As I’ve started to delve more into my research topic (the ways in which we institutionalize our desire for diversity), I’ve realized I need to be very specific about the type of diversity that I’m interested in. I’m not talking about diversity of universities, degrees, or programs. I am interested in the diversity of people – staff, faculty, students – involved with higher education. I’m interested in the degree to which these folks are drawn from different pools (homeland, race, socioeconomic status, sexual orientation/identity, gender, etc.) and what institutions of higher education do to encourage, recruit, and support them.
The reason I’ve realized that I needed to clarify was because I stumbled across a document called Institutional Diversity in European Higher Education: Tensions and Challenges for Policy Makers by Sybille Reichert. While a very interesting read, it really focused more on the diversity of available higher education opportunities for students, which isn’t quite what I’m interested in. But what I did get from it is that there are huge differences between Swiss (and I imagine greater European) systems and US models in relation to diversity. The primary basis for this difference seems to be the fundamental difference in how the recruitment to higher ed works – in the US institutions very actively recruit students, while in Switzerland students are automatically accepted to institutions based on established standards. The very high degree of movement between areas in the US as well as the high proportion of residential universities means that students take a more active role in selecting their university. In Switzerland there seems to be a general trend of attending the university that’s closest to you while living at home – meaning that institutions don’t benefit much from advertising themselves far and wide.
The document also mentioned that:
At institutional level, there are no funding mechanisms to support student diversity, apart from support for special marketing measures to attract more women into traditionally male-dominated subjects.
This is a marked departure from the US where scholarships for students from specific backgrounds are the norm and institutions regularly support clubs and organizations oriented towards increasing their success and retention. The same feeling seems to be true at the national policy level, which in the US is chock-full of minority-specific programs, while in Switzerland there seems to only be a focus on gender equality.
However, much of this may be irrelevant if Swiss institutions already have high diversity and good retention. My next goal (and especially while traveling) will be to look into how diverse Swiss institutions are by the earlier stated categories and how aware students/faculty are of these issues.