Differentiated Visions: How Ontario Universities See and Represent Their Futures


  • Michael Buzzelli The University of Western Ontario
  • Emmanuel Songsore Wilfrid Laurier University


higher education, institutions and systems, strategic planning


This paper is concerned with long term strategic planning in higher education and focuses on Ontario’s strategic mandate agreement (SMA) sector planning framework. In 2012, the province initiated its new SMA planning process by requiring all higher education institutions to propose their own strategies for their academic visions, missions, and objectives. The proposals submitted by Ontario’s universities furnish the empirical content of this paper: a historically unique, comprehensive and comparable set of documents capturing institutions’ self-understanding and plans for their respective futures. Using concepts from organizational theory, content analysis of universities’ SMA proposals reveals divergent strategies, both in terms of institutional administrative responsiveness to the SMA process as well as the academic (i.e., education and scholarship) content of the submissions. In addition, two further sub-themes are analysed: proposals for experiential learning and so-called town-gown connections. Both themes also reveal very different visions amongst institutions. In general, the proposals appear to be independent of institution type and community size/location. Setting the stage for future research, the paper concludes with policy discussion of: (i) the possibilities for institutional diversity in the context of policy discourses on institutional differentiation; (ii) implications for system planning given the structure and process of Ontario’s ongoing SMA framework.

Author Biography

Michael Buzzelli, The University of Western Ontario

Michael Buzzelli, B.A. (Hons.), M.A., Ph.D., M.Ed., Associate Professor at the University of Western Ontario.

After completing graduate work at McMaster University, I held academic appointments at UBC and Queen’s. I have been at Western since 2007. Along the way I have taught undergraduate and graduate courses and supervised students at all graduate/postdoctoral levels. In terms of scholarship and practice, I have led several national and international research projects on a range of issues and developed and supervised applied graduate policy training programmes. My current work focuses on higher education institutional and system policy and planning, including research on teaching and learning.

In addition to these rewarding experiences, I have also held visiting appointments at the Universities of Melbourne (Summer 2007), Glasgow (Summer 2008), UBC (Summer 2011) and Bologna (January – June 2016). Among the most important things I have done professionally is serve on the Board of Directors of the London and Middlesex Housing Corporation, the largest social housing provider in the London region (Member 2014-17, Chair, 2017-18). Since 2019 I have sat on the City of London’s Diversity, Inclusion and Anti-oppression Advisory Committee (DIAAC) and the London Community Foundation’s Social Finance Committee.



2022-01-27 — Updated on 2022-01-27