Institutional autonomy: principles
In fulfilling their missions, Canada’s universities serve society in many ways. Through our teaching, research and innovation, graduates of all disciplines provide the necessary human capital to enhance Canada’s prosperity through high-level employment, the transfer of knowledge and informed decision-making. Universities attract global talent and foster critical international connections to enhance Canada’s position in a highly-competitive and disrupted world. They also play a fundamental role in healthy democracies, where our graduates actively participate, provide leadership and enhance the institutions in civil society. Universities foster creativity, provide spaces for respectful and open debate, and play a leading role in advancing equity, diversity and inclusion. Also, in a time of federal and provincial fiscal restraint, Canada’s universities act as anchor institutions in the sustainable development of our communities.
As centres of free inquiry, universities have an obligation both to serve society and to safeguard and promote the independence of institutional decision-making. They have a responsibility to advocate that institutional autonomy be recognized by governments and others as a necessary condition to their proper functioning.
Institutional autonomy ensures that universities are free to pursue enquiry and disseminate knowledge based on evidence, truth and peer review. Universities must be free to pursue their own mission based on the oversight of their governance bodies to meet university community needs and local needs. To protect these and other aspects of the university mission, institutional autonomy is vital.
Autonomy also allows universities to adopt and implement changes in governance and operations that reflect the changing needs of society. Institutional autonomy comes with important responsibilities, including the responsibilities to conduct scholarship and research according to the highest possible standards of excellence for society’s benefit; to ensure high quality education; and to account publicly through boards and audits for their expenditure of funds.
Collaboration with industry is also vital to preparing today’s students for the changing global economy, building prosperity through research and innovation, saving lives through medical breakthroughs and addressing environmental challenges. Universities have guidelines and strict policies to protect the academic mission from the influence of corporate partners. These policies act to protect the university’s independence in areas including hiring decisions, course content, academic programming and research priorities.
In order to safeguard and promote institutional autonomy, Universities Canada members are firmly committed to ensuring that their governance and administrative structures appropriately reflect academic values and overall governance that is committed to public accountability and functions in an open and transparent manner and that uses the institution’s resources to advance its mission and goals.
To this end, the members of Universities Canada make an explicit public commitment to five principles. These principles acknowledge the responsibility universities have to pursue enquiry and disseminate knowledge based on evidence and truth for the benefit of all Canadians, but also underscore the obligation our members have to society to safeguard and promote independent institutional decision-making, planning and management, and that institutional autonomy be recognized by governments and others as a necessary condition to their proper functioning.
1. Universities Canada believes that the principle of institutional autonomy is essential to the fulfillment of the role of universities in the context of a democratic society.
2. The association affirms that this autonomy provides the best possible condition for the conduct of scholarship and higher education essential to a free society.
3. As centres of free inquiry, universities have an obligation to society to safeguard and promote independent institutional decision-making, planning and management, and to raise with their governance bodies the importance and value of institutional autonomy as the necessary pre-condition to proper institutional functioning.
4. Institutional autonomy includes, among others, the following powers and duties: to select and appoint administrators, faculty and staff; to select and admit and discipline students; to set and control curriculum; to establish organizational arrangements for the carrying out of academic work; to create programs and to direct resources to them; to certify completion of a program of study and grant degrees.
5. Universities Canada recognizes that the institutional autonomy held by institutions involve the following major responsibilities to society; to conduct scholarship and research according to the highest possible standards of excellence so that society may benefit; to ensure high quality education to as many academically qualified individuals as possible; and to account publicly through appropriate governance bodies and audits for their expenditure of funds.