The City of Yellowknife continues to support a future polytechnic university campus being developed downtown, but some among mayor and council are concerned that the GNWT is not moving forward on the major project with enough “ambition.”
On Monday, council heard a recommendation from city administration to support its response to last year’s polytechnic university’s feasibility and benefits study. The city has maintained that having a new post-secondary institution built in Yellowknife would benefit local economic development, and, more specifically, revitalize the downtown core. The city has also stated that the university would stimulate business creation and add to the life of the city.
In January 2019, the municipality commissioned a report by StrategyCorp looking at the feasibility of a polytechnic university being located in Yellowknife. It strongly recommended that NWT capital be the central location.
During Monday’s governance and priorities committee meeting, councillors were presented a six-page document based on the city’s response which lays out how the city can further support the feasibility report’s recommendations.
Among the items in the document is are recommendations that council support a federated model of governance at the university, review bylaws to ensure a polytechnic can proceed and to work to find a location for the expanded school campus.
The response also recommends greater marketing efforts be made to recruit students to Yellowknife as a desirable place to “live, work and study.” Another focus is to provide affordable housing for students by working with developers, finding a location for student housing and identify regulatory measures to ensure city living for students can be affordable.
The city should also lobby the GNWT to ensure that programming aligns with the city’s labour market needs, according to the report.
While council and the mayor showed support for the latest response from the city, they won’t vote on it until the Oct. 13 regular council meeting.
Some were critical of the GNWT’s direction as of late.
Coun. Julian Morse, council’s representative on the city’s University Post-Secondary Advisory Committee (UPAC) said that majority view on the committee, which met as recently as last month, is that the GNWT’s “ambition has been dialed back” since the initial college foundational review was completed in 2018.
“And this is starting to look like kind of a keeping going with what they already have (for post-secondary studies), and sort of rebranding it slightly, but not necessarily,” said Morse.
He said this should be a concern because in the initial feasibility study, it found that for a polytechnic university to be successful there has to be a larger effort at attracting students from outside the NWT.
“We simply don’t produce enough graduates to support a university structure,” he said. “And I think that’s something that GNWT needs to pay very close attention to, if they want to be serious about developing into a university.”
Morse said that “refurbishments” aren’t enough for Aurora College to be transformed into a successful post-secondary model and that programming has to be competitive, given that there are other post-secondary institution options in the North already developing, namely Yukon University.
“If the people who live in this city are concerned about the future of the economy in this town, and one of the opportunities we have for diversification and for creating jobs in this community going forward is this kind of project … if this project isn’t a transformational one that has been recommended by the foundation review and by the feasibility study that the city did then it could be a missed opportunity,” Morse said.
Mayor confronts education minister in letters
Morse’s comments reiterated some of the points made in two letters that Mayor Rebecca Alty sent to Minister of Education, Culture and Employment R.J. Simpson last month.
In her more recent Sept. 25 letter, she pointed out problems with specialization in programming, noting the lack of social science degrees and advanced technology learning around things like coding, too much emphasis on technology such as machines and trades, as well as a lack of adequate consultation with NWT people who have expertise in the higher-education field.
The GNWT’s current path is one that needs to show more competitive programming to attract people to the North, Alty added.
The letter also states that the areas of specialized programming remain similar to what is already offered in Northern post-secondary institutions.
“A true Aurora College transformation will require new directions and ideas and the proposed approach is not ambitious,” Alty wrote. “It is unclear whether the polytechnic university will truly be different from the existing Aurora College. The strongest model will be one which brings institutions together, building on existing strengths and using them to our advantage.”
Alty said during Monday’s meeting that ECE is to release an implementation plan “this fall” but it is unclear when that might be.