As university looms, Yellowknife and Fort Smith prepare their cases

Yellowknife and Fort Smith are working to outline the future of post-secondary education in their communities following a report’s recommendation that the NWT build a university.

The independent report, published in May, suggested Fort Smith-based Aurora College was not meeting the territory’s needs and should be replaced by a Yellowknife-based polytechnic university.

Many Fort Smith residents criticized the report’s conclusions, claiming its authors had not adequately reflected interference from the territory’s education officials, and pointing to apparent problems with its methodology – such as receiving feedback from only 15 of more than 1,000 students.


At a public meeting with education minister Caroline Cochrane, speakers in the town made it clear they would fight for Fort Smith’s position as the territory’s hub of learning.

Now, the Town of Fort Smith has established a special committee “to ensure that Fort Smith continues to be the home of post-secondary education in the NWT.”

In a news release issued on Monday by Mayor Lynn Napier-Buckley, the Town said its committee would “correct some of the mistaken and misleading findings” of the report in the shape of a formal response.

That response will also have information on the economic impacts of post-secondary education on Fort Smith, and will create an education strategy for the Town to follow.

The news release stated, in quotes attributed to the Town of Fort Smith itself: “The Town of Fort Smith fundamentally disagrees with some of the findings and recommendations of the Aurora College Foundational Review, which is based on poor methodology, flimsy statistics, and doesn’t impartially present the facts of post-secondary education in the NWT.


“The recommendation … to move the headquarters to Yellowknife appears to be pre-determined and driven by a political agenda.”

‘The leading location’

Meanwhile, the City of Yellowknife last week issued a request for proposals to conduct a feasibility study into building a university and the benefits it could bring.

Documents issued to prospective bidders show the City is prepared to spend up to $50,000 on the study. Earlier, the City published a news release welcoming the report’s findings and looking ahead to the possible construction of a university.

The bid document states the City hope to attract people from outside the NWT, adding that there will be “enormous lost opportunities” if a university is not built. Yellowknife, the document claims, offers “unique academic and research opportunities … while attracting instructors, academics and students from many places across the world, it would also provide a university experience for NWT students in the familiar, close-to-home context of Yellowknife.


“Yellowknife can provide a range of community supports and services for students that make it the leading location within the NWT for a university,” the document adds.

The City is also establishing an advisory committee of its own, to “articulate the benefits of locating a university in Yellowknife” and collaborate with other stakeholders like the territorial government.

The City hopes to have an interim report by mid-July and a report on the potential benefits of a university by September.