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Trouble at college

Kathleen Lippa
Northern News Services

Iqaluit (Mar 14/05) - It is supposed to be one of Nunavut's shining stars: Nunavut Arctic College, the territory's only post-secondary institution offering adult basic education and literacy programs, as well as career-oriented programs and pre-trades.

But a recent external report on the college commissioned by the Department of Education paints a troubling picture of the college as an institution that lacks adequate funding, doesn't support Inuit traditional knowledge enough, and, ultimately, "has not been meeting the adult education and training needs of Nunavummiut."

  • There is staff concern about the credibility of the head office senior management team in the college.

  • Concerns about poor morale at the college were raised across the territory.

  • There is a strong perception by staff, external stakeholders and board members that the college does not have a vision or a plan to achieve one.

  • The staff feels the college has not effectively promoted or demonstrated a commitment to Inuit employment, which would mean the college fails to meet its obligations under Article 23 of the Nunavut Land Claims Agreement.

  • There have been attempts to reposition and revitalize the college. However, the results of this review indicate those efforts have not succeeded.

  • As a result of ineffective management, a lack of accountability and inadequate funding, the college has not been meeting the adult education and training needs of Nunavummiut.

  • The college saw its first-ever nurses graduate last year and will soon celebrate its first-ever graduates from the law program.

    Upon graduation students have praised their programs in the media, saying the courses gave them a new lease of life, and allowed them to stay in Nunavut.

    However, the report, titled Aaqqigiarniq (time to move forward), states the college needs to address its financial situation, the real cornerstone of any successful college.

    The college is in debt $1.6 million right now, though it has received a one-time injection of $1.3 million from the territorial government to cover the shortfall.

    But perhaps most damning is the finding that the college "does not have a vision or a plan to achieve one."

    "It's a cry for help from front-line employees," is how Iqaluit MLA Hunter Tootoo described the report. "(The students and staff) are really hoping something will be done."

    Other MLAs are also concerned.

    "It's a vital organization," said Keith Peterson MLA for Cambridge Bay in an interview after reading the report.

    "We keep talking about educating our people, and this is an institution we are touting as our own, made-in Nunavut," said Peterson. "Apparently it's weak and in jeopardy. What kind of signal are we sending to our students? Can they have any confidence in the education system NAC provides?"

    But the college's president stood behind his school.

    "The college is not weak, it's not in jeopardy," said Malcolm Clendenning, noting the college does have a plan to get out of debt by the end of the year.

    Clendenning admits some people have taken the report's findings pretty hard and are upset by them, but it's an important study that will force change.

    "Our programs are very strong. We've got excellent instructors. I can see where there were frustrations with the staff. And we're fixing that," said Clendenning.

    Ed Picco, minister of education, commissioned the report and praised it last week.

    He said he wants to have a similar report done on the Nunavut Teacher Education Program soon.

    No holding back

    During the external report, the consultant who interviewed Clendenning as well as staff and students, Michael Rudolph, told people, not to hold back. And people opened up.

    "You hear from everybody in that report," said Peterson. "Once you get it all out in the open, it certainly gives you something to work with. You only see the tip of the iceberg in most cases. I think it's better to find out this stuff now and fix it."

    Information was collected between June and August 2004 and covers the period since Nunavut was created, April 1, 1999. The report was completed Oct. 28, 2004.

    Clendenning, who has been with Nunavut Arctic College since 2002, said he has seen the college make tremendous strides.

    He points to a 50 per cent increase in enrolment since 2001.

    In 2003-04 the college had 1,191 full-time students. About 263 students took part-time credit courses and 775 students took part-time non-credit courses.

    There are campuses and learning centres in 24 of Nunavut's 26 communities.

    Funding the college is major issue.

    It gets about $23 million a year to operate. That includes money from the Government of Nunavut ($15 million), tuition, rent recovery and third party funding (roughly $6 million).

    Clendenning says the college has had an uphill battle since division from the NWT.

    "For trades training we don't have adequate facilities," said Clendenning. He added there is a huge need for adult basic education.

    But the idea of closing the college doors altogether in the wake of criticism has never come up.

    "Close your eyes for a minute and just think about what Nunavut would be like without the college," said Clendenning who pointed out that a large number of people with full-time jobs in Nunavut today are college graduates.

    "The college has made a significant contribution to Nunavut," said Clendenning, "and it will continue to do so."