Interviews of UArctic Board members: Anne Husebekk

Education is crucial for a viable North, says Anne Husebekk. Read the interview which was originally published in the UArctic Shared Voices Magazine 2021.

UArctic is a key instrument in the Circumpolar North. “Being able to collaborate in research and education and having a shared goal about strengthening competence in the High North is key for the Arctic to become a sustainable and strong region in the future.”

Anne Husebekk has been a Board member of UArctic since 2018. In 2013, she was elected Rector at UiT the Arctic University of Norway. Four years later, she was re-elected. She resigns when her tenure ends later this year.

Engagement Without Tenure

Her engagement for higher education in the Arctic is fortunately not regulated by tenure. It is more of a lifestyle, as is suitable for the leader of an Arctic education institution.

“Higher education contributes to completely changing an area. Understanding and contributing into the management and governance of the Arctic provides confidence and security. Above all, it contributes to those governing on a national level. They are located further south and need to respect that people living in the High North have competences and can provide valuable insight about the region. Education is crucial for a viable North, just like we want it. The fact that the universities can work together for a goal like this is a major strength.”

The last statement from Anne Husebekk points directly to UArctic. She does wish cooperation between northern Norway’s two universities was even better, though we will leave that for now. Husebekk’s ambitions on behalf of UArctic is the focus of the digital conversation between a Rector and professor in medicine and the undersigned, a half-schooled polar hippie who has been in the audience before many of the podiums Anne Husebekk has entered throughout her nearly eight-year rectorship.

UArctic’s Ambitions

“The ambitions behind the new strategy of UArctic”, Anne Husebekk says, “is to have a stronger UArctic footprint. We will be better known, more accepted and taken seriously, in particular, by the Arctic Council. If we get more funding – and I hope we do when Norway assumes chairmanship of the Arctic Council in 2023, and through the fundraising efforts of UArctic itself – we will be able to launch joint research projects and UArctic chairs and fellows in many institutions. We could, for instance, if not exactly solve the climate issue, at least be able to produce solutions that enable us to live with the changes that will come, whatever we do. I also envision future UArctic seminars as grand and respected; a meeting place in which key societal challenges in the Arctic areas are discussed. UArctic will not take over the role of the universities in the Arctic, but will be such a strong organization, stronger than we would be without the UArctic network.”

Husebekk is also focused on the variety in which national authorities have chosen to fund UArctic. With a contribution from all member countries, the economy of UArctic and thereby its activities could be increased.

Must Matter to People

“In Norway, universities are geographically widely distributed and financed by the government. That is not the case in for instance Russia, Canada or Greenland. We can challenge this system; that would require resources that we do not possess today.”

You stress the significance of the Arctic universities meaning something to the people who live in these areas. Is there a discussion within UArctic about the distribution between social and natural science research?

“This has not been much of a discussion topic in the Board. These two disciplines go hand in hand in my view. If you look at climate changes, these can be explained through natural sciences, though they affect the people who live in the High North, and then you are in social sciences. A few Arctic universities are really strong in basic research both related to natural science, technology, humanities and social science, many more have their strength in applied or profession-based research and research based on traditions. Together, this is the most powerful research network in the North – there is huge potential.”

Education for and with Indigenous People

UArctic has high ambitions when it comes to higher education for Indigenous people, ambitions that are shared by Anne Husebekk.

“Education levels are lowest amongst Indigenous people. There is a lack of universities in sparsely populated areas, a lack of infrastructure to deliver digital education. It is also important to use traditional knowledge in a modern research context. Indigenous people also live with other northerners, and the interaction and collaboration are important. UArctic shall be important and relevant for everyone who lives in the North.”

In the new UArctic strategy, there is an emphasis on bringing northern voices out to the rest of the world. Do we have a say on a global scale, or are we considered a peculiar rural bunch conducting research for ourselves?

“I believe you may be right that many look at us who live in the North, in the Arctic, as peculiar people. I sometimes get that feeling. Only one thing can counter such a view, and that is for those who live and stay in the North to have the competence and strength needed to be influential. Traditional knowledge is challenged by climate change, and we must not avoid discussions about this and other matters which may be both hard and sensitive. The culture related to for instance reindeer herding and food traditions are closely related to northerners’ identity and should be preserved. But there is no doubt that this is affected by climate change. UArctic should have an attentive eye on traditional knowledge, and I believe we can do that. Traditional knowledge is important, because it is closely related to identity and pride.”

Change Requires Knowledge

Does cooperation through UArctic have its primary strength in climate issues?

“We cannot regard these issues independent of each other. Indigenous people will definitively be affected by climate change and will have to change some of their traditions. At the same time, Indigenous people may contribute with good advice and contribute to adaptation and also mitigation of climate change. One example is that many Indigenous communities get their electricity from diesel aggregates simply because that is the only way in which electricity can be produced. We cannot expect Indigenous communities to change this on their own. With joint effort, and with contribution from for instance Norway, we can foresee a future where the North is provided with renewable energy in all settlements. Svalbard can be used as an Arctic laboratory. So, my goal is that UArctic, in addition to spreading competence, shall also contribute to viable, resilient societies in the North with efforts to preserve the climate and the traditional knowledge on which we are based. At the same time, we provide Indigenous people and those who live in the North with an opportunity to apply modern technology when it is appropriate. But to do this requires focus and effort from societies both in the Arctic as well as in the rest of the world”, Anne Husebekk says.

[Read the article in the Shared Voices magazine here.]