'A lot of confusion': NORTEP president critical of transition to Northlands College

Students and staff at NORTEP in La Ronge are concerned about their futures now that Northlands College has taken over.

Northern Teachers Education Program ceasing operations on July 31

Northlands College will take over northern post-secondary education services in the north this summer from NORTEP. (

Students and staff at the Northern Teachers Education Program and the Northern Professional Access College in La Ronge, Sask., are concerned about their futures now that Northlands College has taken over.

The NORTEP/NORPAC student association distributed a letter on Tuesday sharing its concerns.

It said Advanced Education Minister Bronwyn Eyre is not keeping a promise that students would "be able to finish their programs under the same terms and conditions they had when they entered."

"There's still a lot of confusion because we don't know what benefits the students are going to receive or not receive. We don't know whether they'll be accepted into the Northlands program or not," said Jennifer Malmsten, acting president of NORTEP.

The provincial government announced last month that Northlands College will be handling higher education in Saskatchewan's northern communities, taking over providing education in place of NORTEP/NORPAC.

Funding for the teacher education program and the college is scheduled to stop in July, as announced last August. NORTEP/NORPAC will no longer exist after July 31.

The student association said Northlands College's application form indicates students enrolled in NORTEP/NORPAC will have to re-apply, with no guarantee of acceptance.

Credits earned by NORTEP students should transfer into a new program, as NORTEP was fully accredited.

Northlands College will offer a bachelor of arts degree in Indigenous studies and a bachelor of education degree.

A group of NORTEP and NORPAC faculty and students rallied in front of the Saskatchewan Legislative Building last October. (Submitted by April Chiefcalf)

About 65 students could be affected by switching from NORTEP to Northlands for the fall.

But there's also concern about whether students who qualify for northern status but not treaty status will have their tuition and books covered, as they do under the current arrangement.

The students said Northlands lists tuition and books for the fall of 2017 at $6,900.

'The end of a legacy'

Malmsten said she hasn't spoken to anyone at Northlands College for three weeks.

"They could have learned a lot from hiring our faculty and staff and working alongside our administration and staff but it doesn't look like that's going to happen," Malmsten said.

Malmsten met with her faculty and staff this week to talk about the changeover.

"There was a lot of sadness, There were a few people that were crying, there were some that were angry. There was a lot of grief in the room from the students," she said.

"They saw the end of a legacy. They see the end of Indigenous education in the north as we know it."

Another concern from current students was a potential decrease in live lectures in favour of video conferencing. Malmsten shares those worries.

"We believe education is about people and learning how to deal with people and you can't deal with people if you're being taught through audio-visual conferencing."

Those concerns have been shared by staff and students as well.

"I'm really worried that we're trying to do education on the cheap in the north," said NORTEP faculty member April Chiefcalf.

"I'm terribly worried about those that may end up taking courses through video conferencing and if they are not succeeding. We're going to end up with fewer teachers in the north."

'NORTEP has put up some barriers'

Eyre says those concerns are premature. She says it is still early in the transition, and that NORTEP is to blame for some of the miscommunication.

"NORTEP has put up some barriers in terms of contact from Northlands to students and that's within their prerogative. I believe that Northlands is doing everything it can to, openly, as a college seeking TEP programming and university programming, [say], 'This is how it works and call us at anytime,'" Eyre said.

"I'm very optimistic that all of the partners are going to come together and work for the best interest of students. That's the main thing here."

Opposition MLA Ryan Meili raised the concerns of NORTEP students in the Saskatchewan legislature today.

"I'm really quite shocked that we've seen these things come out online, where we've seen the tuition listed, the new programs listed without any communication to students about what kind of supports they'll be able to expect, and whether they'll even be able to expect a position in the new arrangement."

CBC contacted Northlands College but has not yet received a comment.