Yukon College scouted Scandinavia for university research

Yukon College spent $87,000 to send officials to institutions in Canada and Scandinavia for the purposes of gathering information about transitioning into a university.

Yukon College spent $87,000 to send officials to institutions in Canada and Scandinavia for the purposes of gathering information about transitioning into a university.

The trips happened over an 18-month period between May 2012 and November 2013, according to spokesperson Jacqueline Bedard.

About one-third of the trips were for other conferences and meetings where visits to nearby institutions could be added on, she said.

The remainder was funded within the college’s existing budget allocation and through annual funding reserved for special projects.

The Scandinavian portion of the trip, which took place in May 2013, included visits to the University of Tromso, Barents Institute, Finnmark University College, Sami University College, Umea University and Harstad University College.

It cost $40,074 to send Yukon College President Karen Barnes, a member of the board of governors, a director, a dean and a community campus employee to Norway, Sweden and Finland, according to expense claims provided by the college.

Barnes said one of the reasons they undertook the trips was to increase the number of networking opportunities with other institutions.

“We don’t get to do that very often up here,” she said.

“We wanted to get a benchmark of what’s happening in the post-secondary system today around universities. What we quickly learned is that there have been a number of institutions that have made similar transitions from college to university.”

Last year, former Education Minister Elaine Taylor announced the school would offer its first bachelor’s degree – in policy studies in indigenous governance – in 2017.

The new program is part of an effort to move Yukon College closer to being a university, a promise made by the Yukon Party leading up to the 2011 election.

In early November, Education Minister Doug Graham announced that Yukon University would be the new name for the institution once it makes the transition.

Before embarking on a journey to gather information, Barnes said she was told the Nordic institutions were excellent models.

Tromso University in Norway, for example, has taken over three institutions that were formerly university/colleges, she added.

“Their model is very much what we hope to be – that is, to keep a community focus and have a lot of vocational options available. We wanted to see how they had made it through that transition and maintained those programs.”

Harstad University College, which is about to become part of Tromso University, has a model of working with local industry that is also appealing, Barnes said.

University/colleges have mostly disappeared from the landscape of Canadian schools, Barnes said. They are college institutions that provide tertiary education, without having full or independent university status.

It was a model that was popular in the 1990s but most, if not all of them, have transitioned to universities, she added.

“We did consider it at one point but I think it would just confuse people,” Barnes said.

“It’s not on people’s radars anymore.”

Before settling on Yukon University, the school also explored a number of different names for the new institution.

University of the Yukon, University of the North, Canada’s Circumpolar University, Klondike University, North University and Canada’s University of the North were also considered at one time.

“The name Yukon University was chosen due to the currency of the Yukon, and that in a list of Canadian universities, University of Yukon didn’t stand out as well as Yukon University,” Bedard said.

“We didn’t like the use of YU, but considered that we could shorten it as others have done, like University of Victoria, to UVic. Our short version would be YukonU, keeping the territory name front and centre.”

For now, the college is preparing for an eventual visit from representatives with Universities Canada, with the hopes of becoming a member of the association.

“Membership in the association requires universities to meet strict criteria and adhere to set principles of institutional quality assurance that must be reaffirmed every five years,” according to the association’s website.

The criteria includes offering programs of undergraduate or graduate studies that lead to university degrees, having a proven record of scholarship and academic research, and operating on a not-for-profit basis.

Barnes said that visit is about 18 months away. A gap analysis has been completed to determine what remains to be done to be ready for the visit, she said.

“We’ve identified the gaps and they include writing new policy, potentially adding more resources to the library and hiring new staff,” Barnes said.

“We just have to make sure we have all our ducks lined up. If you don’t pass the visit you don’t get to do it again for three to five years.”

Barnes is scheduled to travel to Ottawa this week to meet with officials from the association to find out more about what remains to be prepared.

Contact Myles Dolphin at

myles@yukon-news.com