Aurora College’s transformation into polytechnic university in jeopardy due to funding concerns, says MLA

The plan to turn Aurora College into a polytechnic university is in jeopardy due to funding challenges, according to Frame Lake MLA Julian Morse.

“On May 16, the standing committee on economic development and environment received a presentation from Aurora College leadership on the status of transition of the college to a polytechnic university,” Morse told the legislative assembly on May 23. “I was encouraged to hear from the president and board chair that they are committed to seeing the transition through, however I am disappointed to note that they also shared that they are off track from the established timeline, and are not expected to be able to deliver the NWT a renewed polytechnic university in May, 2025 as planned.

“They also shared that the project has been underfunded and is not receiving the required support to achieve transition goals. I find this incredibly concerning.”

The goal of turning Aurora College into a polytechnic university is “to increase access to quality post-secondary education opportunities for Northerners and to foster growth of research that is beneficial to our communities and people,” according to the Department of Education, Culture and Employment’s (ECE) official website.

The project began in 2018, and has been broken down into 80 smaller tasks. 68 of those tasks have been completed, seven are in progress, and five are not yet underway. The tasks yet to be started include establishing a 5-year academic and 5-year strategic plan for the polytechnic university, as well as establishing an academic senate.

When questioned by Morse about the status of the college’s transformation, ECE Minister Caitlin Cleveland acknowledge that there have been some hurdles in the process, but noted that the College has been receiving funding to advance the project.

“Through CIRNAC (Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Canada), the college did receive $8 million,” she said. “In addition to that, the GNWT has also invested $1.04 million in transformation to Aurora College on an annual basis.”

Morse then called upon Cleveland to push for a new mandate on the transformation of the college, and asked how ECE is “going to ensure milestones are being hit in that mandate.”

Cleveland assured that she intends on “working with the existing board of governors on the strategic mandate document.”

“The existing [mandate] expires in July, so shortly, I will be issuing a letter calling on the board of governors to work together and get the next one done,” she said. “This is a very exciting project, so why would we not want to throw our weight behind it and get it done?”

She concluded by pledging to meet with the college’s board of governors to review their priorities, which she claimed did not include help with the transformation project when they last spoke.

“I can make a commitment to the member to follow up with the chair of the board of governors, for sure,” she said. “When I previously met with the chair of the board of governors and asked what their priorities were, they identified their priority as housing, not for assistance for transformation.

“I think that it’s important that we align our information and make sure everyone is supported to move forward.”

Tom Taylor, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, NWT News/North