N.W.T. to get polytechnic university, location not determined

It appears the Northwest Territories will get a polytechnic university. The question remains, however, where this university will be located.

Territorial government's response to review of Aurora College released on Friday

The N.W.T. government held a briefing Friday on its response to the Aurora College Foundational Review. Pictured here is Chris Joseph, project lead on the review, and Andy Bevan, assistant deputy minister labour and income security for the Department of Education, Culture and Employment. (Gabriela Panza-Beltrandi/CBC)

It appears the Northwest Territories will get a polytechnic university. The question remains, however, where this university will be located.

The N.W.T. government released its response to a foundational review of Aurora College on Friday. The review was tabled in the Legislative Assembly on May 30.

It contains 67 recommendations, including the biggest — to transform Aurora College into a northern Canadian polytechnic university. That recommendation has been accepted by the government.

The other recommendations cover a range of areas for improving the college, from governance to accountability, academic program management, operations, and the recruitment and retention of students.

The government has accepted 51 of the recommendations, and partially accepted 16.

Where will the main campus go?

One of the more controversial recommendations was to relocate the main campus from Fort Smith to Yellowknife. This was partially accepted.

The territorial government has accepted a majority of the recommendations from the review. (Gabriela Panza-Beltrandi/CBC)

In its response, the N.W.T. government said it plans to continue with the "three-campus model" in Fort Smith, Yellowknife and Inuvik. The response also states the government will work to establish "areas of specialization" for each campus.

"If and where a 'main campus' will be assigned will not be decided at this time," the response reads.

Many Fort Smith residents expressed outrage at the recommendation when the Aurora College review came out, saying the loss of the headquarters would hurt the community.

"To the greatest extent possible, negative short-term social or economic impacts resulting from the transformation of Aurora College will be avoided," the government's response says, though it does not lay out how this will happen.

At a technical briefing about the possible future location of the college Friday, Chris Joseph, the project lead on the Aurora College foundational review, explained there are too many things to work out first before deciding where its headquarters will be located.

"What is the character of the university itself? What is the necessity to have different campuses with different designations," he offered as examples of what some of those questions are.

New position to drive future of college

Another recommendation was to hire a deputy minister of higher education to drive the transformation of Aurora College into a polytechnic university by 2024.

While that position does not yet exist, the government's response indicates that person will be based in Yellowknife during the "transformation period."

The future of Aurora College's social work and education programs could also be decided by the college's vice-president of education and training. The foundational review recommends that person prioritize a review of the social work diploma and bachelor of education, which the government has accepted.

The fates of these programs have been in limbo since February 2017, when then-education minister Alfred Moses announced his department was cutting the two programs. Following backlash, he backed down from that announcement and instead put the social-work program on hiatus while the college conducted a review.

The findings of that review were released earlier this month by Yellowknife-Centre MLA Julie Green, who had filed an access to information request to obtain the report.

At this point, there are no estimates on the cost of transforming Aurora College into a polytechnic university.

"More work is needed to clearly identify the capital and operational costs," the response reads.

"This work will be done following the direction of the 18th and 19th Legislative Assemblies of the Northwest Territories."


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