NWT to receive eight institutions’ help in creating polytechnic

Tom Weegar, president of Aurora College, speaks at a conference in Inuvik in June 2019
Tom Weegar speaks at a conference in Inuvik in June 2019. Ollie Williams/Cabin Radio

The Northwest Territories has named eight Canadian institutions from which it will receive advice during the process of transforming Aurora College into a polytechnic university.

The eight other universities and colleges will sit on an “academic advisory council” designed to help guide the process of creating the NWT’s polytechnic. All eight institutions are seen to have experience in at least one area vital to Aurora College’s transformation.

RJ Simpson, the new education minister, chaired the first meeting of the advisory council by video conference on Tuesday, the territorial government said.

In a statement, Simpson said he was “excited to have eight distinguished institutions providing support and guidance as we transform Aurora College.”



Simpson added: “These institutions have faced many of the same challenges we will face in the coming years, and their expertise and experience will make a significant contribution to our transformation process.”

That process will include input from Indigenous governments, industry leaders, and others, Simpson said.

The eight institutions named to the academic advisory council are:

  • Wilfrid Laurier University, which has a field office in Yellowknife;
  • Ryerson University;
  • the University of Alberta, which last year launched a “northern strategy” and talked of developing its own Yellowknife campus;
  • the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology;
  • Saskatchewan Polytechnic;
  • Kwantlen Polytechnic University, in BC;
  • Ontario Tech University; and
  • Yukon College, seen by many in the NWT as a role model for the evolution of a college into a university.

The council is unusual in that the territory’s stated aim is to create a university capable of winning students away from the likes of the other eight. In particular, Yukon College’s achievements have recently been held up as a yardstick the territory must meet, and exceed, in order to demonstrate success.



In 2018, then-education minister Caroline Cochrane – now the premier – said she envisaged creating a “destination polytechnic university” capable of drawing students from elsewhere in Canada, not just an institution designed to serve the local population.

On Tuesday, the NWT government said it had chosen the eight council members “based on their reputations as leading academic institutions; their experience in the transformation from a college to a university or polytechnic university; inclusion of Indigenous peoples; understanding of vocational and degree programming; and/or their experience administering education and research programs in the North.”

Creating of the advisory council has been anticipated for some time. It forms a key building-block in the broader plan to create the polytechnic university.

Strategic planning is now due to take place throughout the fall and winter, with work to “design and carry out the transformation” beginning in March 2020 according to a schedule issued by the territory in July.

There remains no definitive word on how, exactly, the new institution will be designed in terms of where its campuses are located and which campus, if any, acts as a central hub.