PEI

UPEI launches aboriginal student study

The University of Prince Edward Island is leading a study on what universities can do to help native students have a better campus experience.

The University of Prince Edward Island is leading a study on what universities can do to help native students have a better campus experience.

Adjusting to university life is difficult for many new students. Coming from a rural life and a traditional culture to a city filled with strangers can mean a more difficult adjustment for aboriginal students.

"There's just a lot of ignorance around what aboriginal people are, and what they do and their cultures and traditions," Julie Bull, a master's student in aboriginal studies at UPEI, told CBC News on Tuesday.

So the university, in partnership with the Association of Atlantic Universities, has embarked on a year-long study, funded with $55,000 from the Canadian Council for Learning.

As a native student, Bull has directly experienced the difficulties that can come from that lack of understanding.

"I think that those concerns about cultural sensitivity will come out in the research."

As part of the study, called Retention of Aboriginal Students in Atlantic Canada's Post-secondary Institutions: An Analysis of the Supports available to Aboriginal Students, researchers will ask students about challenges they've faced in university and what kinds of new support systems and programs they'd like to see.

Vianne Timmons, vice-president of academic development at UPEI, is leading the project. She said university attendance for aboriginal students is below the national average, and that needs to be improved.

A June 2006 report prepared for the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada says that eight per cent of Canada's aboriginal population over the age of 25 had a university degree in 2001, compared to 15 per cent among the rest of the Canadian population.

"We want these young men and women to be successful," said Timmons.

"For our aboriginal communities, they need well-educated young men and women to help lead them in the next decade."

Once completed, the report will be presented to the presidents of all universities in Atlantic Canada. Timmons hopes it will lead to new programs and services that will make aboriginal students feel more accepted.