Canada is currently the only Arctic nation without a university in its North, that is about to change.
Although Canada does not have a university in its North, it does boast three colleges, one in each of its northern territories: Yukon College, Aurora College and Nunavut Arctic College. One of these colleges is in the process of transition into a full university. If all goes according to plan, by the Spring of 2020, Whitehorse will become the host of the first northern Canadian University: Yukon University.
Current Yukon College
Yukon College was originally created as a vocational training centre in 1963, but was granted college status in 1983 and has been teaching students from across the territory and Canada ever since. The main campus is in the territorial capital of Whitehorse with 11 campuses in various smaller communities. The transition of the college into a university has been in the works for many years. In fact, it was first placed in the strategic plan for the College in 2013 and is once again in the most recent strategic plan.
The College currently offers various tools, which focus on community in the North. This includes the Yukon Research Centre which as Lacia Kinnear, the Director of Governance and Strategic Initiatives told the High North News, "focuses on applied research in areas of mine remediation, renewable energy, climate change, and a variety of other topics. The centre is connected to Yukon communities, to identify community needs and then be able to develop research projects that are truly grounded in northern needs and northern solutions."
One of the current desires for Yukon College, what seems to help drive many of their decisions is, as Ms. Kinnear commented,"trying to train and prep a students for tomorrow's needs."
Yukon College does not only focus on building trade skills, but has been giving out various degrees for years. Andrew Richardson, the Dean of the Applied Arts Division said to the High North News that, "the College actually delivered degree programs back to the early 1990s. We delivered a Bachelor of Education and a Bachelor of Social Work degree which are both credentialed by the University of Regina."
Other Types of Learning
Yukon College has already included various types of learning into its curriculum, including online learning and various on-the-land programing. The plan is to continue using these methods to help educate students who are not able to attend classes in Whitehorse. The Yukon has various remote communities, including the fly-in village of Old Crow, making attendance difficult for many.
As for connectivity issues, Ms. Kinnear mentioned, "internet issues and connectivity is always something that people struggle with," but followed up with the fact that there has been an, "increase in the level of support and development." There was a large push for internet infrastructure, helping secure 4G in various locations in the territory.
Transition to University
The transition into a full university will still take several years and the structure of the final institution will be a hybrid model of education. Ms. Kinnear explained the term as, "something that we think is the best approach for the Yukon, what a hybrid model means for us is that it will continue to have all the college programming that we have right now - certificates, diplomas, trades, adult basic education, but also to include degree offerings through the institutions."
Where did some of the ideas about the design of the university come from? Other circumpolar nations and their educational structures. As Ms. Kinnear commented, "we did look and travel to circumpolar north to visit their institutions." However the end product is designed to not only be a university, but a place that fits the realities of its location. Ms. Kinnear said the focus was to, "do something that is uniquely relevant for the Yukon and the North, but in ways that are innovative and forward looking."
Over the next five years there are plans to create three degree programs for the university. Ms. Kinnear said that these include a Bachelor of Arts in Indigenous Governance, a Bachelor of Business Administration, and a third which is yet to be determined.
These three degrees are based on the idea that Ms.Kinnear emphasized: "We won't be a university that offers everything to everybody." She commented that there were three specific areas of focus: climate change, the society and the environment; sustainable resource development and innovation; and Indigenous self-determination and governance. She further commented that, "we recognize that those are three areas that are specifically really relevant to populations in the North." So the focus for the University and the students who will attend it will remain on these three thematic pillars.
Indigenous Governance Degree
The Bachelor of Arts in Indigenous Governance will be, as Mr. Richardson said the, "first degree we will be independently credentialing." This three-year degree will focus on a, "broad overview or introduction to a range of issues and options when it comes to Indigenous self-governance" and will be geared towards First Nations who are currently working within their own Nations or who have already completed the First Nations Governance and Public Administration diploma currently offered at Yukon College.
Mr. Richardson mentioned that the, "value, in some ways, of this degree is that students will be doing it in the midst of a living laboratory when it comes to Indigenous self-government. A lot of the history of what has been going on in the Yukon for the last 30-35 years will inform the degree even to the point of some guest speakers in their course will be ideally individuals who were part of the negotiation process in the 1980s and 1990s." There is a definite benefit to being able to study in a northern community and learning directly from those who have negotiated agreements.
Mr. Richardson commented that the new program was "developed with a partnership with Yukon First Nations, that I think, is still fairly unique when it comes to the way academic programs get developed in Canada, and I would say, outside of Canada. In that, the First Nations, through President’s Advisory Committee on First Nations Initiative, were directly involved in the curriculum development as full partners not as a body of stakeholders."
The Bachelor of Arts in Indigenous Governance is slated to start in September of 2018. The long-term hope of this degree, as Mr. Richardson emphasized, is that the students will be able to help implement the realities and terms of the land claims and self-government agreements that have been signed in the last 30-35 years in the Yukon.
What about further degrees? Well there will likely be continued growth when Yukon College becomes a University, including the potential for Masters and PhD programs. But only time will tell the feasibility of these. As Ms. Kinnear said they will, "start with the bachelors’ degrees and we will see where the future goes."
But for now, Yukon College, as Ms. Kinnear says is excited for the, "opportunity to be Canada’s first Northern university."