Today the territorial government releases its long-awaited “foundational” review of Aurora College – ordered after the uproar that ensued following the college’s decision to cut its social work diploma and education degree programs last year.
The programs were axed – and then restored albeit with no new enrollments – after the territorial government cut $1.89 million in funding.
Hopefully today’s report reflects that wisdom, although past experience has taught us not to be optimistic.
It does not bode well that Jane Arychuk, who has served as the college’s president for the past six years, tendered her resignation last week. You don’t need a PhD to figure out that all is not well at the institution.
If the GNWT does have the foresight, it will realize that not only does having a homegrown and educated workforce benefit the people they serve but higher education could be a substantial economic engine for the territory, and a vital avenue of opportunity for Northerners.
We realize that times are lean at the GNWT and cutting costs can be a painful and necessary task but with all the cash the territorial government is doling out to educate its citizens and employees, it’s already getting fleeced on education.
It pays for its employees to attend universities, colleges and technical institutions down south, many of whom still get their salaries while in school.
The government retains graduating students through conditional loans that must be paid back should they leave the North but think about all the cash the Department of Education, Culture and Employment (ECE) doles out to people already so they can go down south and live and learn there. The GNWT has budgeted $45 million for student grants and loans this year.
It would seem wiser to invest money to educate students here rather than offering them all kinds of incentives to leave. Why should those southern communities and institutions continue to benefit from the advantages of being college towns on our dime?
The more educated a person is, the more likely they are to find a job, according to ECE’s long-term labour market assessment, which predicts that 78 percent of Northwest Territories jobs in the next 15 years will require a post-secondary education.
By 2030, the territory will need an additional 777 elementary school and kindergarten teachers, 577 high school teachers and 158 social workers.
Consider for a moment the fact that the territorial government wants to slash funding to train teachers but has nonetheless promised to fully fund an expanded junior kindergarten program.
The whole thing smacks of incoherence.
However, there could be a silver lining to this debacle.
The University of Alberta’s School of Public Health recently announced that it has long-term plans of opening a satellite campus in Yellowknife, which might be located at the Institute for Circumpolar Health Research in Old Town.
Imagine if Yellowknife had a thriving post-secondary scene? College-bound students won’t be the only ones coming to live in a university community. There will be a lot of advantages for older folks too who are seeking intellectual stimulation, cultural amenities and sports offerings.
In any event, we need to diversify. According to the latest report from the Conference Board of Canada, when Ekati closes in 2034, 43 years of diamond mining in the Northwest Territories will come to an end. That gives us about 16 years to devise strategies to transform the territorial economy.
Investing in education is not a cure-all for the economic challenges the city will be facing in the near future but it would certainly help.