Lesa Semmler is concerned students from the communities could be left behind when Aurora College transforms to a polytechnic university.
A virtual technical briefing was held on Wednesday to discuss the future transformation plans.
This was led by Chris Joseph, the director of Aurora College’s transformation and Andy Bevan, the associate deputy minister of post-secondary education renewal and president of Aurora College.
In the presentation they stated an objective of the polytechnic would be to ensure northerners are first in line for northern jobs. But Semmler, Inuvik-Twin Lakes MLA, worries this wouldn’t be the case.
She said one of the current benefits to Aurora College is that it allows students who either struggled in or didn’t complete high school to receive higher education and the transformation would take that away.
“Our schools are not graduating the students that are ready for Polytechnic… Especially in the small communities,” she said.
Jane Weyallon Armstrong, Monfwi MLA, shared the sentiment.
“Students in the small communities or the outlying regions, they are lacking a lot of resources and they are the ones being left behind,” she said.
Bevan responded to Semmler’s question by saying the polytechnic model was chosen over a typical university because it can be easier to meet the specific needs of the North.
Joseph said work is being done in the department of Education, Culture and Employment to ensure there will be education pathways leading students from secondary school to the polytechnic university.
He added, that R.J. Simpson, ECE minister, has committed to the polytechnic university having a presence in every community.
“We see that as a critical part,” he says, adding that the option of distance education is also now more readily available.
“We have learned an awful lot through the pandemic, both good and bad on how to deliver distance programming effectively,” Bevan said.
Joseph said phase one of the transformation is complete. Some of this work involved establishing framework, expanding research facilities in Inuvik and securing $8 million in federal funding.
The transformation is now entering phase two, which will include a quality assurance review.
This will look at how the future Polytechnic University will meet national standards — the review will be carried out by the Campus Alberta Quality Council.
The presentation gave a progress report for the transformation and outlined what to expect in the years to come.
Joseph said the changes will include a new governance structure, that will involve a board of governors who will oversee a senate — which will include faculty — and an Indigenous knowledge holders council.
Few details were given on how the specific campuses in Yellowknife, Inuvik and Fort Smith will change as a result of the transformation and a budget isn’t expected until 2022.
Kevin O’Reilly, Frame Lake MLA, said he feels there needs to be a budget provided sooner. He said the territory should take advantage of the minority federal government and referenced how Yukon University has received $26 million for a new science building.
The transformation is scheduled to enter phase three in 2025 when the polytechnic university will open its doors.
A website has been established documenting the timeline of the transformation.