Innovation at Nipissing: 3 Qs with Mike DeGagné

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In September, the 10K crew went on location to the 2017 Ontario Universities’ Fair, to interview a dozen higher ed leaders about trends in innovation.

When Mike DeGagné was appointed President of Nipissing University in 2013, he became one of the first Aboriginal university leaders in the country. He had 25 years of public sector leadership experience in federal government departments and non-profits focused on Indigenous affairs, and has published and spoken internationally on Aboriginal reconciliation and healing.

In this special bonus episode, Ken asks Mike to answer 3 key questions about higher ed innovation.

Innovations at Nipissing?

Mike observes that Nipissing has long been innovative in developing flexible program delivery to meet the needs of students, from the summer Aboriginal Teachers Certification Program to one of the first Concurrent Education degrees in Canada. The majority of Nipissing’s students get experiential and work-integrated learning because so many of the programs are applied, such as Teaching, Nursing, and Social Work. Nipissing also has extensive partnerships with colleges and associations to meet learner needs.

The Decade Ahead?

Mike predicts that government and PSEs will start providing more secondary and tertiary education options in remote Aboriginal communities, and that universities will need to be more flexible in offering bridging programs to Indigenous students who have not been exposed to university-level courses in high school. He observes that northern institutions have the opportunity to partner more, and expects microcredentials and short-term programs to grow in popularity, particularly in the North. It is a critical task to help Canadians understand why Indigenous issues are important, and curricula at all levels will continue to be more nuanced and detailed in its exploration of Aboriginal history and society.

Culture of Innovation?

Mike agrees that universities are among the oldest institutions in the world, and have a deep reverence for tradition which limits their ability to be nimble, or launch new programs quickly. He believes the best way to challenge those traditions is collegiality: shared governance structures, discussions about efficiency, and market research can provide common goals for everyone on campus. But while market research may indicate demand for new programs, Mike emphasizes the need to balance student trends with traditional humanities programs that are critical for an educated populace.

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