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UBC breaks record for aboriginal graduates

For the second year in a row, the highest number of aboriginal graduates ever will be crossing the stage to get their diplomas from the University of British Columbia during spring convocation.

One hundred and fifty-five aboriginal students graduated this academic year from 13 of the university's 14 faculties, an increase of 25 per cent over last year's numbers, which also set a record. Just under one-third of those students, 46, will be celebrating tomorrow at UBC's First Nations House of Learning Long House graduation ceremony.

"That one's the biggest (Long House graduation)," said Rick Ouellet, student and community development officer for the First Nations House of Learning. "So our hall will be overflowing."

Ouellet credits the increase in graduates to three things: increased understanding of and attention to aboriginal students in the university's admission, recruitment, and retention; more students than ever coming to university directly from high school; and, thanks to the availability of Internet, the increasing ability to find work in their home communities.

"I think it's just a generation that's bouncing back, that's how I would look at it. We have amazing young kids," Ouellet told The Tyee.

With the exception of pharmaceutical sciences, there are graduates this year from every faculty, including 10 from the faculty of medicine and 18 from law, as well as many from education, applied sciences, and engineering. Ouellet says there are currently aboriginal students studying pharmacy and he hopes next year graduates will come from all UBC faculties.

But he warns against viewing this record number as an achievement. There is still a lot of work to do.

"I think the tide has turned, and we hope it's going there, but I don't want to overstate it because if you think about the number of students at UBC and the number of aboriginal students, it's still one and a half per cent and should be closer to five per cent," he said, citing the population of aboriginal people in British Columbia.

"We need to increase our population four or five fold to be where we should be in the population."

Katie Hyslop reports on education and youth issues for The Tyee Solutions Society. Follow her on Twitter.

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