Skip to main content

Higher education lessons from across oceans

18 February 2015

At the start of last year, I moved from the University of Melbourne in Australia to the University of Toronto in Canada. What struck me are both the differences and similarities between Canada’s colleges and the technical and further education institutes (or TAFEs) in Australia, as well as further education (FE) colleges in England. To start with the differences; the first is that there is an endowed chair in community colleges at one of Canada’s leading universities. The purpose of the Chair is to contribute to the development of Ontario's community college system through education and leadership training, research, policy development, and service. I’ve not come across that in Australia or England. It would be like having a professor of FE colleges that has been funded by donations. Next is that all my colleagues who teach in the higher education program know about colleges. All of them. That would be like senior higher education researchers in England and Australia having in-depth knowledge of FE colleges and TAFEs. It just doesn’t happen. Perhaps the most important difference that shows the disparity in the regard in which colleges are held in Canada compared to England and Australia is that the Canadian government has two research funding streams specifically for colleges. The first is for applied research and the second is for social innovation research in colleges. It isn’t anywhere near as much as the research funding available to universities, but it exists. There are also many similarities and most people from FE colleges and TAFEs would feel right at home and have an intuitive understanding of the challenges confronting Canadian colleges. For example, college students find it hard to get access to universities and get appropriate credit for prior studies, even though the various provincial governments work hard on this issue. Colleges are increasingly offering baccalaureate degrees to meet the changing needs of the workforce and adult learners. They emphasise applied degrees and closer links to the workplace. However, like FE colleges and TAFEs, they find that the accreditation models force them into the ‘university mould’. They face the same ‘status’ issues as in Australia with universities suspicious of the standards and quality of their higher education qualifications. And, they face the same challenges in recruiting teaching staff with the right level of qualifications and knowledge and skills to teach higher education qualifications, with all the implications that that implies for industrial relations and capacity building within institutions. Any of this sound familiar? Despite oceans being between us, there are similar frustrations and promoting the positive impact of colleges is at the heart of what we need to do to overcome them. There’s so much that can be learned and shared from different countries – I can’t wait to hear your views. Leesa Wheelahan PhD, William G. Davis Chair in Community College Leadership, Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, University of Toronto. She will be discussing these issues in her presentation at AoC’s College HE Conference and Exhibition 2015 on Wednesday 4 March in London. To attend Leesa’s session entitled Australian and Canadian College HE – trends and developments, register today. See the full event overview and programme.