First Nations university hoping to launch school of continuing education

Expansion part of eventual goal of academic autonomy

Herald file photo

First Nations University of Canada is hoping to launch a school of continuing education.

The institution has issued a request for proposals for a business plan for a school of continuing education. In the document, FNUniv says it has identified a need for programs for individuals, businesses and First Nations organizations taught from an Indigenous worldview.

It’s an area the university has “dabbled in” before, said interim president Bob Kayseas.

“It provides the connection to the community. It offers programming to community members that otherwise wouldn’t be involved in post-secondary education. It offers professional development to professionals who require upgrading,” he said.

“That type of programming is offered across many universities.”

He said FNUniv has offered an Aboriginal awareness program in the past, an Indigenous leadership program for First Nations communities and a four seasons of reconciliation program to a range of corporations.

“But the university doesn’t have a formal place for that. We don’t have a formal department, a formal unit,” Kayseas explained.

“Where we are today with reconciliation issues becoming more ingrained, and corporations saying, ‘we need to get involved in this,’ there’s an opportunity there.”

 Working with corporations hoping to provide some training on Indigenous history and reconciliation is far from the only opportunity the university has identified. They also see the school as a place for people who are required to take professional development courses as part of their job, such as Indigenous Services Canada, or people working in the courts or in social work.

It could also be used to offer capacity-building training for First Nations groups, allowing them to learn skills in nation-building or capacity development. Indigenous individuals could access such a school to develop skills in or reconnect with their culture.

“There are lots of different topics that we can engage with both (Indigenous and non-Indigenous) markets,” Kayseas said.

“We want to say, ‘how can we pursue this idea in a more formal, structured way. That’s why the business plan is being created.”

It’s not just an academic exercise either. Kayseas said he’s dedicated to bringing this school of continuing education forward sooner rather than later.

“We’re going to pursue this idea, fairly soon. Once the business plan lands I’m going to meet with the board and say, let’s take the next step,’ because it’s an opportunity we’re are already involved with, but we need to be more formally engaged and do it in a bigger, better way.”

The advantage FNUniv says they have is they come from an Indigenous viewpoint. Instead of working an Indigenous perspective into their courses, they work western training into their Indigenous perspective.

“We are an Indigenous institution. We are based on a foundation of Indigenous worldview and knowledge,” Kayseas said.

“We blend that with the foundation of Indigenous knowledge. That’s how we’ve been operating for many, many years.”

He said in courses such as accounting or social work, they teach the professional practice with the curriculum that’s required, but they base it in their traditional Indigenous foundation.

“Everything that we’re going to be offering is going to have an Indigenous focus on it,” he said.

When we’re going out to the market, to corporate Canada, we’re going to take it and as, – if you want to understand reconciliation, here’s what it is. Here’s a little bit of an intro to Indigenous issues.”

He also cited topics such as free, informed and prior consent and what the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) and how it’s applicable.

“There’s a whole area of Indigenous topics where we can create opportunities for understanding,” he said.

“A lot of that is actually just a way of saying, ‘here’s an intro, if you want to gain a more in-depth understanding, here’s an avenue you can take.’ That’s the approach we’re going to use.”

Such a school would align well with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s calls to action, while also building capacity and offering training that other organizations and governments have identified as a need in the province.

A school of continuing education would be designed to “open up new doors for students academically, as well as to reconnect with Indigenous cultures and traditions,” the document said. It would provide practical learning and development opportunities to support career development and reskilling while establishing a home for existing community-based programs and certificates in a more formal way.

“It is a natural expansion for First Nations University of Canada to establish an Indigenous continuing education centre,” the document said.

According to the tender documents, one thing the university is considering is setting the school up so that those little courses touching on single topics can be stacked up until they amount to a credit that can be put towards accreditation of some sort, if that’s what someone wants. They can also be used just to advance understanding, or learn a new skill, or work towards professional development.

A school of continuing education would be about offering those lessons in a format that’s more accessible and more useful to corporations, government and non-government bodies and individuals than an entire university program or course would be.

It’s still early, but Kayseas said it is his hope that the school of continuing education would be established across the university’s campuses, including its Prince Albert location.

“Prince Albert is important to us,” he said.

Forty-one per cent of our student body in the winter and the fall term comes from our PA. campus. It’s a growing area.”

He said it’s growing “quietly,” as the institution’s Prince Albert campus isn’t discussed in the community as much as, say, the University of Saskatchewan or Saskatchewan Polytechnic.

Still, it accounts for two-fifths of their students, with growing interest each year.

‘We’re looking at trying to find ways of growing that market,” Kayseas said.

‘Anything we do is going to include our program offering in Prince Albert.”

While the university is working towards building this school of continuing education, it’s also working towards a bigger goal.

“Ultimately, First Nations University is seeking academic autonomy, Kayseas said.

“We’ve been working towards creating understanding as to how we would achieve academic autonomy in the future. We are already developing some understanding of what that would look like.”

Legislation is already in place that would allow FNUniv to become a stand-alone, accredited institution.

“That process is there. The capacity to get to that place is not quite there yet,” Kayseas said.

“That is certainly an objective that will be pursued.”