This article investigates the effects of privatized and marketized higher education on inequalities in education attainment and labour market outcomes in Poland and Ukraine. Drawing on representative samples of tertiary graduates, our analyses show that students from advantageous social backgrounds are more likely to enter state-funded studies. Regarding labour market chances, we find a trade-off between higher status attainment and slower labour market entry among graduates who studied free-of-charge compared with students who paid tuitions. In accordance with our hypotheses, inequality patterns are more pronounced in Poland. Particularly, graduates from the Polish ‘mass’ lower tertiary private education have the lowest chances of finding high-quality jobs. Thus, mass privatization and marketization of higher education have its drawbacks in terms of lower status returns for graduates. In both countries, however, the Bachelor–Master differentiation, as well as the academic–vocational distinction, matter more for inequalities in status attainment than the privatization and marketization of tertiary education.

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