The Department of Education is following a consultant's recommendation to partner with existing southern universities rather than pursue a university in Nunavut.
This past August, Nunavut Arctic College (NAC) issued a request for an Expression of Interest for "a partnership to improve higher education in the territory of Nunavut." Through a variety of teams and committees involving government and Nunavut Tunngavik Inc., with input from Agnico Eagle Mines Ltd., the college sifted through 11 responses.
Seven universities have been shortlisted, said Department of Education communications manager Jean-Philippe Laprise via e-mail.
The shortlist includes: McGill University, the University of Prince Edward Island, Carleton University, First Nations University, the University of Regina, Dalhousie University and Memorial University of Newfoundland and Labrador.
"A selection committee, comprised of representatives from NAC, (the Dept. of Education) and NTI, conducted interviews with the short-listed universities in Iqaluit in January 2018. The joint team was very impressed with the commitment and quality of all the institutions that presented," he said.
Rating criteria included focus on Inuit language and culture, student success and accessibility, leadership and management, and curriculum and program support.
The goal, according to the document, is to create programs that "build a good base of technical skills and theoretical knowledge that will allow students to be successful in finding employment after graduation."
Which programs are targeted is not clear – though the general intention is to build on already existing Nunavut Arctic College programs.
The document states: "Potential degree programs considered a priority include: public administration; media and communications; business administration/commerce with a focus on entrepreneurship; general science and environmental science; technology; social work; public and mental health; and other health technology programs."
It is not clear whether there will be one partnership or several.
Consultancy firm KPMG, which was hired to conduct a feasibility report, concluded in 2016 that a standalone university for Nunavut was not possible.
In early 2017, in response to Agnico Eagle's reminder that it was still ready to make good on its 2014 commitment of $5 million to build a university in Nunavut, ITK president Natan Obed said, "If we are going to be exactly like Memorial University from day one, or exactly like McGill ... then of course we wouldn't be able to build that infrastructure and have that base of population, and all those other factors that are deemed to be a necessity."
Obed insisted partnering "is a separate construct than the one we would do nationally. There are already existing relationships between southern institutions and Inuit regions. That's great. We can strengthen those ties. But just like Piqqusilirivvik, there is something very valuable and meaningful to an Inuit-led university."
Agnico Eagle's Jim Nasso has been a vocal proponent of a university in Nunavut. "That we don't have a university in Nunavut is a national shame and a travesty for a wealthy G-7 country," he said at the time.
The Department of Education's long-term plans are unknown. The department ignored a Nunavut News request for an interview with someone knowledgeable about the subject.
Premier Paul Quassa, who was education minister when the KPMG study was released, said at the time he supported Nunavut Arctic College partnering with an established university as the best plan.
Asked if this new post-secondary programming would be restricted to the campus in Iqaluit, or would include opportunities in other communities, Laprise said, "One of the primary priorities of this process is to expand the suite of post-secondary options for all Nunavummiut."
Timelines are not known for partnership programs, but Laprise said that would come when "all elements of a partnership(s) have been formalized."