quality, and educational inequity in Chile and Latin America.


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How to Cite
Quaresma, María Luisa, and Cristóbal Villalobos. 2022. “Elite Universities in Chile: Between Social Mobility and Reproduction of Inequality”. Tuning Journal for Higher Education 9 (2), 29-62. https://doi.org/10.18543/tjhe.1920.