Differentiating Ontario’s universities: Time to go bold

Toronto, July 12, 2016 – Whether it’s Algoma University’s success in serving students traditionally under-represented in higher education, Guelph’s strength in creating a positive student experience or the University of Toronto’s role as an internationally ranked research powerhouse, when it comes to Ontario’s 20 universities, there is a difference.

Strengthening those differences and supporting them through the province’s postsecondary funding formula would be a bold move toward a more differentiated university system in Ontario, says a new report from the Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario (HEQCO).

“In a differentiated system, institutions build on their areas of expertise, allowing each to make its optimal contribution,” says HEQCO president and CEO Harvey Weingarten. “Ontario has the opportunity to show international leadership in building a postsecondary system that is more cohesive, more sustainable and of higher quality.”

Why differentiation?  “Because the alternative – trying to make all institutions to be all things to all people –offers less real choice to students, threatens rather than strengthens the unique contributions and qualities of each of our institutions and is simply not affordable for either students or taxpayers,” says Weingarten.

The Differentiation of the Ontario University System: Where are we now and where should we go? follows on previous HEQCO research that identified four clusters of Ontario universities: the internationally competitive University of Toronto, six research-intensive universities (Guelph, McMaster, Ottawa, Queen’s, Waterloo and Western), nine mostly undergraduate universities (Algoma, Brock, Lakehead, Laurentian, Laurier, Nipissing, OCADU, Trent and UOIT) and four “in-between” or regional institutions (Carleton, Ryerson, Windsor and York).   

When the clusters are examined through the lenses of research intensity, equity of access, student demand, the learning environment and graduate outcomes, their distinctive natures and roles become evident – ranging from the mainly undergraduate institutions that emphasize teaching and learning to the research-intensive institutions that attract high-potential students and deliver strong graduate outcomes. The findings point to critical policies and practices that would lead to more equitable access and success for all students, higher quality outcomes and greater financial sustainability of the system and its institutions.

Among key recommendations for government and universities:

  • Recognize and fund equity of access as a significant differentiating feature
  • Support the University of Toronto as Ontario’s flagship institution
  • Build on the role of regional universities
  • Concentrate research expansion for greater impact
  • Seize the opportunity for a bold strategy with Strategic Mandate Agreements
  • Drive differentiation through funding

“As evidenced by its Strategic Mandate Agreements with the province’s 24 colleges and 20 universities, and the release of its Differentiation Policy Framework, the Ontario Ministry of Advanced Education and Skills Development has clearly signaled its intention to position differentiation as a primary policy driver for the system,” says Weingarten. “The time is now to boldly apply university differentiation across Ontario.”

About the Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario

The Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario is an agency of the Government of Ontario, established in 2005 to contribute to the improvement of Ontario’s postsecondary education system.  HEQCO is mandated to conduct research, evaluate the postsecondary education system and provide policy recommendations to the Minister of Advanced Education and Skills Development on improving system quality, access and accountability.

For further information, please contact:

Susan Bloch-Nevitte / HEQCO Executive Director, Communications
416-212-5242 / sbnevitte@heqco.ca 

Matt Ross / HEQCO Research Communications Officer
416-212-3797 / mross@heqco.ca 

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