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Crossing borders and contesting values: negotiating British Columbia's university sector

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Thesis type
(Thesis) Ed.D.
Date created
In 2008, the Province of British Columbia (BC) created five new universities, precipitating several questions regarding the composition of BC’s public university sector. Previously, four research-intensive universities provided the de facto definition for the sector. With the addition of five teaching-intensive universities through re-designation of the three remaining university colleges, an art and design institute, and a community college, the university sector is now comprised by more institutions than not that challenge, through many of their historic and current educational practices, the established prevailing idea of the university in BC: an institution focused primarily on liberal arts education and research specialization. The conceptual framework for this study suggests legitimation and identity dynamics are recursive processes of interpretation and integration across external normative expectations and internal institutional contexts. Although normative university practices are always being negotiated and may be enacted differently in individual universities, as a whole they represent common sector boundaries within which member universities are expected to operate. Institutional legitimacy and integrity are dependent upon an appropriate level of alignment across a matrix of practice boundaries that delimit the university as an idea without unduly limiting individual institutions. This study follows a social constructionist approach, employing several grounded theory processes in the collection, organization, and analysis of assertions from various published documents, including quality assurance guidelines and legislation, as well scholarly opinions and analyses. Several outcomes emerge from the study. The conceptual framework develops an understanding of universities as complex institutions composed by and dependent upon shared as well as distinct histories, traditions, and practices. The document analysis suggests three core qualities and conditions and six major criterion categories of normative university practices informing the university. These findings guide development of six hypotheses on practice boundaries within the current BC university sector. Finally, the overall significance of this study emerges in the identification of significant cultural dynamic, operational practice, and institutional capacity considerations concerning the creation and operation of BC universities.
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Scholarly level
Supervisor or Senior Supervisor
Thesis advisor: Grimmett, Peter
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