Here’s a question to ponder in the wee hours of the morning – or right now. How can a government respond to the following societal dynamic?
- A persistent and growing demand for more availability of public postsecondary education.
- Fewer public dollars to sustain or grow public postsecondary education, especially in Canada with the insatiable financial appetite of the health care system.
- A political imperative to minimize tuition increases.
- Greater scrutiny and accountability around everything governments and public institutions do.
In short, a dynamic more conducive to ulcers than smiles. But, this is exactly the dynamic provinces in Canada, states in the USA, and many countries in the world face as they try to sustain a high quality, internationally competitive public higher education system in the face of more students and fewer dollars.
To meet the objectives in spite of the challenges, many governments have adopted a policy of promoting increased differentiation of their postsecondary systems. Simply put, what differentiation means is encouraging and enabling each postsecondary institution to pursue a mandate and mission appropriate for it. The system becomes differentiated because different institutions have different objectives and, as a consequence, are treated (and funded) differently by government. The government assures that the system as a whole fulfills public needs but not every institution is expected to make the same contribution as sister institutions.
Recently, HEQCO was asked by the provincial government to identify the benefits of adopting a policy of greater differentiation of the 20-member Ontario university system and to recommend how such a policy could be implemented if the government chose to pursue it.
I won’t rehearse the paper here. Aficionados can read it at here. Mini-aficionados are assured that there is an Executive Summary that distills the key points. Suffice it to say that we see a lot of benefits to students, government and the public of allowing greater differentiation of the Ontario university system. A policy like this does not solve all of the problems but it does advance the quality, competitiveness, accountability and financial sustainability of the postsecondary system in Ontario – something that we can only see as a positive in the future of the province.
The paper is meant to promote discussion and debate so we would appreciate hearing what you might think about the arguments advanced in the paper. The societal dynamic identified above is not going away so something has to change. As shown in the Appendix to the paper, it is interesting to us how many have gravitated to some form of differentiation policy as the direction of change.
Thanks for reading and responding.
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