The Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada held a day-and-a-half workshop last week for university presidents focussing on aboriginal education. This workshop was the first in a series of planned AUCC events on aboriginal access to higher education, which was identified by AUCC as one of its three main advocacy priorities this year. “All Canadians stand to benefit if Aboriginal Canadians have improved access to a university education and the tools they need to complete their studies and transition into the work force,” AUCC President Paul Davidson said recently.
I point all this out simply to underscore how tragic it is that First Nations University of Canada may soon be forced to close its doors following yesterday’s announcement by the Saskatchewan government that it is cutting funding to the institution, the country’s first and only aboriginal-run university. It seems like one step forward, two steps back for aboriginal higher education in Canada.
According to the Globe and Mail, Advanced Education Minister Rob Norris said the province had “lost confidence in the direction of the institution,” after recent allegations against its senior administration by a former financial officer. This comes in the wake of a string of problems at the Regina university mainly concerning how it is governed. The Canadian Association of University Teachers went so far as to censure the institution in December 2008 for its failure to resolve the governance issues.
But the latest accusations of financial improprieties were the “tipping point” that compelled the provincial government to withdraw $5.2 million in funding from the university as of April 1, said Mr. Norris.
I am in no position to second-guess the Saskatchewan government’s decision. It could not have been an easy decision. I know both CAUT and AUCC, which also conducted a review of First Nations University and placed it temporarily on probation, found no joy whatsoever in making these moves. AUCC lifted the university’s probationary status in April 2008.
Again according to the Globe and Mail, while the province cannot shut down the university, Saskatchewan’s actions place the school’s existence in jeopardy. The federal government is expected to contribute $7.3-million this year, but is likely to follow the province’s lead, a spokesman for the Department of Indian and Northern Affairs said last week.
If this is indeed the end, it is a very sad day for aboriginal higher education in Canada.