More than 25 participants from 19 institutions met. The meeting was part of a cycle where the north2north international office meets with institutional contacts in the different regions of UArctic: the Nordic countries, Russia and North America. The meeting is an arena for people in different positions working with north2north to meet and exchange experiences with their work, it is a place to establish new partnerships and look for potential areas of cooperation. It is an opportunity to present and share opinions on operational as well as strategic issues related to northern mobility.
In his introduction, Vice-President Mobility Pål Markusson presented some of the strategic challenges, which north2north faces. The overreaching goals of north2north are to have mobility contribute to personal growth for the individual student, to help build sustainable, resilient local communities in the north, and to help develop an international orientation at the home as well as the host institutions. Crucial questions and challenges are: How will mobility affect values and preferences of young people. How can mobility help develop traditional indigenous lifestyles that are under pressure in a globalized world. How can mobility help bringing awareness of how to manage the fine-tuned ecological balances that are under threat from climate change. Mobility is obviously not the whole answer, but mobility should not undermine our efforts.
The discussions around the table focussed on how to balance an international coordinating office, and at the same time secure autonomy at the national and institutional level, without risking compromising the loyalty to these goals. It was agreed that clear criteria for selecting students that reflect the goals are important. Templates for motivation letter are to be develop to ensure that relevant information about applicants is available and right students are selected.
One organizational challenge in the north2north program is the lack of organizational memory in the member institutions. This is partly due to turn-over among those with the task responsibility, partly because those responsible on leadership level are not necessarily familiar with the workings of this program. One suggestion that was agreed on in the meeting was the need for an agreement between the member institutions and UArctic/north2north international coordination office, stating the responsibilities and obligations of the different parties. One central point here was that the member institutions need to oblige themselves to be represented at contact meetings such as this.
An important session in the meeting was to explore potential areas of cooperation between institutions. Through short presentations of each of the institutions present, followed by a “speed-dating” kind of dialogue between the participants, they were able to explore potential area of mobility cooperation. One aspect of meetings like this is to get to know the faces of the persons behind the e-mail addresses. Between the sessions, and during meals people were engaged in informal discussions related to general challenges to higher education in the circumpolar north. The Nordic and the Canadian/US systems of higher education have many similarities, but also some significant differences in their modes of operation, which also impacts mobility between these two regions, and this was a recurring theme during discussions.
The short evaluation round at the conclusion of the meeting was that this had been very useful, and that there is a need to have these kind of meetings to develop a common understanding of the goals and operational procedures of north2north. The hosts at Lakehead University, Orillia campus, with International Engagement Specialist Personnel Kati Fraser and International Student Advisor Laura Pudas and their crew, did a very good job in hosting the meeting, making us all feel very welcome, and making all necessary facilities for an efficient meeting available and enabled a true Canadian experience for all participants.