The territorial government has revealed the future NWT polytechnic university’s areas of specialization: skilled trades and technology, earth resources and environmental management, Northern health, education and community services, and business and leadership.
Those details were contained in an implementation plan that the GWNT released Thursday to guide Aurora College’s transformation into a polytechnic university over the next six years. The 20-page document outlines how and when each stage of the transformation will take place in a three-phase process starting with the current phase of “strengthening the foundation and planning for change,” and ending with the polytechnic’s university’s launch in 2026.
Chris Joseph, director of the Aurora College transformation, told reporters Thursday that identifying the university’s areas of specialization is “at the core of an institution’s identity.”
He said the areas of specialization provide a “clear level of certainty and planning” for prospective students and faculty. Aurora College, according to Joseph, was “trying to be everything to everybody.”
The areas themselves are not programs but narrow the institution’s focus in order to create programs that address labor market demand in the territory.
The university’s stated goals are in helping to build an increasingly skilled labour force and providing opportunities for Northerners to find work in the North.
“First and foremost, the establishment of a polytechnic university is about increasing access for all Northerners to quality post-secondary education opportunities. It’s about ensuring Northerners are first in line for Northern jobs,” Joseph said, adding that the identified areas of specialization respond to NWT social and economic development priorities.
One recurring theme of the implementation plan is the idea of creating “culturally meaningful” programming.
While Joseph said it’s not for him to directly answer what culturally meaningful programs and services will look like, the institution’s transformation is focused in collaborative relationships. Those collaborations include Indigenous governments with whom they aim to “engage and discuss on an ongoing basis.”
Next on the implementation plan timeline is releasing a three-year academic plan next summer. The academic plan will eventually be shaped around the areas of specialization but is likely to be based on Aurora College’s existing programming, at least initially.
In announcing the release of the implementation plan and the university’s website launch Thursday, Joseph stressed the importance of clear communication throughout the transition process. Building a framework of what the public can expect and at which points, he said, ensures accountability and transparency.
He acknowledged that partners are “keen to see progress in announcing specifics of new programs and new buildings,” but that the process is focused on “what is needed to be successful in the long-term.”
Joseph emphasized the importance of setting attainable long-term goals, and recognizing that there “are always a limited pool of resources that needs to be used wisely.”
He added that “to realize lasting and meaningful improvements” requires transforming the “strategy, processes and culture at Aurora College.”