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Icy league education

Nordic universities agree Arctic partnership

Administrators at the universities in Luleå, Oulu, Rovaniemi and Tromsø hope that collaborating will help them attract not only the brightest students but also the best companies

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On paper, the universities in Luleå, Oulu, Rovaniemi and Tromsø, are a diverse lot: Luleå is a technology institute, Rovaniemi focuses heavily on biology and social sciences. Tromsø, it seems, does it all, listing climate, health and democratisation as just a few of its most important fields.

On a map, there is a lot less that separates the four institutions. That combination, believe administrators at the four schools, is precisely what it will take to help them stand out in an increasingly competitive academic environment.

Under the terms of an agreement (see the full text below), signed Thursday in Oulu, the four universities will begin pooling their competencies to establish joint programmes and academic networks, as well as to make it possible for students to take courses at another of the participating universities.

“We all specialise in certain areas. Putting them all on the table means we collectively can offer opportunities that we can’t individually,” says Matti Sarén, vice rector of co-operation affairs at Oulun Yliopisto/the University of Oulu.

SEE RELATED: Internationalised students

Adding a multinational dimension to the academic programmes offered by the universities, he believes, will make them more attractive to scholars. In return, increasing the profile of the universities is hoped to benefit the region as a whole.

“The focus in the start is on the academic aspect – education and research,” Mr Sarén says. “But eventually it should result in the establishment of an environment that businesses will be attracted to.”

Work done at the four universities has already led to the creation of companies working in areas like construction and consulting. Should the area develop a reputation as a hub for research in Arctic issues, the universities believe it could see the establishment of firms involved in healthcare, mining and energy issues or other fields.

Such efforts support a larger strategy by the cities where the universities are hosted to improve regional co-operation and to develop a “Arctic European brand” that will make it easier to market the region to firms and potential employees, according to Markku Heikkilä, a spokesperson for Lapin Yliopisto/the University of Lapland, in Rovaniemi.

SEE RELATED: Research centre reinforces China’s Arctic presence

Political and economic interest in the effort will go a long way towards maintaining its momentum, but it is important to keep a sense of perspectie about interest in Arctic studies, says Gunvor Marie Kirkelund who co-ordinates a cold-climate engineering programme involving courses at technical institutes in Denmark, Norway and Finland.

Currently in its first semester, Ms Kirkelund's programme has seven students enrolled, a number she considers a success.

“You need to keep in mind that we’re still talking about a highly specialised area of study,” she says.

Another lesson Ms Kirkelund has learned: making sure the academic aspect has priority.

“Students need to have good idea about what their job options are after they graduate. That’s why we decided to call our programme ‘cold-climate engineering’, not ‘Arctic engineering’.”

Call it what you want, it is an icy-league education all the same.

Joint Arctic Agenda

Luleå University of Technology

UiT The Arctic University of Norway

University of Oulu

University of Lapland

Cooperating and sharing resources has been essential for survival since the first people settled in the Arctic. Similarly, our universities have a long history of collaborating within the framework of bilateral agreements.

In times of change and increasing globalization the rest of the world is showing growing interest in the Arctic and its resources. By joining forces within the framework of the Joint Arctic Agenda our universities will form an alliance that creates synergy that is needed in order to make our voice heard in a global context, and which will provide unique opportunities and added value for our students and faculty, as well as for our stakeholders and for the region as a whole.

Each of our universities has unique strengths and areas of expertise that we will bring to the table in the Joint Arctic Agenda;  

The University of Oulu spearheads the following focus areas: sustainability through materials and systems, molecular and environmental basis for lifelong health, digital solutions in sensing and interactions, earth and near-space system and environmental change, understanding humans in change.

The University of Lapland, in line with its vision, will create, and be recognised for, an international profile as an Arctic and Northern science and art university. The University’s strategic profile is research on change in the Arctic and the North. The strategic focus areas of the university are sustainable development; law and justice; northern well-being, education and work; responsible tourism; and culture-centred service design.

Luleå University of Technology has a vision to contribute to a sustainable development and focuses on natural resources in the arctic region in areas such as mining and renewable energy, on research for a cold climate in e.g. construction, infrastructure and transportation, and on solutions for sparsely populated areas such as distance spanning solutions and health care.

UiT The Arctic University of Norway has as its overarching ambition to contribute to the overall development of the High North. We do this by engaging in research and education in a broad range of fields, but with a particular focus on Energy, climate, society and environment; Technology; Health, welfare and quality of life; Community development and democratisation; and Sustainable use of resources. Being located well above the Arctic Circle, our priorities often take on a Northern perspective, and as a consequence, we are Norway's largest university in Polar research.

All of our universities also recognize the shared responsibility that we have in promoting a development which safeguards Sami language, culture and quality of life. Research and education to ensure this will be a priority for us in the Joint Arctic Agenda.

Our ambition for the Joint Arctic Agenda is that it will increase the attractiveness of our universities and make our voices heard both nationally and internationally. We seek to accomplish this by building a common message and identity, and by delivering excellence in research, education and outreach. By pooling our resources, we will strengthen all our universities, and we will be more attractive to external partners.

When moving the Joint Arctic Agenda from the concept stage to actual, concrete collaboration, we will stimulate bottom-up driven collaboration in education, research and innovation in key areas that are of mutual interest to our universities. By building a sustainable model on these clearly defined areas of collaboration, we will seek to expand our partnership to cover new, emerging topics.

We will establish a working group with representatives from all four universities to support, coordinate and follow-up the execution of the activities that comprise the Joint Arctic Agenda. 

We, the Rectors of Luleå University of Technology, UiT The Arctic University of Norway, University of Oulu, and University of Lapland hereby state as our Joint Arctic Agenda:


We will work to develop new joint study programs based on courses and education resources from two or more of our universities.  The study programs will be established in areas that are of common interest to our universities, and where we have unique competencies. In accordance with the Bologna process, we will explore possibilities for student exchange semesters between our universities in these programs. The students participating in these joint programs and exchanges will benefit from the expertise provided by each of the universities involved, and graduate with international experience, skills and know-how suited for Arctic needs.

Research Cooperation

We will find research-based solutions to joint problems faced by our societies. There are many commonalities between Finland, Sweden and Norway, and a highly developed, well-functioning welfare state is perhaps one of the most defining characteristics. The welfare state is, however, under considerable pressure. Although a large majority of the population in the Nordic countries enjoys a high standard of living, demographic changes will pose a challenge to many local communities and regions. Even in affluent societies, there are those who experience being marginalised.

To address many of these challenges we need to come up with creative solutions in e-health and telemedicine, social work, service design and care services for the elderly, etc. We also need to develop further key industrial and economic strengths in the Scandinavian Arctic; safe, and renewable energy, extractive industries that operate in accordance with the highest environmental standards. Research on legal structures and social justice related to the economic and industrial development is also needed in this respect.

To find the good solutions in all these areas, our four universities would benefit greatly from pooling our research capacities and our research infrastructure capacities. To this end, we will stimulate cross-disciplinary, and cross-institutional research initiatives. Furthermore, we will seek to coordinate the acquisition and use of expensive research infrastructure and promote its availability internationally, in order to increase the attractiveness and competitiveness of our region. The UArctic Research Infrastructure Catalogue will be a valuable tool to facilitate this.


We will build an ”Arctic Corridor” within the framework of the Joint Arctic Agenda to better match innovations with businesses. All four universities have technology transfer offices / entrepreneurship hubs / business incubators / design centres etc. that are instrumental in bridging the gap between innovative research and the marketplace. Exchanging information on best practices will help all these units build competence, and increase their success rate.

Outreach, collaboration and capacity building

To reach the level of cross-institutional collaboration that The Joint Arctic Agenda aims for, concrete follow-up will be crucial. To this end we will take steps to facilitate meetings, conferences, workshops etc. aimed at moving the collaboration forward. In addition to dedicated meetings between our universities, follow-up within the framework of already established arenas and networks, such as the University of the Arctic, will be prioritised. Developing our collaboration within the framework of the UArctic will have the added benefit of making it relatively easy to bring in other partners, e.g. through Thematic Networks.

We will promote our common agenda to relevant stakeholders; policy makers, business actors, and the general public. To this end we will coordinate our activities on arenas where these different stakeholders meet. The Arctic Frontiers Conference in Tromsø is a prime example of such arenas. 

Finally, we will support the Arctic Europe brand, aimed at ensuring positive development in the Scandinavian Arctic in a time of keen global competition for skilled labour, business investments, innovation and growth.

Photo: Talo Talvi/Lapin Yliopisto/the University of Lapland