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Diversity and Differentiation

Diversity and Differentiation: The development of 'Fachhochschulen' or university of applied sciences in Austrian higher education system

The primary activities of higher education like teaching, learning and research are undertaken in diverse institutional settings. These settings vary within countries as well as across countries according to the tasks, functions and composition of the study programmes. The aim of this paper is to examine diversity and differentiation in the Austrian higher education system. The discussion narrows down on the horizontal differentiation within the higher education system and the development of 'Fachhochschulen'or university of applied sciences in Austria.

The concept of higher education and what constitutes the system has changed over time. Until the 1950s, with the focus on mainly economically advanced countries, a university was defined as a "doctoral degree-granting insti­tutions characterized by a close link between research and teaching" (Teichler, 2015). Other institutions for example, teacher-training institutions, with some features similar to universities were not considered as highly relevant entities of a university system. Since the 1980s, international organisations such as UNESCO, OECD and the World Bank have been us­ing terms such as "tertiary education," "post-secondary education" and "third-level education"(Teichler, 2015). The use of such terms implies that any education for students beyond secondary education with predominantly teaching function, with "varying levels of intellectual ambition and the link to scientific knowledge can be termed as 'higher education'"(Teichler, 2015).

Diversity of higher education became a key issue post 1950s. The student enrolment increased and the state realized it cannot fund higher education at a similar pace. It soon became obvious that the student population was becoming more diverse in the process of expansion. In Europe,in the 1960s, it was decided that the system of higher educa­tion should be diversified formally between different types of high­er education institutions as well as according to different lengths of study programmes. Terms such as "short-cycle higher education", "non-university higher education" and "alternatives to universities" were introduced to characterize a sector of higher education different from that of tradi­tional universities (Teichler, 2015). However, a consensus on an appropriate term could not be reached since there were major distinctions between university education and other higher educa­tion systems across the countries in Europe. In many countries, study programmes at other institutions of higher education were shorter than those at uni­versities, and in a substantial number of countries these study pro­grammes were aimed at being more applied and less theoretical in nature and at preparing students more directly for future job tasks than study programmes at universities.

Defining diversity and differentiation

Diversity, on one hand,suggests the variety of entities within a system. Studies on higher education mention several forms of diversity; in higher education system diversity is both external and internal. External diversity is between higher education institutes and internal diversity is within an educational institute. Birnbaum (1983) identifies seven categories that are largely related to external diversity namely, systemic diversity which refers to differences in institutional type, size and control foundwithin a higher education system; structural diversity referring to institutional differences resulting from historical and legal foundations, or differences in the internal division of authority among institutions; programmatic diversityrelates to the degree level, degree area, comprehensiveness, mission and emphasis of programmes and services provided by institutions; procedural diversity describes differences in the ways that teaching, research and/or services are provided by institutions; reputational diversity communicates the perceived differences in institutions based

on status and prestige; constituential diversity alludes to differences in students served and other constituents in the institutions (faculty, administration); values and climate diversity is associated with differences in social environment and culture (Van Vught, 2007, pg.3).

Differentiation, on the other hand, is a process in which new entities emerge in a system, in this case, the system of higher education. Differentiation denotes a dynamic process whereas, diversity refers to a static situation.

In most analyses of diversity and its evolution (often called diver­sification), higher education systems are described concretely ac­cording to types of higher education institutions or types of study pro­grammes, levels of programmes, variations of reputation and prestige, substantive profiles of institutions and study programmes. 

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