The territorial government says it has begun a “cross-Canada” search for someone to transform the NWT’s post-secondary education.

The search was first announced by Education Minister Caroline Cochrane in May, as she responded to the findings of an independent report into the governance and operation of Aurora College.

That report recommended the college, which is the territory’s main provider of higher education, be replaced by a Yellowknife-based polytechnic university by 2024.

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The town of Fort Smith, currently home to Aurora College’s headquarters, has reacted with anger to what it considers a flawed report – pointing to the damaging potential economic consequences of lost jobs and students.

A new post-secondary leader will be expected “to develop a vision for post-secondary education in the NWT and a plan for the future of Aurora College,” the territory said in a news release on Friday.

The position’s formal title, a mouthful, will be Associate Deputy Minister of Postsecondary Education Renewal.

The full job ad for the position states 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.”

In confirming the search for that leader had begun – and appearing to choose language carefully, given the now-contentious nature of the NWT’s post-secondary reform – neither the news release nor the job posting mention the word ‘university’.

Both did, however, confirm the position will be based in Yellowknife. “You’ll find all the amenities of a big city, without the traffic,” the territory’s job posting exclaims.

‘Exciting first step’

The territorial government says it will provide a formal response to the report’s recommendations in the fall – which would not give a newly appointed leader much time to analyze the issues or make their own recommendations beforehand.

The territory is not currently committed to following through on the recommendation to create a polytechnic university, though city councillors in Yellowknife have already warmly embraced the concept.

In June, when discussing the kind of leader required, Cochrane appeared intent on finding someone prepared to do the networking and fundraising necessary for a thriving university.

“We are looking for the best. We are looking for a different leader, someone who has the knowledge and ability to run an accredited university,” she told Cabin Radio at the time.

Friday’s announcement appeared to slightly shift the emphasis toward someone who can first devise an exceptional plan.

“While the GNWT has not yet finalized its response to the recent review of Aurora College, we recognize that recruiting a senior manager with extensive post-secondary experience will help us develop our plans,” said Cochrane in the news release.

“The search for an Associate Deputy Minister is an exciting first step in developing a made-in-the-north vision for post-secondary education and a plan for Aurora College that lines up with that vision.”

Recruitment firm Boyden Canada has been appointed to handle the task of finding someone appropriate. The territory expects the search to take several months.