Yellowknife city council were advised Monday to pursue a polytechnic university that could cost an estimated $80 million.
A $50,000 report, commissioned to advisory firm StategyCorp in 2018, examined northern university models in Canada and around the world and found that a polytechnic university would best be suited for Yellowknife.
“In our estimation, you really have no choice but to do this. It’s essential for long-term sustainability of the city,” said Chris Loreto, principal at the Ontario-based company.
The estimated $80 million cost assumes the polytechnic university would be built “from scratch” and does not include the cost of building student housing and accommodations.
Loreto recommended a “lean start up” and developing the institution slowly over decades. He claims that if everything went well, the institution could be up in running in five years.
A polytechnic university in the NWT
In June of 2018 the territorial government released a review recommending that Aurora College, with its headquarters based in Fort Smith, transition to a polytechnic university based in Yellowknife. In October of 2018 the GNWT accepted most of the reviews recommendations, while partially accepting some, which has been met with some resistance in Fort Smith.
The location of the main campus is still undetermined and the GNWT says Aurora will maintain a “three-campus-model” in Fort Smith, Inuvik and Yellowknife.
This new report claims that placing the polytechnic university in Yellowknife makes the most sense.
“Every capital city in the country, save Yellowknife and Iqaluit, has a university based there. Yellowknife has the infrastructure to build on,” Loreto said. “It has all the modern amenities to keep people here.”
Loreto pointed out the importance of setting up an institution that is not in direct competition with Aurora College. The report recommends that already existing post secondary institutions set up a “federated model” so that they can share resources like libraries and administration while still allowing each to have specialized programming.
Loreto also pointed out that the creation of this institution in Yellowknife would likely curb the current trend of outward migration.
“It provides incentive to students to stay home instead of going south to school but it’s also important to attract students and draw talent to Yellowknife from southern Canada and internationally to help reverse the current out-migration and stabilize population over time,” Loreto said.
Obstacles moving forward
When asked about obstacles by Coun. Niels Konge, Loreto mentioned overcoming the political hurdles associated with aligning the politics of territorial communities and legislative changes from the GNWT are essential to make this project a reality.
There would also be a need for affordable student housing and obtaining both territorial and federal funding to assist the building of university infrastructure.
“I believe it is our job now to focus on how we can remove barriers to this happening,” said Coun. Julian Morse, a vocal supporter of a university in Yellowknife.
“It’s on us to try and create an atmosphere in which we can everybody working together towards a mutual goal which is really positive one which I think can be transformative for the economy of the city and for the territory.”