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Public policy and the structural development of postsecondary education in British Columbia, Canada, 1960 - 2015 Cowin, J Robert


This study examined the structural development since 1960 of the entire postsecondary education system – that is, post-compulsory, formal education for adults – in Canada’s westernmost province, British Columbia. I synthesized changes across teaching and research universities, public colleges, private career colleges, apprenticeship, faith-based institutions, Aboriginal-governed institutions, and continuing education activities. My focus was on sectors, not individual institutions, and I considered the consequences of federal government actions along with those of the provincial government. I divided the era into three periods, from which I analyzed five significant historical moments. After considering the proximate causes of changes during these moments, I assessed the extent to which developments in each moment were consistent with three enduring public policy rationales for postsecondary education in British Columbia. The first policy rationale concerned a set of concepts about fairness that emerged cumulatively to constitute a fulsome understanding of social justice: access to educational opportunity for individuals, compensatory justice, cultural recognition and promotion, and spatial adaptation. The second propelling rationale, economic in nature, emerged from the literature on human capital formation and found expression in both generic and occupationally-specific forms. The third rationale concerned a means perceived to foster effective and efficient educational administration, namely a neoliberal, market-oriented approach that I explicated using some concepts from institutional theory and new public management. All three policy rationales proved helpful in interpreting the historical record, but none was present in all five historical moments. I commented about aspects of these policy rationales that might be useful to consider regarding future postsecondary development. I also made two observations, one about historical themes and the other about the language used to describe postsecondary education, that are relevant regardless of the approach taken when examining the postsecondary history of British Columbia. I offered recommendations concerning the social stratification implications of a growing vertical differentiation among institutions, the role of continuing education, information about the private sectors, a more current usage of human capital theory, attention to sub-baccalaureate education, the implications of international enrolment, open data, terminology, and systems thinking.

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