Magazine article The Times Higher Education Supplement : THE

A Northern Star That Shines Light on Arctic Issues and Opportunities

Magazine article The Times Higher Education Supplement : THE

A Northern Star That Shines Light on Arctic Issues and Opportunities

Article excerpt

Director of Arctic University tells Chris Havergal there's nothing insular about Norwegian institution

At the world's northernmost university, staff and students are preparing for the Arctic winter: two months when the sun never rises above the horizon and the temperature rarely climbs above freezing.

For Lasse Lønnum (pictured inset), director of UiT The Arctic University of Norway in Tromsø, this brings practical concerns: offering support to students who may struggle to adjust to the harsh environment, and switching on the specialist lighting that substitutes for sunlight in accommodation blocks.

"We spend a lot of money on electricity," he quipped.

This isn't the only adaptation that the university has to make to its environment, with its main campus sitting 190 miles inside the Arctic Circle. Every summer, there are two months of continuous sunlight, and blackout blinds are needed in dormitories to allow students to sleep.

The region's geography is a challenge, too. The university has three further main campuses, in Alta, Narvik and Harstad, with six others spread across northern Norway - 200 miles (320km) separate the most northerly and southerly sites. It also has observatories in locations as far-flung as the Svalbard archipelago, midway between mainland Norway and the North Pole, where temperatures average between -12°C and -16°C in winter.

But remoteness also brings clean air, beautiful nature and a chance to glimpse the Northern Lights, meaning that Tromsø's location is as much a help as it is a hindrance when it comes to attracting staff and students, Mr Lønnum argued. One in 10 of the university's students is international - there are learners from South America and Africa - while about 80 nations are represented among the institution's combined staff and student body.

"You get used to the all-day sun and the dark period: it's manageable," Mr Lønnum said. "It's the wilderness experience, and you can experience that on all of our campuses.

"If you are a big city, comfortable student, you won't choose us. But I think the students who haven't been in Tromsø before say that they are surprised at how nice it is to be a student at one of our campuses."

For Mr Lønnum, "location, location, location" is key to the identity of the university, which is Norway's third-largest. …

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