What Are The Different Kinds of University Cultures?

When looking at the world of higher education, it can be challenging to know which cultures are worth emulating and which cultures might be better left alone. Cultures within a university have different meanings and different implications. Some universities are known for a particular culture — they may have a more open, collaborative environment or focus more on research and debate. Others may be more conservative, with smaller student bodies and a more isolated campus feel.

The Importance of Understanding the Different Kinds of Culture

While many people think of a university only in terms of a classroom or library, the culture of a university can be just as influential as the physical space. It can affect what you study, how you study it, who you ask questions to, and even how you think.

There are several reasons you’ll want to familiarize yourself with the different kinds of cultures on your campus. Some of them will be about expanding your horizons and understanding a few other cultures, while others will be about maintaining your sanity and understanding the culture that surrounds you.

One of the reasons is your safety. Although most of us would instead not think about it, racism, xenophobia, and other forms of discrimination still exist. These are not socially acceptable thoughts or feelings, and it can be complicated to navigate college environments without being humiliated or causing anxiety. Having a grasp of the different cultural environments can help you navigate these situations successfully.

Here is an overview of the different types of university cultures.

Open Culture

At its root, open culture means having a lot of communication and cooperation among students and staff. This culture can thrive in environments with few constraints and little institutional support.

At the same time, open culture can create an oppressive atmosphere, with cliques and factions fighting for control. Organizations may forget that they are part of a larger whole, and internal feuds can become large-scale conflicts.

There is a fine line between open and closed culture, and many universities experience a bumpy ride. Many of the best state universities are generally considered available and often cited as open-minded schools. The best-office universities are open to all kinds of people, regardless of race, ethnicity, religion, or other factors that might hinder everyday interactions.

Collaboration Culture

Collaboration culture is the idea that different parts of a university work together as a single unit. This may include the administration, the student body, and the faculty. Collaboration culture is often associated with the idea of a team, with individuals working together toward a common goal.

Most frequently, collaboration culture is associated with partnerships, such as a business school partnership with a law school or a psychology research center with a medical school.

Expressive Culture

Expressive culture is the idea that a university is a space for the free exchange of individual ideas. This culture is often associated with clubs and organizations and professors who love to talk.

It’s also most closely associated with clubs and organizations that encourage debate and discussion, such as those promoting social justice or critical thinking.

Protectionist Culture

Protectionist culture is the idea that a university’s culture should reflect the country in which it is located. Countries that have historically been very protective of their cultural and religious institutions have often had a lower rate of university attendance than other countries with a more relaxed approach to religion.

Many smaller colleges and universities are very protective of their identity and may have a defensive culture focused on religious affiliation.

Cohesion Culture

Cohesion culture is the idea that a university has a strong cultural identity. This can result from a long-standing history, or it can result from a relatively recent decision to celebrate a particular event.

Many universities have a very long and storied cultural history and may choose to celebrate events such as student government elections or commencement.


To create a more inclusive environment on your campus, you’ll want to take a few steps toward inclusivity before starting the process. The first is to be aware of and talk about your core values. All universities have core values, and you should know what they are before you start interacting with students.

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