Living Reference Work Entry

Encyclopedia of International Higher Education Systems and Institutions

pp 1-6

Date: Latest Version

Elite Higher Education

  • Jane KenwayAffiliated withMonash University Email author 
  • , Adam HowardAffiliated withColby College


Exclusive universities; Top-tier universities; Wealthy universities; Prestigious universities


Considered the very best and most prestigious universities nationally and, increasingly, globally that largely serve the wealthy.

Terms of Endearment

In Keywords (2014), Williams offers an etymology, of the term “elite,” dating it back to the mid-eighteenth century. He shows how it was first associated with the elect, that is, those formally chosen by god. Theology linked the elect to the aristocracy. He says “elect was often indistinguishable from ‘best’ or ‘most important”’ (pp. 13–14). With the changing social circumstances of the nineteenth century and the declining power of the aristocracy, other explanations about “distinction and discrimination” surfaced. The concept ruling elite arose in opposition to that of ruling class. It provided an ideological warrant to justify their rule, again along the lines of the best, the wisest, and the cleverest.

Such beliefs about elitenes ...

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