Jane George

Kuujjuaq workshop fleshes out Canadian Arctic university concept 24 Novembre 2011

University needs walls and teachers to provide a "student experience" Jane George

KUUJJUAQ —  If you’re a high school student in Nunavut or Nunavik hoping to graduate in 2012, what are your options for post-secondary education?

Soon you’ll be able to find that out more easily, by consulting a new website listing all the post-secondary education courses and programs aimed at northern students.

Promoting current post-secondary programs is another step towards founding a university in Canada’s Arctic, one that will build on what already exists, says Thierry Rodon, a Laval university professor and instructor with Carleton University.

Rodon is leading a three-year project for the ArcticNet research network that will make recommendations on how to establish a northern university and improve Inuit access to post-secondary education.

If any consensus has emerged a year into this research project, it’s that northern students want more than a virtual university which offers online courses, like UArctic’s “university without walls.”

And they crave a “student experience,” which involves fellow students and real flesh-and-blood teachers.

“You need a person. Education is a relationship,” Rodon stated in a Nov. 23 interview.

But there’s also acknowledgement that finding millions of dollars to build a new university campus anywhere in the North will be hard to come by.

So there’s agreement that a Canadian Arctic university should draw on what’s already available in terms of program and courses. And it should start off by using facilities that already exist.

This idea resembles a proposal which has already been promoted by Yukon’s government and discussed among the three territorial colleges.

A chance to discuss the past, present and future of post-secondary Inuit education drew a dozen participants to a workshop led by Rodon Nov. 22 in Kuujjuaq.

The workshop followed another workshop held last March in Ottawa on the experience of Inuit post-seconday students and southern universities providing programs in Inuit regions.

The Kuujjuaq workshop included representatives from Nunavut Arctic College, the Kativik School Board, the Kativik Regional Government, Nunavut Sivuniksavut and the University of PEI, and Madeleine Redfern, mayor of Iqaluit.

Speaking Nov. 23 in Kuujjuaq, Redfern, a graduate of Nunavut’s Akitsiraq law program, said she supports a university — not just for northerners, but for everyone who studies the North.

This university would, she said, be “a centre of learning” for and about the North.

And its presence in the Arctic could help mute the “dislocated” reflections of many academics who study Arctic subjects but don’t spend any time there, she said.

“Imagine how it would be if Canadian studies were only offered in the States,” said Redfern, adding that more involvement from Inuit and input from Inuit knowledge would increase from having a university in the Arctic.

Redfern said she also wants to see work towards a a Canadian Arctic university involve a broader campaign to change popular northern attitudes towards education.

This would try to make staying in school and getting a university education the “social norm” — and it would involve a major effort, she said, similar to successful campaigns that encouraged many smokers to start smoking outside their homes or put on seat belts in vehicles.

Students also need to receive more support before, during and after their post-secondary studies, others suggested at the Nov. 22 workshop — a need that will be helped by a Inuit post-secondary student association proposed for Ottawa students.

The Kuujjuaq workshop discussions also raised some questions that will take time to work out.

These include the challenge of reconciling the different educational systems in Nunavut and Nunavik (which sees students graduating after the equivalent of Grade 11 in Nunavut and then going on to college programs) and the reluctance of some students to move away from their region for any study.