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Search for NWT’s new university maestro is dragging on

Education Minister Caroline Cochrane speaks inside Yellowknife's Mildred Hall School in April 2018
Education Minister Caroline Cochrane speaks inside Yellowknife's Mildred Hall School in April 2018. Ollie Williams/Cabin Radio

The Northwest Territories’ education minister admits the search for someone to lead the creation of a new polytechnic university has taken longer than planned.

Responding to questions in the legislature from Yellowknife Centre MLA Julie Green, Caroline Cochrane said she believed interviews had taken place with three candidates – but acknowledged hiring for the position was behind schedule.

“I was a little bit more optimistic and hopeful that it would be in place at the beginning of the new year, forgetting that people do take Christmas holidays, and even forgetting that I had to take some vacation, myself,” said Cochrane.

“I realize that it’s a little bit more delayed, and I’m not happy about that, but … we’re in the middle of it. We have just done the interviews and we’re looking at the reference checks.”



Cochrane said there is no firm date for a successful candidate to take up the position as that person, once chosen, may have to serve an unspecified length of notice with their current employer.

“My commitment is to get the best person in the country to help move us into a polytechnic university,” she said.

The position in question carries the cumbersome title of Associate Deputy Minister of Postsecondary Education Renewal.

The job ad for the position, posted in September 2018, stated the associate deputy minister “supervises, administers and directs all aspects of the operation of Aurora College [while] overseeing the design and implementation of significant changes to both Aurora College and its broader role in the NWT post-secondary education system, including the development of an overarching vision for post-secondary education in the territory.”



That vision will include the development of a polytechnic university in line with the NWT government’s acceptance, last fall, of an independent report calling for one.

Cochrane and senior education officials have suggested the simplest route to such a university is to gradually transform Aurora College over several years until it meets the criteria.

However, much of that plan remains undetermined, including which campuses the university will use and how it will use them; how many students it will need to attract to be financially viable; whether new facilities will be built; and which courses it will offer.

The issue of campus location is of key importance to Yellowknife, Fort Smith, and Inuvik, each of which currently hosts an Aurora College campus.

Fort Smith, as the college’s headquarters, has expressed significant reservations about the prospect of potentially losing its status as the territory’s education capital to Yellowknife.

Cochrane has in the past insisted there is as yet no plan to make Yellowknife the university’s hub, adding that the university may end up without a designated central campus.

However, the new associate deputy minister – once appointed – is set to be based in Yellowknife, according to last year’s job advertisement.