Harvey P. Weingarten – Differentiation: Toward higher quality of teaching and research, greater institutional sustainability and clarity of student choice

Harvey P. Weingarten

Harvey P. Weingarten, President & CEO

Today HEQCO is releasing the latest in our continuing series of papers examining the differentiation of the Ontario university sector.

Our first analysis emphasized the dimension used most frequently to describe university differentiation – research intensity. On the basis of the data underlying that analysis, we proposed that Ontario universities cluster into four groups – the University of Toronto that stood in a category all by itself, six other research-intensive universities, nine largely undergraduate universities and four universities that lay between other clusters and which we unimaginatively labelled as “in-between” universities.

The current analysis extends this work in important ways by describing how Ontario universities differ on a suite of dimensions that are relevant to students seeking to understand the differences among Ontario’s 20 universities, to leaders considering their institution’s particular mandate among the province’s universities and to government policy makers seeking to design policies and incentives that would improve and advance the postsecondary sector.  These additional dimensions include equity of access, student demand, the learning journey and graduate outcomes.   Each of these dimensions is measured by a set of indicators provided in the paper.

We were always intending to provide this more comprehensive analysis of the degree of differentiation of the Ontario university sector.   (And, if we can get our hands on the data, we are very motivated to do similar analyses for the Ontario college sector which, we believe, demonstrates a degree of differentiation that equals that of the university sector.)  In fact, since our initial paper on university differentiation in 2010 we have emphasized that a meaningful and useful differentiated university system in Ontario must, as a minimum, recognize, value and reward equally the teaching and research missions of university, and perhaps other features such as innovation or program specialization, that are important to a modern differentiated system.

The data presented in the current paper allow for this deeper and more comprehensive examination of how Ontario universities differ from one another.  The evidence provides important clues for how to design future funding formulas and Strategic Mandate Agreements that would deliver the outcomes the province hoped to achieve, namely higher quality of learning and research, greater sustainability and clarity of student choice.

The key findings from the current differentiation paper are:

  1. Ontario universities differ in important and significant ways. If you don’t believe me look at the following website that, with great clarity and in a compelling way, presents the performance of Ontario’s 20 universities on the five dimensions we assess.
  2. This more comprehensive analysis reinforces and underscores the clustering of Ontario universities that we described earlier. It also allows a better characterisation of the “in-between” category which on the basis of the additional data provided in the paper, we now describe as “regional universities.”  The differing characteristics and attributes of these clusters are described fully in the paper.
  3. The undergraduate and regional universities are Ontario’s powerhouses serving the equity of access agenda. We believe that the important contribution of these universities on the teaching and access fronts deserves greater recognition and acknowledgement in future funding regimes, allowing them to pursue their distinctive mandates and innovative approaches to teaching, learning and access.
  4. The University of Toronto is the flagship of the Ontario system internationally and we suggest the implementation of strategies that allow it to sustain this position that is so critical to the province.
  5. We suggest that the research effort of the Ontario university system – and the programs and funding that support it – be more highly concentrated in the University of Toronto and the other six research universities. For the most part, these same universities have the greatest student demand in the province.

We are encouraged that the province has adopted differentiation and an amended funding formula as   dominant strategies for helping institutions in the Ontario postsecondary system better achieve desired outcomes.  As we have stated before, we believe the strategic, clever and judicious design and implementation of these strategies is absolutely essential to the outcomes students, the province and the public seek from their postsecondary system, while putting Ontario postsecondary institutions on a sound footing to deliver on their mission and goals.  Importantly, the re-design of these strategies and policies must be grounded in reality and steered by evidence and data.  This is the illumination our current paper provides.

Thanks for reading,

Harvey P. Weingarten

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