A plan setting out the facilities that will form the NWT’s new polytechnic university is due by July 2022, MLAs were told on Wednesday.
Communities like Inuvik, Fort Smith, and Yellowknife are waiting to see how the transformation of Aurora College into a polytechnic will affect their existing campuses. The college has a presence in many other communities, too.
“We’re in the process of rolling out and engaging around a facilities plan,” said Andy Bevan, who is both the college’s president and the GNWT associate deputy minister tasked with transforming it into a polytechnic, at a technical briefing for MLAs.
Bevan promised “significant engagement” with everyone who has a stake in that plan. The language used by Bevan and colleagues on Wednesday spoke of enhancing and expanding facilities to meet the polytechnic’s remit, but did not provide specifics.
Bevan was responding to a question from Frame Lake MLA Kevin O’Reilly, who said he had still seen no overall budget for Aurora College’s transformation. The transformation began more than two years ago and the polytechnic is scheduled to launch in May 2025.
No budget figure was forthcoming at Wednesday’s meeting, where O’Reilly looked ahead to the territory’s ability to request federal funding.
“I don’t think we can wait till July 2022,” said the MLA, citing Ottawa’s provision of $26 million to Yukon College in 2019 for a science building intended to become the “cornerstone” of that territory’s new-look Yukon University.
“There’s a new federal government, different cabinet ministers. We need a plan to take to them now,” O’Reilly said. Bevan said he was happy with the “early commitments” the federal government had made.
No northerner left behind?
Meanwhile, MLAs urged that the polytechnic not abandon residents across the NWT who currently rely on Aurora College to upgrade their education and access the skills they need for jobs.
“Going back years … our schools are not graduating students ready for the polytechnic, especially in the regions and the small communities,” said Lesa Semmler, one of Inuvik’s two MLAs.
“Aurora College has been what has made it successful for these adult learners. How much emphasis is this transformation putting on making sure that we keep that going and strengthen it, so those students who are maybe not successful through school are able to go to adult learning and into degree programs with the polytechnic?
“If we’re going to invest all this money – which is great – how is the department focusing on the reality of NWT residents graduating and their education?”
Bevan told Semmler the polytechnic would maintain the “critical part” of Aurora College’s programming that helped residents in smaller communities develop their skills.
“It’s going to be a core part of the polytechnic and is one reason why the polytechnic model was chosen,” he said, adding the polytechnic would have “a presence” in every community.
Chris Joseph, who is directing the transformation of Aurora College, said: “There is work being done to increase the success in our JK-12 system but the post-secondary is not going to wait for those outcomes to come to fruition. We need to get people now who are ready and eager to learn.
“What we should see, and what we will see, is more than just adult basic education in communities.”
Joseph said some degree-level introductory programming may be offered in regional centres. He earlier promised: “Although this is becoming a polytechnic university, the institution is not going to leave behind northerners.”
Joseph told MLAs the transformation is now entering the second of three phases, during which change will happen on a more regular basis in preparation for 2025’s launch.
Coming legislation will move Aurora College to more of an arm’s-length position from the territorial government, he said. By the fall of 2022, Aurora College is scheduled to return to the leadership of a board of governors rather than a government-appointed individual.
Joseph said a quality assurance review to be carried out by the Campus Alberta Quality Council would form a “significant part” of the second phase.
That review will assess the institution’s ability to meet national standards and best practices and will be relied upon by future students and employers, he said, while demonstrating the polytechnic can be “effective, efficient, and sustainable.”
That review is scheduled for completion by August 2023.