The Program for Research on Private Higher Education
Dedicated to Building Knowledge about Private Higher Education around the World
PHE Dissertation 1

Private Higher Education in Russia: The Quest for Legitimacy


By Dmitry Suspitsin

A Dissertation Submitted toThe Graduate School in College of Education, The Pennsylvania State University 

Defense Committee: 

Roger L. Geiger, Distinguished Professor of Education, Thesis Co-Advisor, Co-Chair of Committee, Chair of Graduate Program in Higher Education

David Post, Professor of Education, Thesis Co-Advisor, Co-Chair of Committee

Gerald K. LeTendre, Professor of Education

Johann Baumgartner, Professor of Marketing

Defense Date: May 2007


This dissertation examines how Russia’s newly established private higher education institutions gain legitimacy conferred by the government, sponsoring organizations, the clientele, and other constituencies and stakeholders. The study describes the private institutions’ forms and sources of legitimacy; their legitimacy-management strategies; and the forces and constraints in the external environment that facilitate or impede the Russian private universities’ chances for gaining organizational legitimacy. Drawing on Burton Clark’s tripartite framework of coordination and DiMaggio and Powell’s notion of organizational field, the study presents a stakeholder model of organizational legitimation, identifying relevant societal audiences in the realms of the state, the market, and higher education community.

To this end, this largely exploratory, qualitative study employs a multiple case study approach as the primary research method. The cases are built around types of institutions categorized based on legitimation orientations, or ways of constructing institutional identities in order to gain social recognition. The institutional typology includes four types: westerners, statists, cultural revivalists, and entrepreneurs. The results of the study point to the federal government as a powerful legitimizing entity. It exercises its control through accreditation based on law and tradition. The study provides evidence on how accreditation enhances private institutions’ social security and acceptance, student enrolment, and institutional survival. Both conforming and manipulative strategies for attaining accreditation by private institutions are laid out and illustrated.

The data come from semi-structured, in-depth interviews with university presidents, deans, government officials, and researchers, as well as from extensive observations, and analysis of written documents, including print media materials, governmental laws and regulations, and institutional documents.

Date Published:
May 2007