MUN creates Labrador campus to grant university degrees in Happy Valley-Goose Bay

Memorial University's base in the Big Land is getting a big bump, with the creation of a new, degree-granting campus in Happy Valley-Goose Bay.

School of Arctic and Sub-Arctic Studies to focus on Indigenous and Northern-led research and education

The Labrador Institute has been MUN's base in the Big Land for more than 40 years, but has not had its own programming and degree-granting capabilities. (Submitted by Jamie Jackman)

Memorial University's base in the Big Land is getting a big bump, with the creation of a new, degree-granting campus in Happy Valley-Goose Bay: the School of Arctic and Sub-Arctic Studies.

The idea has been in the works for two years, and as of Friday was made official.

"We've gotten all of the paperwork done, and now we're into the doing part of this," said MUN President Vianne Timmons.

The new campus, yet to be built, will be led by Indigenous partnerships, with a focus on Indigenous lands, waters, and cultures, while also expanding programs and resources to provide university education in Labrador. According to MUN, its goal is to become a leader in Indigenous and northern-led research, education, and public outreach in Canada.

"It really has been a labour of love and hard work, not only myself but by an incredible task force," said Ashlee Cunsolo, the director of the Labrador Institute, Memorial University's current presence in the region, which operates through offices in Happy Valley-Goose Bay and a research station in North West River.

Cunsolo said multiple organizations and people have worked toward this goal, including all the Indigenous governments in Labrador, and going forward the Nunatsiavut government, the NunatuKavut Community Council, the Innu Nation, the Town of Happy Valley-Goose Bay, and others will have input into how the campus and its programming develops.

"We can start developing our own programming, in ways that are responsive to the North," she said.

Timmons, who grew up in Labrador City, said she understands having to leave the region in order to get a degree is a significant barrier toward higher education.

"I know how tough it is for Labradorians to access post secondary education. I think this is a long overdue initiative to make sure we serve our entire province," she said.

The Labrador Institute currently shares a space with the College of the North Atlantic in Happy Valley-Goose Bay, as well as operating a research station in North West River. (Alyson Samson/CBC)

The decision to create a Labrador degree-granting campus followed a unanimous vote by the Memorial University Senate to do so in September of 2019.

Looking forward

The Labrador Institute and the new School of Arctic and Sub-Arctic Studies will co-exist, said Cunsolo, and the institute will continue is public outreach and community activities, while the campus "comes on as a strong partnership with academic programming and staff they haven't had, up to this point," she told CBC Radio's Labrador Morning.

Friday's announcement marks the first step toward making that a reality.

The new campus will focus on developing undergraduate, graduate, and post-graduate programs and recruiting faculty.

Officials are also working on creating a business case and governance structure, and seeking funding for new buildings and infrastructure.

Before that can happen, however, MUN must secure land for its new campus in Happy Valley-Goose Bay and is currently looking to do so.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

With files from Labrador Morning