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Julian Morse, Crystal Fraser, and Heather Exner-Pirot joined Loren McGinnis Friday for a discussion on the future of post-secondary education in the Northwest Territories. (CBC)

It’s a question that’s been dominating conversation in the territory over the past several weeks: What is the future of post-secondary education in the Northwest Territories?

Following the release of a territorial government report that recommended replacing Aurora College with a polytechnic university in Yellowknife, reaction has been swift and mixed. While some have lauded the direction, residents of Fort Smith have raised concerns about the impact the relocation the college’s headquarters would have on their community. Frustrated Fort Smith residents tell minister Aurora College should stay in community

On CBC’s Trailbreaker Friday morning, host Loren McGinnis hosted a roundtable discussion on the topic, taking listener questions and comments along with Yellowknife city councillor Julian Morse, Northern Nursing Education Network coordinator Heather Exner-Pirot, and Gwich’in scholar Crystal Fraser.

Take a read of an excerpt of their conversation, and listen to the entire discussion below.

The following interview excerpt has been edited and condensed.

What was your gut reaction when you heard the education minister is considering a university in Yellowknife?

Crystal Fraser : I was very pleased. As a historian, I have went through the N.W.T. archives. My own thesis looks at the history of education and residential school in the Northwest Territories. And certainly, the idea of a university in the North has been talked about, actually, for a really long time.

But I suppose my first reaction would be "wow." As someone who is wrapping up my student career, my PhD, the prospect of actually being able to work at a rigorous post-secondary institution in the North is really exciting.

Julian Morse : I’ve been talking about this for quite a long time. I’ve been doing so because I see this as a gap in the economy of this city, as a gap in the services delivered in the territory as well. So, the perspective that I bring from city council is that this is something that could be an economic driver in our city.

Universities are economic drivers in many other cities, and there are universities that have been transformative in other cities transitioning out of a resource-based economy.

Heather Exner-Pirot : I hate to be the Debbie Downer here, and I want to say first of all that I’m very passionate and very interested in access to post-secondary education, but for me, the question isn’t should or shouldn’t there be a new university. It should be — what is the best way? What is the most cost-effective and most successful way to provide post-secondary education to the most communities and the most people possible?

If you look at the evidence, I don’t think a stand-alone bricks and mortar university in a territorial capital is necessarily the best route. When I read the review of Aurora College calling for a polytechnic university, I don’t see any evidence there that that is the best way. I think at this time it’s probably premature.

Listen to the full discussion below:

With files from Loren McGinnis

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