University of Tromsø leader: The government should let us take over UNIS


The University Centre in Svalbard is hoping to double in size during the next several years – but if the head of The University of Tromsø gets her way it’ll no longer be Svalbard’s university.

A proposed takeover of UNIS by UiT will be discussed by the Tromsø university’s board Tuesday, President Anne Husebekk told High North News. She said the proposal, if approved, would be submitted to the Norwegian government as a recommendation to be included in a revised “white paper” now being drafted that outline policy goals for the archipelago.

A merger would turn UNIS to a more university-like institution because it would then meet general examination requirements, and gain the ability to award bachelor’s and master’s degrees, plus and possibly doctoral dissertations, she told the newspaper. UNIS is currently a limited liability company owned by the Ministry of Education and Research that enrolls students through affiliations with other major Norwegian universities.

“So I’ve said that we can take a role in this,” Husebekk said. “And I’ve checked out the interest through our research and study environment. And I see that there are many areas of study with us that could be anchored at Svalbard. And as an Arctic university it has been very exciting to be inside UNIS. Many actually believe that UNIS is already part of UiT.”

UNIS Director Ole Arve Misund, who is stepping down Feb. 1, said he is open to the concept, but questions how much support there would be from the government and other institutions.

“It is very positive for UNIS if our model is changed and we become a degree-conferring institution,” he told High North News. “And should that desire be realized we can become a campus under UiT in the future.”

Mistund said opposition to the idea might be based on “old-fashioned” attitudes about UNIS and suggested UiT “is a great and vital organization, and as I see it, they will take a great responsibility in the northernmost part of the country for the future.” But “I think other universities will wake up when they get to know about this, and I’m not so sure that the government wants such a takeover.”

Among those expressing opposition is UNIS Board Chairman Berit Kjeldstad, who told Svalbardposten UiT didn’t inform her or other board members about the proposal.

“The success of UNIS until today has been that they have managed to work together with all universities on the mainland, by not giving degrees and being a corporation as it is today,” she said.