10/17/2011 04:37 EDT | Updated 12/17/2011 05:12 EST

Arctic Fighter Jets? Yes! Universities? No.


When it comes to the North our government likes to be tough. We will gladly spend $9 billion on F-35 fighter jets, ostensibly to help patrol our Arctic airspace and keep it Russian-free. We will get verklempt with Cold War-esque patriotism watching a cherub-faced Stephen Harper bomb around on an ATV in Tuktoyaktuk.

What we will not do, however, is spend real money on higher education for people in the North. For instance, this week, the Canadian government quietly slashed funding for the University of the Arctic from about $710,000 to a miniscule $150,000.

First, let me be clear. This is probably a good thing. The University of the Arctic is the unloved, virtual stand-in for the university most northerners, especially Aboriginal people, really want. A bricks-and-mortar institution.

But many now want to know where those savings are going to be reinvested in the North.

James Stauch, with the Walter and Duncan Gordon Foundation -- a group pushing for a university north of 60 degrees and commissioning reports that show 'security' for northerners isn't about fighter jets but rather good schools and decent hospitals -- says without better education infrastructure, "everything is hitting a wall on every other issue, whether it be the mining industry, Northern governments, co-management boards, or those pushing for social change."

The unfortunate reality is that indigenous Canadians have the prospect of asecond-class education, especially if they choose to study close to their cultural and social safety-nets like other non-Aboriginal students in Canada.

The same holds true in the North. But up there, staying close to home isn't an option. High school students in Nunavut feel "ripped off" because their poor high school educations don't allow them into post-secondary schools in the south.

And if a college diploma isn't what they're after in Nunavut, well, too bad. Canada is the only circumpolar country on Earth without a university north of the Arctic circle. Even Greenland has us beat on that one.

Each year that passes without a university in the territories, the country's least educated and most government-dependent population is further neglected. So too is a society that needs the critical voice of a university.

Who has been educated in the North to deal with the offshore drilling planned off the coast of the Yukon? Or who in Nunavut, the territory recently compared to a failed state for its social problems by the Globe and Mail, has access to a university education in their own region to make some positive change?

The North is doing its part. A few passionate, forward-thinking people have created Dechinta Bush University located near Yellowknife with indigenous knowledge at its core and university credits on offer. Imagine that. Dechinta was cool enough for Will and Kate to visit on their cross-Canada wedding trip. They tanned a moosehide. There is Piqqusilirivvik in Nunavut, where Inuit can learn in their own language in culture. And each territory has a college offering a few university degrees.

Of course, there are also 50 real, brick-and-mortar universities in the circumpolar world. Not one of them is Canadian.