Yellowknife can’t afford not to build $80-million polytechnic: report

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Yellowknife could add tens of millions of dollars to its income and grow thousands of jobs if it builds a polytechnic university headquartered in the city, consultant Chris Loreto says.

Loreto, a principal with StrategyCorp, made the pitch for housing a polytechnic in Yellowknife, in a $50,000 feasibility study he presented to Yellowknife’s Mayor and council Monday.

“I don’t think you can afford not to do this. This is going to be a critical investment not just by the city but by the territory,” Loreto says.

Loreto says the university would need to be built with territorial and federal funding. Start-up costs would be around $80-million, but couldn’t elaborate on how much exactly the university would cost or how many jobs it could create.

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Obstacles include getting all levels of government on board to headquarter the polytechnic in Yellowknife, changing the Aurora College Act and finding new buildings to house programming. The city would also need to provide students supports, the report says, including daycare, mental health support and apprenticeships. The high cost of living is also a factor for students with limited budgets.

Councillor Julian Morse says the city’s job now is removing some of those barriers.

“Student housing, daycare, identifying land or infrastructure that an institution could grow in, and doing that in concert with the territorial government.”

Loreto says the polytechnic should focus on unique programming, built around the region’s natural or economic assets.

“I wouldn’t shy away from your position as a Northern city or as an Arctic territory. You actually would embrace that through your programming and try to differentiate your programming based on those attributes.”

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Attracting students from outside the North could be a solution to the NWT’s population decline and aging population, the report states. While the focus should be on Northern students and Indigenous and Francophone needs, the report recommends marketing to southern Canadian and international students.

The idea of building a polytechnic university came out of the 2018 Aurora College Foundational Review, which recommended the polytechnic should be headquartered in Yellowknife with satellite campuses in Inuvik and Fort Smith. Yellowknife accepted these findings, the GNWT has yet to adopt the Yellowknife headquarters finding. Aurora College is currently headquartered in Fort Smith.

Council will vote on whether to adopt a motion urging the GNWT to create a vision and implementation plan for a polytechnic Monday night.

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