10 years later, Heal is looking back at UArctic's beginnings and accomplishments. His reflections, in his own words, are below:
How did I get involved with Uarctic from UK? As a student in the 1950s I worked at an upland field station where the climate is similar to southern Iceland. In the 1960s, the International Biological Programme (IBP) was established to study ‘the biological basis of productivity and human welfare’. Moor House was naturally linked with the Tundra Biome Programme, joining sites in Norway, Sweden, Finland, Russia, Canada and USA. Over the next 10 years we shared technologies, visited others sites, established common methods and compared results. We argued about where does the Arctic and tundra begin and end? What controls plant and animal productivity, carbon balance and, to a limited extent, how do these influence human welfare. These were exciting times for young ecologists. The exercise highlighted the values of shared experience, integration of information, co-operation across national boundaries, and the surprising principle of 2+2=5!
In the 1990s I retired from research and management and returned to Arctic research - with encouragement from an Alaskan that I first met and argued with during IBP! A series of European Union contracts enabled me to meet current researchers and review data from Arctic ecosystems on climate change impacts. This led to the establishment of a network of sites over the North Atlantic region, including Russia. Now joining with North America to establish a circum-Arctic network. The core of these initiatives was the IBP sites from the 1970s. Revisiting these sites now provides long-term data to test predictions of climate change impacts and monitor future responses. Once again, 2+2=5!
Through my Arctic connections, I was invited to represent UK in meetings of CAFF and AMAP and, as an ‘Observer’, I did not have the inhibitions of ‘representing’ national interests and policies. At an AMAP meeting in Holland in early 1997 I was talking, over a beer, with a Swedish colleague, Lars Eric Liljellund. As I remember it, we discussed the difficulty of establishing long-term continuity of environmental interests around the Arctic. What was needed was something that could combine the limited national resources but was not limited by national policies and attitudes. I commented that ’What we need is a University of the Arctic!’. We briefly discussed the option of combining northern Colleges and Universities. Together, they could provide various facilities and expertise which could be experienced by students (and staff) moving between countries. This would enhance understanding of the emerging dynamics of international affairs as well as the common human and environmental conditions.
Lars Eric then said, ’Wait, we must discuss this with David Stone’. David was a Canadian Senior Arctic Official (SAO), striving to generate initiatives to focus the newly established Arctic Council, Chaired by Canada. David’s reaction was swift. Give me a brief proposal for the next SAO meeting. The 3 pages that I drafted were submitted by Canada and Sweden to the SAO meeting in Kautokeino, Norway in March 1997. Encouraged by the SAOs, Canada and Finland agreed to support a small international Task Force which I Chaired. The initiative, backed by the University of Lapland and the Circumpolar Universities Association, was based in Rovaniemi, with Outi Snellman as a key driver. The Development Plan ‘Turning Concept into Reality’ was accepted by the SAOs in October 1997 and followed by the Feasibility Study.
In those early days, the responses from the Arctic nations and individual Colleges and Universities was a mixture of caution and enthusiasm. For me, two successful examples already in place, were particularly stimulating, illustrating key concepts envisaged in UArctic. First, University Courses on Svalbard (UNIS) provides an impressive informational science facility in Longyearbyen. UNIS brings students and staff together, from different countries and backgrounds, to gain experience in the High Arctic environment using modern technologies (Asgeir Brekke, 1998). Thus UNIS provides a unique facility, available to the wider Arctic community - 'a shared facility'. Second, the PhD networks in social science brings together small groups of students in a different location for two weeks each year. Coming from different countries and backgrounds they have differing views on the chosen local problems. The PhD networks incorporate the principle of 'mobility and shared experience' which create the roots for a life-time international network' (Rasmus Ole Rasmussen & Gerard Duhaime, 1998).
Remarkably, UArctic was formally launched in 2001 in Rovaniemi, only 4 years after conception. Now after 5 years it offers the Bachelor of Circumpolar Studies with courses delivered around the Arctic. For me, a key feature envisaged early in planning is firmly in place - mobility of students and staff to experience the diversity of the Arctic, often with common conditions but different solutions. Success is demonstrated by the involvement of more than 1000 students and 100 institutions. This network, rightly, is 'In the North, For the North and By the North' - but one key feature probably still needs to be strengthened, that is the involvement of the indigenous peoples. It was essential for UArctic, first and foremost, to establish its Arctic identity and governance. Now, UArctic is strong enough to invite students from the South to 'Go North'. UArctic has attracted the smaller northern institutions, giving them, their staff and students, a corporate strength, wider vision and opportunities - 'Shared Resources'. Importantly, it also gives the North a stronger voice in the corridors of power in the South - 'Shared Voices' - further examples of 2+2=5!
UArctic is a rapidly growing child of its time. Globalization, human development, sustainability and climate are demanding issues critical to the North. UArctic has a key role to play in analysis, synthesis and communication in the North - and with the South.