Academic journal article Community College Review

Building a System of Autonomous Institutions: Coordination and Collaboration in British Columbia's Community College, University College, and Institute System

Academic journal article Community College Review

Building a System of Autonomous Institutions: Coordination and Collaboration in British Columbia's Community College, University College, and Institute System

Article excerpt

This study explores the historical development of British Columbia's community college, university college, and institute system with the focus on voluntary collaboration in relation to provincial coordination and on swings between centralization and decentralization. The study examines developments in British Columbia's post-secondary system in light of developments in the broader North American context.

Introduction

British Columbia's community college, university college, and institute system has been widely regarded as one of the most coordinated and integrated postsecondary systems in Canada (Schuetze & Day, 2001). The institutions collaborate on a wide range of initiatives at both the faculty and administrative level. Furthermore, British Columbia has a well-developed transfer system that facilitates the transfer of students between institutions that offer first- and second-year academic courses and institutions that grant degrees. The high level of coordination and collaboration on systemwide initiatives occurs among autonomous institutions, yet there has been ongoing tension between the need to work as a coherent system and the desire to maintain institutional autonomy. This tension between system coordination and institutional autonomy is also a recurrent theme in the development of multicampus systems in the United States (Gaither, 1999).

Much has been written about the historical development of British Columbia's postsecondary system in terms of important legislation, policy development, and events that have led to the coordination evident in the system (Beinder, 1986; Dennison, 1997; Hollick-Kenyon, 1979; Mitchell, 1986; Schuetze & Day, 2001). As well, ample research exists on the nature and success of the transfer system (Dennison, 1997; Fisher, Rubenson, & Della Mattia, 2001; Soles, 2001). However, research has not been done to document the collaborative nature of the system, the historical roots of that collaboration, and the relationship between collaborative efforts and provincial coordination. Furthermore, research has not been done to study specifically the movements between decentralization and centralization of the system over the last 40 years and the related theme of autonomous institutions moving towards becoming a system. Such research is becoming increasingly important as the college, university college, and institute system in British Columbia has in recent years become more differentiated and fragmented, and coordination among institutions has become more difficult.

Purpose of Study and Definitions

The purpose of this article is to summarize the key elements of a recently completed doctoral dissertation by the same author. The article follows closely the structure of the dissertation and presents findings and conclusions in a manner that is true to the qualitative methodology used in the doctoral study. Readers can refer to a recently completed monograph by the author for a more detailed summary of the dissertation and its findings (Gaber, 2003).

The purpose of the study upon which this article is based was to understand better the historical development of the British Columbia community college, university college, and institute system through the lens of three dichotomies. The first was the changing nature of voluntary interinstitutional collaboration in relation to provincial coordination; the second was the movement between centralization and decentralization within British Columbia's system; and the third was the development of a provincial system from a collection of autonomous institutions. The study examined the developments in British Columbia's postsecondary system in light of related developments within the North American context.

For the purposes of the doctoral study, interinstitutional collaboration was defined as voluntary cooperation among educators and institutions designed to achieve a common purpose, whereas provincial coordination was defined as common actions at the system level among British Columbia's colleges, university colleges, and institutes brought about through intervention of the provincial government in the form of policy, legislation, and funding mechanisms. …

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