GNWT proposes four specialist areas for new polytechnic

Last modified: September 3, 2020 at 9:40am

The NWT’s new polytechnic university should focus on skilled trades, mining, environmental protection, northern health and education, and business management, a new paper argues.

The territorial government, which drafted the paper, is using it to ask for feedback from residents before September 28. It’s the first time the government has formally outlined what the polytechnic might do.

Under the current plan, the existing Aurora College will become a polytechnic university in the next few years.


A proposal to create a polytechnic was developed after a 2018 report listed significant failings at Aurora College, though those findings were disputed by some current and former staff.

The man appointed to lead the polytechnic’s creation, Tom Weegar, was fired in January and replaced by Andy Bevan.

Weegar is currently en-route from Yellowknife to Doha, Qatar, where he has now been hired to lead a similar project.

This week, the GNWT released a discussion paper setting out possible areas of study on which the new university could focus.

The paper carefully frames the suggested topics as “initial areas of specialization,” meaning they could change based on feedback or be added to later.


The four proposed topics are:

Skilled trades and technology. The GNWT says this includes construction, transportation, manufacturing, and the service industry, but should also encompass “a particular focus on the application of new and emerging technology.” The training would “target areas where there is a high potential for employment inside the NWT.”

Mineral resource and environmental management. The GNWT argues mining and the environment are “interconnected themes that can be addressed through a common set of teaching and research programs.”

Northern health, education, and community services. The focus of training in these fields will be ensuring students have the tools “to help and support others in northern communities,” the GNWT says, including “an understanding of the people, cultures, and land.”


Business and leadership. The GNWT stresses this training will equip students both for private enterprise and roles within the federal, territorial, Indigenous, and community governments.

No details for campuses

The GNWT believes those areas would ready students for careers as, for example, carpenters, electricians, plumbers, welders, biologists, heavy equipment operators, nurses, social workers, teachers, and in a range of white-collar office jobs leading up to management level.

Education minister RJ Simpson was not available to be interviewed about the discussion paper, his staff said.

In the paper, which does not carry a named author, the GNWT says a clear focus on a limited number of study areas has been lacking at Aurora College.

“In the past, striving to be ‘everything to everybody’ has limited Aurora College’s potential,” the paper states.

“The polytechnic university must focus its planning and resources around clearly understood areas of specialization.

“Institutions that try to be everything to everybody do not excel in any particular area. This can result in a declining reputation and loss of confidence among prospective students, partners, stakeholders, and funders.”

The paper argues the four areas chosen will strengthen the polytechnic’s sense of identity. The GNWT envisages a future in which students worldwide are “increasingly drawn to the unique learning opportunities as [the polytechnic] becomes recognized as ‘the place to be’ for defined areas of specialization.”

The discussion paper does not assign any of the proposed study areas to a specific campus, maintaining the GNWT’s reluctance to make any commitments to campuses in Fort Smith, Yellowknife, and Inuvik.

According to the GNWT, identifying which subjects the polytechnic will teach is key to finishing phase one of Aurora College’s transformation.

Phase two will see Aurora College’s organizational structure change and new legislation introduced to complete its development into a polytechnic. Phase three will be the polytechnic’s formal launch. There are no specific dates tied to any of the phases.