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DIT Conference: Higher Education in the 21st Century – Diversity of Missions

Diversity within Institutions

Professor Heather Eggins, Staffordshire University

Abstract for the conference ‘Higher Education in the 21st Century – Diversity of Missions’, 25-27 June, 2007, Dublin.

There is a paucity of research examining institutional diversity, with the majority of the data available being concentrated on objective and quantifiable features of diversity.

This presentation sets out to consider whether diversity within and between institutions is in itself a ‘higher education good’. If that is proven, then a number of policy shifts may be advised. Birnbaum’s analysis (1983) of institutional diversity in the US found six broad categories by which to assess US higher education institutions: control (i.e.public/private); size; gender of students; programs offered; degree level; minority enrolment. In a sample of 614 US institutions, he found 141 different types.

The categories which might be used in an international context today for assessing diversity are considered. These include the mission of the institution; its size; the pattern and range of programmes; the level of programmes; the modes of study; the mix of the student body; in both gender and socio-economic status; the place of research in the culture of the institution; the value placed on teaching in the institution; the ‘self-identity’ of the institutional community; the level of funding received; and the overall quality of the country’s higher education system.

Very little knowledge is available on organisational cultures and how they impact on institutional diversity. Government policy decisions, however, can be seen to have marked effects. On occasion these act as impediments to diversity: at other times they act as stimulants to encourage greater diversity. Examples of both will be considered. The vagaries of market forces are at times fostered by government, and at other times discouraged.

Recent research appears to show that in systems with the least level of diversity there is a greater risk of fewer disciplines being studied and a narrower range of programmes offered.