Thursday May 25, 2017

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Improvement by degrees

The former head of Greenland’s university offers her view on how far higher education there has come, and where it needs to go
An institute of higher aspiration (Photo: Ilisimatusarfik)

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The author is the former rector of Ilisimatusarfik/the University of Greenland. The commentary below is her farewell address.

Eight exciting years at Ilisimatusarfik/the University of Greenland ended with great gratitude on my final day, March 31. But what kind of institution am I leaving?

One that is an important for Greenlandic society, that, with its dedicated group of employees, grows and receives more and more young people who want to pursue higher education. Several new programmes have been developed, more are on the way, and the goal is for a natural-science programme to be established in 2018, and hopefully to begin offering a law degree in public administration fairly quickly. Both programmes are now under serious planning, and I look forward to following the development of them both from the sidelines.

It is also an institution where internationalisation is paramount; we have particularly noticed a positive change among our students, who are going abroad more than previously. From having had a handful of exchange students per year, today, about 50 of our students go abroad annually.

We have placed more focus on our lecturers’ pedagogical skills, so that all must have attended and passed pedagogy and have had peer supervision. We have placed more focus on academic co-operation across different programmes, both educationally and in terms of research; this is something we allocate money for every year.

One of the things I am most proud of having been part of is the development of our PhD programme. Since the first PhD defence in 2009, Ilisimatusarfik has produced nine PhDs, and currently we have 11 PhD students. Interest in doing a PhD is increasing, and it is great for Greenland and Ilisimatusarfik in particular, because it allows an increased recruitment base for researchers and teaching positions. Our co-operation with Danish universities has been important in this context, because students are more likely to complete a joint degree.

Today, we have a good dialogue with the Self-Rule Authority towards introducing accreditation of our programmes. It is in everyone’s interest that the country’s university demonstrates how it works with quality assurance. In my opinion, we should demand quality-assurance guidelines from all of our educational institutions.

New goals for the future?
One of the major challenges that the university must do something about is our high drop-out rate: as a rule, nearly half of our students can be expected to drop out each year. We have raised the admission requirements on some of the programmes. Other things we can do are improve incoming students’ language skills and better inform them about the programmes we offer. One of the final things I will do as rector is propose the establishment of a language centre that will support students’ language learning and involve lecturers in the increased attention we are paying to language skills.

At the Institute of Learning they are working to revise the teacher-training programme. The programme needs considerable improvement if it is to contribute to improving elementary-school education. In Norway, as in Finland, they will introduce a five-year teacher-training programme that ends with a master’s degree. Greenland should consider the same, because there is a lot that must be done!

If Ilisimatusarfik is to deliver the knowledge that society expects of us, the university needs to strengthen its research so that it relies even more on external funding and external co-operation. It is now the new administration’s task to ensure that this happens. Research at Ilisimatusarfik must – and will – improve, but this is a job that requires new visions, new methods and new strengths. I think that partnership is the keyword in this context. Ilisimatusarfik must play its cards right if it is to live up to its ambition of establishing an Arctic research hub with other universities.

This summer, our journalism programme will hold a course in research communication for our students and for journalists in the field. Communicating the results of our research to society at large is one of the things Ilisimatusarfik can do better. We need more communication in the Greenlandic language, and we should not just settle with communicating our latest research. Our institution has a vast pool of learning that we should pass on to our citizens. It is important that the university also sees itself in that role, and not only as an institution for students.

SEE RELATED: For Greenland research institutes, together is better

Everyone wants more innovation in Greenland, and I am pleased that we are gradually moving to establish measures and partnerships with other universities to prepare and educate our students and employees to be more innovative. As society changes, the university’s role also changes. Expectations of us grow.

The country is facing multiple and complex challenges, which means that we as students and faculty at the university must ask ourselves some questions: Do we focus enough on our opportunities? Can we find new ways to create knowledge and spur development in a country where we need knowledge, growth and long-term solutions? I am looking to seeing whether we can make a contribution to business-development and in the way our society is built up.

Ilisimatusarfik and Greenland have so much to be proud of. Every day, all our employees work hard, and they are all to be credited for the steady increase in the number of graduates. Thank you for making a difference for Greenland every day. Thank you to all those who support the university, and to all those who co-operate with us at home and abroad, and who can see how important it is to have an institution of knowledge and of teaching that forms the foundation for research that benefits our society.

In closing, I would like to express my gratitude to all the people I have met: gratitude for the experience and the knowledge I leave with, and not least gratitude that I can entrust the administration to a talented and committed group of people both at board level and in the daily management.

The author became the permanent secretary of Greenland’s health ministry on April 1.