Academic Drift in Canadian Institutions of Higher Education: Research Mandates, Strategy, and Culture

By Trotter, Lane D.; Mitchell, Amy | The Canadian Journal of Higher Education, June 1, 2018 | Go to article overview

Academic Drift in Canadian Institutions of Higher Education: Research Mandates, Strategy, and Culture


Trotter, Lane D., Mitchell, Amy, The Canadian Journal of Higher Education


Introduction

Over the last two decades, Canadian provincial governments have increasingly seen the post-secondary system as a tool (Dennison, 2006; Dennison & Schuetze, 2004). To promote economic competitiveness, they have tried to encourage institutions to deliver programs that meet labour market demands and align research with the needs of industry (Fisher et al., 2014; Shanahan & Jones, 2007). Governments have attempted to increase access to post-secondary education while maintaining or curbing costs (Marginson, 2002). Given the differences in costs (both in terms of student tuition and operating costs) between the university and non-university sectors, Canadian provincial governments have also increasingly turned to the non-university sector to provide increased access to degrees (Marshall, 2008) and to engage in applied research. The challenge that these developments pose is twofold: first, the universities no longer have a monopoly on degree granting and are now offering more vocationally oriented programs; second, the non-university sector is increasingly hiring PhD-credentialled faculty to deliver applied degree programs and to engage in applied research activity. Both sectors have also become more entrepreneurial. The result is that the historically unique roles of the university and non-university sectors are becoming increasingly blurred which, in turn, threatens their respective roles of driving independent research and serving the needs of local communities.

Under the Canadian constitution, the post-secondary system is the responsibility of the 10 provincial and three territorial governments (Shanahan & Jones, 2007, p. 32). Each province/territory has its own legislation that defines the roles of universities, colleges, and-in some jurisdictions-institutes. This has resulted in a patchwork of different higher-education structures that are similar but not identical (Dennison & Schuetze, 2004; Marshall, 2004; Shanahan & Jones, 2007). For the purposes of this paper, we will refer to the Canadian non-university sector (comprised of community colleges, provincial institutes, and polytechnics that, as in the rest of the Western world, are relatively recent inventions) as colleges, since those are the majority of the non-university institutions in Canada. We will also refer to universities with a historically strong research mandate as traditional universities. Our analysis will look at legislation, government policy directives, and institutional documents to examine the role these play in academic drift and differentiation.

We have chosen to focus on the British Columbia (BC) and Ontario systems because of the differences in these two provinces' approaches. The two provincial college systems were, for the most part, created in the 1960s as mechanisms to support economic development by providing access to job training and advanced technical skills (Dennison, 1995; Dennison & Schuetze, 2004; Hogan & Trotter, 2013; Jones, 1997; Skolnik, 2006, 2010). In BC, the community colleges also provided access outside the main population centres to the first two years of a university-level education, through an articulated transfer system with the universities (Dennison, 1995; Jones, 2009; MacDonald, 1962; Marshall, 2008). In Ontario, the Colleges of Applied Arts and Technology (CAATs) were created to be very distinct from the universities, and were initially legislatively barred from articulated transfer with Ontario universities and from competition with those universities (Clark, Moran, Skolnik, & Trick, 2009, p. 9). The role of Ontario colleges thus exists in a binary system, distinct and separate from the universities and with a clear focus on regional economic development and labour market training (Jones, 1997; Skolnik, 2010).

The structures of these provincial higher-education systems are now evolving in the direction of blurring the roles of universities and colleges. …

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