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This article was published 23/3/2012 (3063 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Four former midwifery students are suing the University College of the North for failing to provide them with an education.
They also allege they were not allowed to continue their studies after the university relocated its midwifery degree program to Winnipeg in 2010.
In a statement of claim in Winnipeg Court of Queen's Bench, the four said UCN failed to hire sufficient instructors and provide adequate supervision and neglected to ensure students attended the required number of births to complete their courses.
Audrey Fourre, one of the plaintiffs, was among five students based in Norway House when the program was inaugurated in 2006. Three other students were based in The Pas.
Four years later, she had spent $71,000 on her education but still lacked several credits for her degree, mainly because of a lack of clinical opportunities. Most women in Norway House travel to Winnipeg to give birth.
Fourre, a former school teacher, said she completed all the courses that were available and was a good student.
"I was on the (UCN) president's list."
But when the university relocated the program to Winnipeg in 2010, she and the other plaintiffs were told they would not be able to transfer. She said they were told there were spots for only two aboriginal students and those positions had been filled.
"It just seemed like the program was swept under the carpet. UCN failed us," Fourre said in an interview.
The three other plaintiffs in the suit, filed last spring, are Norah Keeper, Nicole McKinnon and Kim Young.
In a statement of defence, the university stated "it was a term of the contracts" between the students and UCN that "the courses scheduled to be delivered in each term of the program were subject to change" without notice. It also noted it provided financial assistance to the students to accommodate changes in the location of certain portions of the program (when there were too few clinical placement opportunities in the two northern locations).
When UCN relocated its midwifery program to Winnipeg nearly two years ago, it was at the point of collapse. Since then, the program has hired a new director, and several senior university officials connected to it have moved on.
Although it will have operated for six years by fall, the program has yet to see a student graduate. That's unlikely to occur until 2013, said Dr. Linda Ross, the program director since August. She said this week she had no comment on the lawsuit, which predates her arrival.
Ross's main job is to stabilize the program and see its 13 students graduate over the next couple of years. One current student is from the original northern program. A second northern student will rejoin the program in May.
Ross said UCN may not be in a position to take in new midwifery students until as late as 2014, in large part because of a shortage of midwives able to help students with practicums.
"We need to be cognizant of the profession's ability to supervise our students," Ross said, noting the province has only 44 midwives and not all are practising. (The College of Manitoba Midwives estimates there is a demand for 200 midwives in the province.)
Ross said the program will move to a permanent home in the old Greyhound bus terminal, now part of the University of Winnipeg campus, in June. The program will continue to be offered by UCN.
Conservative health critic Myrna Driedger said the NDP has botched midwife training at a time when the province is desperately short of midwives. Before her party lost power in 1999, the Tories had planned to locate the program in Winnipeg. She said the NDP should have known the program would face problems operating in the north.
"They didn't have enough midwives to mentor students and they didn't have enough births in the north to meet the criteria for student midwives," she said.
Advanced Education Minister Erin Selby said the government remains committed to the UCN program.
She acknowledged the difficulties in establishing the program in the north. She also noted about half the program's original students had dropped out because of family issues.
"We knew going into it that there were going to be challenges (locating a program in the north), that it would take some time and there might be some bumps along the road. But the commitment is there and we're going to see some successes coming out of it in the next couple of years," Selby said.
Inaugural year, with five students based in Norway House and three in The Pas
Number of students who have graduated from the four-year program so far
The year it expects its first student to graduate
Number of students currently enrolled in the program, including nine in Year 2 and four in years 3 and 4
The next year in which new students are likely to be allowed to enter the program after a few years of consolidation
Larry Kusch didn’t know what he wanted to do with his life until he attended a high school newspaper editor’s workshop in Regina in the summer of 1969 and listened to a university student speak glowingly about the journalism program at Carleton University in Ottawa.
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