Abstract The International Association of Universities (IAU) is the only inclusive global university association, its membership barriers are low, yet few universities are members despite considerable benefits. What determines membership in this long-standing international university alliance? Reviewing recent trends toward a more networked, stratified and internationalized global higher education field, we argue that universities with a greater need for legitimation and those ‘born’ into a global era are more likely to become members of an inclusive international network like the IAU. Thus, we expect lower status and younger universities to be more likely to join. We apply regression models to test hypotheses implied by these arguments. Our findings are consistent with these hypotheses, even after controlling for other factors. We discuss these findings using neo-institutional arguments about legitimacy and imprinted logics and suggest potential analytical avenues for further research.
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