University ship plotting course

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A speaker series has been launched with dates set across the Northwest Territories and already contradictory messages have been shared in public.

Perhaps the territorial government’s open panel discussions are the place to air out any and all ideas from all factions in the territory earlier rather than later, however, like with any ship set to course, some parameters could be useful.

For starters it best to keep in mind that the desire for a polytechnic university, for which many Northerners appear to agree, is rooted in the fact that the Aurora College model is not working. Last year’s foundational review tells the tale.

The report found that full-time enrolment has dropped significantly at all three college campuses, from a total of 601 students in the 2012-13 school year to 443 in 2016-17. The NWT needs teachers, nurses, social workers and tradespeople, so while there has been some discussion about the limitations of “pumping out credits,” the territory needs educated professionals and it would be better these credits are pumped out here rather than down south.

The polytechnic university must have a northern perspective, and an Indigenous perspective in particular. The territory has been forced to rely on southerners for its trained professionals, who do not necessarily know or appreciate cultural differences in the North.

In some cases, outright racism rears its ugly head as was the case in the death of Aklavik elder Hugh Papik in 2016, who was initially dismissed as being drunk while suffering a stroke at the community health care centre.

This extreme case contributed to the man’s death and largely had to do with presumptions about Indigenous lifestyles as much as medical malpractice. The polytechnic university idea is a welcome opportunity to address the overarching problem of needing to train people in the North who are committed Northerners.

At the same time it will need to adhere to credentials that are applicable elsewhere. Otherwise, students will go somewhere to obtain them.

Finally, there have been some instances where people have been divided as to where the polytechnic university should be located. Yellowknife makes the most sense and will offer the university the greatest chance for success.

Half the population lives here. Most of the services, housing, government and industry contacts are here. Extending the campus far and wide will only guarantee a fractured campus with unsustainable overhead.

Yellowknifer hopes to see continued discussion on the polytechnic university in the coming year and some serious thought about what is required for an educational institution that will help all Northerners, the economy and enhance the quality of life that exists here. Much of that will depend on some basic realities kept in mind.

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