Canada’s universities have adopted a set of principles outlining their “shared commitment” to enhancing educational opportunities for indigenous students. Universities Canada, the association representing the country’s public and private not-for-profit universities, said closing the education gap between indigenous and non-indigenous students is a long-term core priority. Fewer than 10 per cent of indigenous people in Canada have a university degree, about one third the national rate of 28 per cent.
The 13 principles of indigenous education are also being offered in the spirit of the June 2 Truth and Reconciliation Commission report, as they focus on the central role that postsecondary education must play in the reconciliation process, said the association.
“The TRC has given us much to consider. It calls for a reset of the relationship between First Nations and non-indigenous communities,” said Tim McTiernan, president of the University of Ontario Institute of Technology, in an op-ed in the Globe and Mail. “The TRC specifically calls on educational institutions to engage with indigenous communities and be leaders in reconciliation. Canada’s universities welcome the call. We’re ready to do more,” said Dr. McTiernan, who is also a member of the board of directors of Universities Canada.
Among the 13 principles announced this week is the commitment by Canada’s universities to develop more opportunities for indigenous students at every level. “That means everything from community partnerships to financial assistance, academic support and mentorship,” said Dr. McTiernan. The principles also recognize the importance of greater indigenization of the curriculum and enhanced indigenous education leadership at all levels of the university.
The release of the new principles, on June 29, coincided with the meeting of the Council of Ministers of Education, Canada in Yellowknife, where an Aboriginal Educators Symposium was being held to focus on improving Aboriginal education outcomes across Canada.
In launching the new principles, Universities Canada President Paul Davidson said education has the power to transform the futures of individuals, their families and communities. “We are pleased to launch these principles on the eve of Canada Day, which is not only a time for celebration but a time for reflecting on who we are as a country and who we want to become through meaningful reconciliation.”
Universities Canada has compiled a directory of programs and services for Aboriginal students. According to the association, universities currently offer about 350 programs and resources specifically designed for these students. They include academic courses, outreach and financial assistance, as well as programs and physical spaces where students can find counselling, support and connection to indigenous culture.