New medical programs as a symbol: between academic legitimacy and market signaling


  • Enrique Fernandez Darraz Universidad de Tarapaca
  • Andres Bernasconi Pontificia Universidad Catolica de Chile



Medical education, new programs, program creation, institutionalism in organizations, signaling theory, legitimacy, reputation, competititon, markets.


Medical education is complex, highly regulated, and expensive. Why would a university open a medical program? Yet, from 1990 to 2010 medical schools in Chilean universities increased in number from 6 to 28. This growth took place as overall enrolments also expanded four-fold nationally in all fields of higher education, and medical students multiplied by three in the same period. But this expansion of medical education cannot be explained solely on the basis of greater access to higher education and increased demand. An increase in supply was also needed. Why did new medical schools emerge in Chilean universities? Only to create more slots for future MDs? Through the interview-based study reported in this article, we seek to recover the rationale for the creation of medical schools in Chile in the last two decades, and interpret the results according to two theoretical perspectives: the new institutionalism in organizations, and signalling theory. In the recollections of the protagonists of these processes we find evidence both of a quest for academic legitimacy and the intention to provide signals to the market, and a rationale for how these two purposes support one another, as the main benefit foreseen by the promoters of the new medical schools was the improvement of the academic reputation of the university, which in turn would serve to strengthen its competitive position vis á vis other universities. 


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Author Biographies

Enrique Fernandez Darraz, Universidad de Tarapaca

Enrique Fernández Darraz es profesor de la Facultad de Educación de la Universidad de Tarapacá. Obtuvo su doctorado en Sociología en la Universidad Libre de Berlín en el año 2001. Sus principales áreas de trabajo han sido la educación superior y el análisis de las políticas públicas en el área. Ha publicado varios artículos y libros sobre el tema. Recientemente publicó en conjunto con investigadores alemanes (Gero Lehnhardt, Manfred Stock y Robert Reisz), el libro: Hochschulprivatisierung und akademische Freiheit Jenseits von Markt und Staat: Hochschulen in der Weltgesellschaft, (2010) Transcipt, Bielefed, Alemania. Desde hace cuatro años trabaja también como consultor del Ministerio de Educación chileno y de distintas universidades chilenas y latinoamericanas.

Andres Bernasconi, Pontificia Universidad Catolica de Chile

Associate Professor



How to Cite

Fernandez Darraz, E., & Bernasconi, A. (2014). New medical programs as a symbol: between academic legitimacy and market signaling. Education Policy Analysis Archives, 22, 74.