Nunavut Sivuniksavut looks forward to biggest-ever intake of Inuit students
“It’s a big step”
Staff at Nunavut Sivuniksavut have shuttered their Ottawa office for the summer but when they reopen their doors in September 2012, they will be greeting the largest intake of students ever, and with the training institute’s largest ever budget.
Morley Hanson has worked for the institute for 25 years and is currently coordinator there. He said despite a higher than average number of drop-outs last term, it was an exciting first year in the school’s new two-storey renovated space in Ottawa and staff and board members anticipate further program expansion over the coming years.
“It’s a big step to try to take something and double it,” Hanson said, referring to both the new space and the number of students in the program.
NS plans to take in 37 first-year students in September and separate them randomly into two cohorts like last year.
They are also expecting a dozen or so second-year students who will continue studying at NS while adding Carleton University courses in political science, research methodology and northern public administration.
The year-two program, which was added eight years ago, is still evolving, Hanson said, and is only offered when there is interest from first year students in returning.
Second-year students help to inspire the wide-eyed freshmen by showing them the challenging transition to university is not only possible, but fulfilling.
The school is hoping to hire two new staff in the coming year and will make an effort, in future, to attract Inuit from outside Nunavut, especially Greenland and Labrador.
The NS budget, which has hovered around $1 million the last few years — up from $350,000 in the late 1990s — will reach $1.2 million in 2012-13.
The bulk of their funding comes from Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada with smaller annual amounts from Nunavut Tunngavik Inc., Kakivak Association, Kivalliq Partners and the Kitikmeot Economic Development Commission. Last year, the Nunavut government also contributed to the program.
Thirty first-year students enrolled last year. But 12 didn’t complete the program, all for personal and family reasons—not academic—Hanson said.
That was unusual. The school’s average retention rate hovers around 80 or 85 per cent, he said.
Nunavut Sivuniksavut has graduated more than 350 Nunavummuit since its inception 28 years ago.
Not only do staff strive to instill Inuit pride in students through cultural and academic instruction, they also hope to bridge the gap between northern high school and southern post-secondary education, the latter of which can seem remote and intimidating to Inuit from small towns.
“This is a real turning point for them. It’s highly stressful in one way but if that stress is managed, it’s a stimulating stress. It’s an invigorating stress,” Hanson said.
“The workload for students is one that is more than they’ve ever been expected to do. Last year was the first time some of them got angry with us. They said, ‘It’s too hard, It’s too much.’
“We said, ‘Would you rather we be honest with you and say this is where you are, this is what you have to do, here’s what it takes or would you rather we deceive you and tell you all is well, when it’s not?’ They struggle through the first bits and over time, in their own way, they rise to it.”
The gulf between northern and southern education standards and expectations, unfortunately, hasn’t changed much over the years, Hanson said, but other things have.
Students are younger now, aged 17 to 21, generally, and are much more savvy about southern culture. They all have smart phones and iPads, he said, so they can call and Skype their families back home whenever they want, which helps alleviate perennial homesickness.
The program continues to suffer from a gender imbalance — the majority of students over the past decade, have been female — but Hanson said that’s a complex issue facing universities across the country.
For whatever reason — because they don’t graduate from high school or because they get jobs right after graduation and see no reason to attend NS — it’s been difficult to attract male Inuit students of late, Hanson said.
Next year, however, 12 young men are registered for the first year and NS staff are thrilled that the number far exceeds the usual four or five.
Another clear improvement this year was the make-up of the school’s board of directors. With two recent additions, the eight-member board is now made up of five former students, two parents of former students and a final member pulled each year from the first-year group.
A 2009 survey of Nunavut Sivuniksavut alumni showed some interesting results. Of the 143 who responded:
• 73 per cent were employed
• 11 per cent were in school or training
• 8 per cent were out of the workforce
• 8 per cent were looking for work
Of those employed, here is where they worked:
• 39 per cent for the GN
• 15 per cent for Inuit organizations
• 13 per cent for the federal government
• 12 per cent for an Inuit-owned business
• 9 per cent for other business
• 7 per cent for hamlets
• 5 per cent for a non-profit organization
Most respondents, a full 80 per cent, worked in Nunavut and their primary residence was also Nunavut (86 per cent), with 60 per cent choosing to reside in their home community.
And many have gone on to further schooling. Fort-two per cent said they attended college after NS and 15 per cent attended university.