University of Lapland 2015-16 Academic Year Opening Speech

Mauri Ylä-Kotola

A main element of the University of Lapland’s international profile as an Arctic and Northern science and art university is our long-term engagement in the University of the Arctic – UArctic. We have been involved in – or you might even say have led – the development of UArctic since the very beginning and have hosted its International Secretariat since its launch in 2001. Today, our commitment to UArctic is as strong as ever, evidenced by the fact that we lead five Thematic Networks, send and receive many international exchange students every year through the north2north mobility program, and implement collectively developed Circumpolar Studies curriculum through our Arctic Studies Program.

In the world’s attention, the Arctic has gone from a remote frozen periphery to a very ‘hot’ topic – in more ways than one. The immense challenges and effects of climate change are being felt first and directly in the Arctic. Indeed, as the climate changes, the region in turn faces increased global pressure on its resources and access to transportation routes. All of that taken together has given rise to a popular idea – especially in the news media – that the Arctic region is set for some kind of new Cold War, with issues of sovereignty and security replacing human rights and the environment on the political agenda of the Arctic Council, and conflict replacing cooperation as the dominant framework.

But this is not a reality that we recognize in Rovaniemi – as our own research professors have demonstrated -- nor in the reality of our day-to-day work with our UArctic partners. Instead we continue to see the Circumpolar North as region of close international, institutional and personal connections. This is a message that was proposed by Mikhail Gorbachev in his 1987 Murmansk Speech (not so long ago and not so far away) and one that we and UArctic carry forward – that the Arctic shall remain a zone of peace and cooperation.

The University of the Arctic (UArctic) is a cooperative network of universities, colleges, research institutes and other organizations concerned with education and research in and about the North. UArctic builds and strengthens collective resources and collaborative infrastructure that enables member institutions to serve their constituents and their regions. Through cooperation in education, research and outreach, we enhance human capacity in the North, promote viable communities and sustainable economies, and forge global partnerships.

UArctic’s vision is “An Empowered North - With Shared Voices,” underlining that all northerners must have a say in their own future and that of the region as a whole. The mission to “Empower the people of the Circumpolar North by providing unique educational and research opportunities through collaboration within a powerful network of members” reinforces that aim.

The membership of UArctic now numbers 167 institutions of higher education, and other organizations committed to education and science cooperation in the North. The membership has also expanded into non-Arctic countries including China, Korea, Mongolia, the UK, France and Belgium.

Perhaps UArctic’s biggest strength is its ability to support and mobilize cooperation and collaboration between members in its role as a network organization. It has been a global leader in developing tools, and activities that help members to better collaborate – notably through issue-based networking in Thematic Networks and Institutes. ULapland has recognized the importance of this kind of focussed cooperation to develop joint research and education programs, as well as public outreach. Currently we lead or co-lead six networks: Arctic Extractive Industries, Arctic Law, Arctic Sustainable Arts and Design, Digital Media and Media Arts, Geopolitics and Security, Teacher Education for Social Justice and Diversity in Education and participate in seven other networks as partners.

ULapland long ago recognized the importance of student exchange to our processes of internationalization. In addition to programs like ERASMUS, NordPlus and FIRST, UArctic’s north2north program has provided a unique kind of exchange opportunity for our students. Instead of the ‘usual’ warm southern destinations that will no doubt continue to attract students from Lapland, north2north offers the possibility of visiting another ‘North’ – such as Fairbanks, Whitehorse, Arkhangelsk, or Yakutsk - a place somewhat familiar, but also with its own character and differences. ULapland is now supporting the renewal of this program, and hopes to expand exchange opportunities to shorter-term exchanges for staff and graduate students, and partnerships with industry and enterprise, as well to serve the region's indigenous peoples.