Academic journal article The Canadian Journal of Higher Education

Measuring Systemic and Climate Diversity in Ontario's University Sector

Academic journal article The Canadian Journal of Higher Education

Measuring Systemic and Climate Diversity in Ontario's University Sector

Article excerpt

Introduction

The extent and nature of institutional differentiation are one design choice among many that must be considered by policy makers when developing a higher education system or when dealing with an increased number of students and growing societal demands for undergraduate and graduate education. While the worldwide process of institutional differentiation in higher education is not a new phenomenon, it has received increased attention recently in Ontario as the current environment of fiscal restraint (and calls for greater efficiency) due to the 2008 global economic crisis restricts the province's ability to increase funding to its university sector; meanwhile, public pressure to increase access continues unabated. Quality advances that have been made in the past 10 years as a result of the provincial government's significant investment in higher education also need to be maintained. Ontario has recently moved to reconsider the design of its higher education system by adopting a differentiation policy framework as "the foundation for the ministry's decision making and ongoing dialogue with institutions, students, and all stakeholders going forward" (Ontario Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities, 2013, p. 9). This framework is in need of a model to quantify the level of diversity, to form the basis for policy development and move the sector forward in these difficult economic times. This article proposes a methodology for measuring institutional diversity and applies it to Ontario's university sector.

Only a few studies worldwide have measured the level of diversity and differentiation in higher education systems (Birnbaum, 1983; Huisman, 2000; Huisman, Meek, & Wood, 2007; Morphew, 2009; Stanley & Reynolds, 1994; Zha, 2009). While some studies have used programmatic diversity-differences in degree level, mission, and program emphasis (Birnbaum, 1983)-as a proxy for institutional diversity (Lepori, Huisman, & Seeber, 2014; Rossi, 2010; Teixeira, Rocha, Biscaia, & Cardoso, 2012), no studies have attempted to quantify the level of systemic and climate diversity in Ontario's university sector or any other province in Canada. In this study, diversity refers to the number of types of universities within Ontario's university sector, derived from classifying universities according to one or more characteristics, and to the dispersion of universities across types at a point in time (as informed by Huisman, 1998).

This article will focus on institutional diversity and more specifically on systemic diversity, because governments around the world are concerned about increasing or maintaining diversity in their higher education systems as a means of increasing access or managing the increased demand for higher education. Systemic diversity is important because it provides a variety of choices to diverse groups of learners that can ensure a better match between the needs of students and the types of institutions. Some students may seek the personal attention offered at a small campus, while others may seek more cosmopolitan campuses. Systemic diversity also ensures that the purposes and functions of institutions are more efficiently discharged. Systemic diversity in this study refers to the number of types of universities within Ontario's university sector, derived from classifying universities according to their institutional type and size, and to the dispersion of universities across types at a point in time (as informed by Huisman, 1998).

This article will also focus on climate diversity, because Ontario universities have recently become increasingly aware of the importance of increased student-faculty interactions to an outstanding student experience; at the same time, they are being provided with additional funding to expand graduate enrolment in the province. Climate diversity is also important because it provides a variety of environments that can better meet the needs of a diverse student body, thereby increasing student satisfaction and engagement. …

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