© Paul Nicklen/National Geographic, 2011: Creative Commons license

I’m just catching up with some of the e-learning news I missed while away in Norway two weeks ago, and ironically I just came across this article, which came out the day I was discussing possible Canada-Norwegian partnerships in online learning.

CBC News (2011) Feds cut funding to University of the Arctic, October 18

The federal government has cut three quarters of the University of the Arctic’s budget, forcing the organization to scale down its operations in Canada. The online university was created in 2001 and has more than 120 institutions across the circumpolar world, 33 of which are in Canada. It has had more than 10,000 registrations for its courses since 2002. Its mandate is to empower the residents of the Circumpolar North, by building human capital through higher education. 


It is easy to criticize the Harper government over this decision (no reasons were given), especially since the far north of Canada is desperately short of trained and educated personnel, with rapid economic expansion expected over the next 10 years.

However, there are a number of issues around Canadian participation. North is always relative. None of the world’s 50 universities located north of the 60th parallel is in Canada (although Yukon College is – just). According to the CBC News report, there have been only eight Canadian UArctic grads since the first class in 2006. There are criticisms from University of the Arctic students that courses are about the north, rather than for the north, and are offered by southern institutions too far away to appreciate the challenges and needs on the ground. In particular, education is a provincial responsibility, and neither Nunavit nor the Territories have put in any of their own money into the U of Arctic.

But the Feds cutting funding is still a short-sighted approach, given the strategic importance of the north to Canada and the need for post-secondary education access for its admittedly few and scattered residents (about 15,000, mainly Inuit, at the moment, but expected to expand rapidly over the next few years as resources are developed). What seems to be needed is a review of Canada’s post-secondary goals, roles and needs in the Arctic. Perhaps more emphasis on developing a small, on-the-ground institution north of 60 with a mandate for online learning across the vast, mainly empty Arctic region might be a better investment. Such a new institution could be a stronger Canadian partner in the Uof Arctic.But just backing out altogether from the Uof Arctic without an alternative plan seems very foolish on the Federal government’s part. Bringing some money to the table could leverage a better solution for the north. Oh, Canada.


  1. Some clarifications: There are over hundred students living in the north that have completed the Circumpolar Studies Bachelor following teaching given in the north and thousands of students living in the north take the courses as part of another study, many of them studying from home. The course content is developed by northerners, including 25% indigenous experts so it is really a unique in the north, by the north, for the north curriculum. Today students take master courses organised among UArctic members.
    I truly hope Canada find a way to strengthen its ability to deliver Northern Relevant Higher education in the north. The present colleges are a natural building block to achieve this, so is the University of the Arctic Cooperation.
    While we wait for Canada to figure out itself, UArctic members in Canada and around the Arctic will seek ways to reduce the negative impact on students. We also hope the federal government would re-establish funding for the unique north2north mobility program, which is a fantastic tool to build the future community of northern experts.
    Lars Kullerud
    President, UArctic


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