MS & Q: Aurora College’s Performance

aurora-college-logo-cmyk-vertical-text-on-bottom-146x250Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Mr. Speaker, the Department of Education, Culture, and Employment has received virtually all of the blame from the Members of this House, and from the public, for cutting of Aurora College’s Teacher Education Program.

I too blame the Department, but not for cutting the program – that cut was Aurora College’s decision. I blame ECE for allowing the College to operate in a manner that resulted in a teacher program that the College saw fit to cut. The Teacher Education Program costs 2 – 3 times more to deliver than similar programs in the south, has a 75% dropout rate, and the costs anywhere from 250 to 750 thousand dollars for each graduate it produces. The worst part, Mr. Speaker, is that the graduates of the program, solely because of where their degrees are from, have a hard time finding teaching positions not only in the south, but within the Territory as well. These are failures of College, not the students. However, again, I put the blame on ECE for handing tens of millions of dollars over the College without the oversight to ensure that the people of the NWT get what we pay for, and that the graduates of the College get a world-class education and a degree that is respected throughout Canada.

Many of my colleagues have stressed that the decision to cut the Teach Education Program should be informed by the College’s upcoming strategic plan. There’s been strategic plans in the past, the last one was for 2006 to 2015, and arguably it left the program in worse shape. Besides, Aurora College has had 47 years to develop the Teacher Education Program. It should be the College’s crown jewel. Instead, it’s the first program that Aurora College has ever cut.

If ECE did not reduce its contribution to the College, there’s no doubt that the program would continue on. However, ECE didn’t tell the College to cut the Teacher Education Program – the College made that call on its own. Much like what government does, the College found it impossible to find any savings in what many have commented is a bloated administration, and instead chose to cut a program that they knew they were failing to deliver appropriately.

Mr. Speaker, just so there’s no confusion, I believe that we should be educating teachers in the Northwest Territories, but I believe that they should be receiving an education on par with anywhere else in Canada. So, do we continue to fund the Teacher Education Program regardless of the program’s quality or success, essentially throwing good money after bad? Demanding that the Minister reinstate funding for the program and maintain the status quo might win me political points, but it won’t do justice for the people of the Northwest Territories, and that’s my concern.

The first thing we have to do, obviously, is honour the commitment that was made to any of the students in the College’s access program who were assured that they would be able to enter the Teacher Education Program this fall, because I’m sure the College knew this cut was coming.

Second, and most importantly, we need to change the way Aurora College does business. For too long it has operated in a bubble, with this Government demanding little from it the way of financial accountability or educational outcomes. There is no need to wait for the next strategic plan to begin making changes. Strategies, action plans, strategic frameworks: these are too often excuses for inaction. I would say that the cut of the Teacher Education Program is the canary in the coal mine, but for many years, many people have been aware that changes need to be made of the state of the College. Hopefully this cut is a wakeup call that will spur the Government to begin making the foundational changes needed to give us the educational institution that the people of the Northwest Territories need and deserve. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

Questions

MR. SIMPSON: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Mr. Speaker, the Minister of Education has previously mentioned that Aurora College had a review of its programs. I assume there are outside agencies that also review these programs. I know in this House, we get to see the annual report which is tabled, as well as the public accounts. None of that really helps us hold Aurora College accountable.

I would like to know, with the reviews of the programs, what happens if the department finds that Aurora College is not living up to what they would like? Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

MR. SPEAKER: Masi. Minister of Education, Culture and Employment.

HON. ALFRED MOSES: Thank you, Mr. Speaker, and yes, we do have third-party reviews by other partner institutions that, obviously, we work with. For instance, the Bachelor of Education program is reviewed by the University of Saskatchewan. The nursing program is credited and reviewed by the Canadian Association of School and Nursing, as well as the Registered Nurses’ Association of the Northwest Territories and Nunavut. The trades program, that is reviewed under the Apprenticeships Division within our department. It is something that we always look at and look into in terms of reviewing the program, making sure that it is meeting the educational objectives, as well as making sure that students that are taking those programs have the opportunity to transfer to other institutions once they have completed, so we do outside reviews from other agencies when we are looking at these programs. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

MR. SIMPSON: The Minister mentions the Bachelor of Education program was reviewed by the University of Saskatchewan, yet we see the 75 per cent dropout rate. We hear anecdotally from former students and people in the education industry that it is hard to find jobs. What comes of these reviews? I know the college can be told to do better, but is there any real consequence to failure by the college?

HON. ALFRED MOSES: I agree with the Member that we do need to do a better job of making sure that Aurora College is accountable, not only to the department. It is public dollars that we are investing into Aurora College, so they can provide the programs as well as the services to meet the educational needs of our residents, our young adults, so that they can get into the career force and be part of society and working in their communities, hopefully.

We are working on developing an accountability framework currently with Aurora College, but we have also set up more scheduled meetings with the board of governors, as well as the president and the chair so that we can keep each other updated on work that is being done. This is the first time that the board of governors has also received mandate letters from myself to ensure that they are going on the right direction moving forward. There is a lot of work going on, and we want to make sure that any students who enter Aurora College program do, in fact, come out with the education that they need in order to be able to get a job within our communities.

MR. SIMPSON: The Minister stated that there are a lot of changes to the way that the government interacts with Aurora College. There are mandate letters for the first time, more meetings with the Board of Governors, a new accountability framework. It sounds like the department is aware that there is an issue. The problem is that government is good at taking half measures, but it is not very good at fundamental change. I think what we need here is fundamental changes to an organization that has been now entrenched in their ways after decades.

Is the Minister of the opinion that we need something beyond — not opinion. How about this: Is there a plan in the future to look at the foundation of Aurora College – the functioning of the administration, and of what we want this college to be? Is that in the works?

HON. ALFRED MOSES: I know the reduction review that we are going through with Aurora College has sparked a lot of discussion and debate right across the Northwest Territories. It sheds light on some of the concerns that the honourable Member has mentioned in terms of the foundational structure of Aurora College administration. If that is a review that the government wants to go through, that is something that we would take a look at, and see what are some of our challenges and barriers within the Aurora College system that we are having high dropout rates in these two specific programs, and that our graduation rates are pretty low and have been historically low over the last few years, and how do we adjust fixing those, and also changing the direction of Aurora College so that we are meeting and providing program services to meet the in-demand jobs that we are going to see here in the Northwest Territories.

MR. SIMPSON: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. The Minister mentioned that if that is the type of review that the government wants to go through; I will remind the Minister that he is part of the government. He is the head of the Education, Culture and Employment Department. The problem, I guess, with government, with half measures, is that you have to make decisions that are unpopular and might not get you re-elected, but you need eight years to make real change done. I will ask the Minister if he will make an unpopular decision and commit to a foundation review of Aurora College? Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

HON. ALFRED MOSES: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I do agree, we invest a lot of money in Aurora College. We’ve seen with these two programs in particular that there were some challenges. We have low graduation rates. Once again, I do want to emphasize to any of the students who might be listening who are in these programs: focus, study hard to completion and graduation, because that was one of the indicators that brought these programs forward. I will talk with the departments about that foundational review. We’ll have discussions. We’ll sit down with the chair as well as with the president and see what the next steps in moving on that foundation review can be and what it will look like. Obviously, we’re just going through that strategic planning process right now so we want to see what comes out of that first and then we can move into the next steps.