Nunavut can't build its own university, but it can partner up to grant degrees

Nunavut's Education Minister announced this week the government would pursue a joint venture or partnership because it cannot meet the criteria to create a stand alone university.

Feasibility study says it would take more than 100 years to reach 500 students

'Nunavut cannot meet the criteria to establish a stand-alone university,' Education Minister Paul Quassa told the Nunavut legislature Wednesday before tabling two feasibility studies. (Kieran Oudshoorn/CBC)

Nunavut's Education Minister says the territory will look at a pursuing a partnership with a southern university rather than establishing its own university, given the results of recent feasibility studies.

"Nunavut cannot meet the criteria to establish a stand-alone university," Paul Quassa told the Nunavut legislature Wednesday before tabling the two studies.

Last fall, the government issued a request for proposals on the possibility.

Quassa says Universities Canada, the group that represents universities across Canada, has criteria that must be met in order to establish a university.

"This criteria includes providing diverse learning programs that are appropriate for Nunavummiut, sufficient student enrolment, highly qualified academic staff and access to appropriate learning resources," he said.

A major hurdle for a stand-alone Nunavut university would be reaching the required student enrolment set out by Universities Canada. It requires 500 full-time students enrolled in the year an institution applies for membership, plus 500 full-time students enrolled for the two previous years.

The phase one study found if a Nunavut university was to rely solely on students from the territory, and if there is no change in high school graduation and university participation rates over the next 10 years, it would not reach 500 full-time students until 2130.

If out-of-territory students are included, full-time enrolment would not reach 500 until 2070.

$16,600 tuition

Also, the estimated capital and operating costs for a stand-alone university are astronomical.

The phase one study found the capital cost would be $91 million to $171 million, not including building faculty housing or student residences, and it would cost between $13.1 million and $16.6 million a year to operate a 500 full-time student university.

About half of that would come from student tuition and fees.

If it cost $16.6 million a year to run the university, it would need $5 million a year in revenue from tuition, according to the report. That translates into $16,600 in annual tuition and fees for each full-time student. The current average annual tuition for a Canadian university is $6,191.

Joint venture

Quassa says the government has decided to pursue a joint venture or partnership that would partner Nunavut Arctic College with an established university.

Students would receive a Nunavut Arctic College diploma and a university degree, as many already have through joint ventures that have allowed students to earn teaching and nursing degrees in the territory. 

"By pursuing this joint venture partnership option, Nunavummiut will, in time, be able to enrol in a variety of recognized university programs that are being delivered in Nunavut," Quassa said.

Those possible programs are ones that could help meet labour market needs, as determined by KPMG.

KPMG outlined 11 possible programs, including Bachelor of Public Administration, Justice Studies, Inuit Studies, Tourism Management and Social Work.

Partner potential

In the phase two study, KPMG approached 10 universities across Canada to test interest in a potential joint venture or partnership.

KPMG selected the universities based on an existing or previous relationship with Nunavut Arctic College, geography, focus on Indigenous education, alignment of program areas and schools where vocational and higher education were delivered together.

The universities are:

  • Dalhousie University
  • University of Regina
  • University of Winnipeg
  • University of Victoria
  • University of Manitoba
  • Vancouver Island University
  • Queens University
  • Thompson Rivers University
  • First Nations University
  • McGill University