Northlands College. Photo courtesy

Emotions are running high this week for current students, faculty, and past graduates of the Northern Teacher Education Program and Northern Professional Access College programs.

This comes after the province disregarded a NORTEP Council recommendation for Gabriel Dumont Institute (GDI) to deliver their programming when the province redirects their funding in the fall, instead awarding it to Air Ronge-based Northlands College.

Individuals have spoken out against the move, as has the Prince Albert Grand Council, which issued a news release calling the move to consolidate NORTEP-NORPAC “counterproductive” to Indigenous education goals outlined in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Calls to Action.

Northlands College President Toby Greschner said he’s well aware of the public outcry accompanying the whole process.

“I think a lot of that is due to just really the lack of information that was out there, and in the absence of information people start developing information and latch onto things and take them and run with them,” he said.

Some of the public criticism is rooted in the fact that Northlands didn’t submit a full proposal to NORTEP Council when they were doing consultations with possible future NORTEP-NORPAC education carriers.  Greschner acknowledges this has likely furthered tensions after the province’s Wednesday announcement.

“It’s not that we didn’t express an interest, we just didn’t think the process as it laid out was the best for determining what should happen in the future,” he said.

Greschner said he spoke with the Council during the consultation process about “our intention and our vision of where we wanted to go with the university programming in the north. And our position was that we already partner with the University of Saskatchewan, and the University of Regina, and in effect with GDI on a lot of programs in other areas, not necessarily university. So for us to actually get into a competitive process with the people that we would have to partner with to deliver the programs didn’t seem to be in the best interest of the college.”

He made his comment on Thursday after Northlands College issued a news release that says current NORTEP-NORPAC students “will see virtually no change” when Northlands takes over their program and funding in August.

Greschner said the purpose of the release was to “calm the fears of students, especially given the spin we’re seeing in a lot of media reports and we just felt we had to put everybody at ease that this isn’t the end of the program, it isn’t the end of university programming in northern Saskatchewan. In fact, the opposite is what we envision happening here is that we’re trying to expand.”

For current students, the college says classes will be delivered in the same rooms, housing will be provided for those in need, and “we will work diligently to keep all other student supports in place,” the release said.

Advanced Education Minister Bronwyn Eyre had previously cited an issue with equality of funding for NORTEP-NORPAC students, which is higher than that of other university students in the province.

“The situation in the north is different. People have further distances to travel, and for that reason we need to fund education differently in the north,” Greschner said.

He said Northlands is willing to work with the government, corporate donors and other funding partners to “figure out a system where we can make sure that any student who wants to get an education in northern Saskatchewan shouldn’t be limited by the fact that they can’t afford to go.”

Greschner is not yet sure whether there will be job cuts to NORTEP-NORPAC faculty, or even if the NORTEP-NORPAC programming will retain its name when Northlands take over.

“Those are things the board is going to talk about but I think (NORTEP) is going to carry on, so whether there’s some brand consolidation, there’s that sort of thing going forward, those will all be things that’ll be decided in coming weeks and months,” he said.

“That name means something to northern people so we don’t want to just throw that out. That’s not what we’re deciding at all at this point.”

He said the language and culture component is one of the most important parts of NORTEP-NORPAC’s current programming “and one we’re going to work very hard to not only maintain but to grow.”

The deadline to apply for NORTEP-NORPAC’s fall semester has already come and gone, but with the recent developments Greschner said it’s possible they’ll extend the deadline “if students now have reconsidered and thought ‘okay, everything’s going to be okay.'”

He expects key upcoming programming details to be ironed out by late April and early May, after upcoming meetings with the province, NORTEP Council, the Northlands board, and with the help of an advisory committee consisting of the GDI, the U of S, and the U of R.