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University of Tromsø: Recruiting Down in Minnesota

November 09, 2010 By Lee Egerstrom, Economic Development Fellow

The northernmost university in the world is busy courting friends on Minnesota and North Dakota campuses to set up exchange programs for students and faculty. It’s appealing to curious minds that might want to attend graduate school above the Arctic Circle.

In October, a team of University of Tromsø faculty and administrators visited the Upper Midwest to continue dialogue about exchange programs at various campuses. The foot in the door, so to speak, is the cultural ties between Norway and the Upper Midwest, said Curt Rice, a native Minnesotan and vice rector (vice president) for research and development at Tromsø.

After that initial recruiting step, the attraction shifts to research opportunities and international research facilities in and around Tromsø. These are aided by Tromsø’s ideal location in the far north to study everything from climate change and northern lights to marine biology and telemedicine.

Location is clearly part of the attraction between the Norwegian university and this part of North America. In addition to there being a pocket of Norwegian Americans on both sides of the Red River of the North, the University of North Dakota has one of the largest, if not the nation’s largest, aviation degree programs.

Rice could only laugh at the mention. “We certainly have noticed their aviation program,” he said. Tromsø is 800 miles above the Arctic Circle. The major cities of Norway, for instance, are a good two-hour flight.

Collaboration with University of Minnesota scientists supports research programs both here and in the Arctic. Tromsø is primarily a hard science education and research institution and its science fields do track with similar programs within the University of Minnesota system.

At the same time, Rice and Britt-Vigdis Ekeli, another vice rector, said Tromsø is especially reaching out to undergraduates and faculty at Minnesota liberal arts colleges. Tromsø has working exchange relations with St. Olaf College in Northfield, Concordia College at Moorhead, Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter, and with Rice’s alma mater, Augsburg College in Minneapolis.

The team was interviewed recently after they met to discuss a similar arrangement with Macalester College administrators in St. Paul.

Liberal arts colleges offer access to outstanding students through study abroad programs, the Norwegians said. And that can lead curious minds to pursue graduate and post-graduate research and studies later.

This is by design, insisted Geir Gotaas, senior adviser to the Tromsø central administration. The university currently has about 2,500 employees and 8,600 students of whom 10 percent are international students. The goal within four years is to increase the foreign student enrollment to 15 percent.

In autumn 2010, 86 students were from Russia, 61 from Germany, 23 from Poland, 21 from the United States and the other foreign students were mostly from the Nordic countries.

Going forward
In keeping with the Minnesota 2020 mission, it is necessary here to ask how ties with the University of Tromsø might move Minnesota forward. That answer is easy: The world is changing, it is easy to see changes from Tromsø, and it will have economic and environmental impacts on what we in Minnesota do and can’t do in future years.

A Chicago Tribune story, reprinted in Monday’s St. Paul Pioneer Press, shows the danger in ignoring science.

Concerned about the anti-science stances of so many newly elected members of Congress, 700 members of the American Geophysical Union have now stepped forward to speak out as experts on global warming and man-made pollution.

Meanwhile, scientists at Tromsø continue to report on receding ice shelves in the Arctic, the shrinking environment for seals and other animals, and changes in aquatic plant and animal life.

Minnesota and states such as North Dakota that also have large remote areas continue to seek ways to deliver health care and exchange important health information to rural residents. Tromsø does this for a scattered Norwegian and Sami (Laplander) population and for ethnic Finn and Russian communities.

In resource-based Minnesota, we constantly need collaboration from earth sciences, geologists, various climate scientists and economists to plan and respond to changes.

Tromsø scientists are front and center in studying the opening of the “Northeast Passage,” the new water route created as a result of melting ice from global warming around the top of Norway and Russia. The new waterway cuts shipments from Germany to China, for instance, in half – from 40 days to 20 days. Russia recently approved a foreign-flag vessel to use its northern waters to ship iron ore from Norway to China.

While most attention to global warming is focused on hazards and health threats that have already or will occur in the future, the Northern Sea Route over Russia is actually saving an estimated $180,000 in the bulk carrier’s fuel costs and will reduce CO2 emissions.

Meanwhile, Arnfinn Sundsfjord and his colleagues on the faculty of health sciences at Tromso, continue research on genetic change occurring to life in the Arctic. High on their list of research is trying to understand why male births are declining and why male fetuses are subject to higher than normal rates of miscarriage.

There are no limits to the joint research that can be done for the betterment of students and faculty through Minnesota exchanges with this Arctic region research university. Some projects will have economic consequences, good and bad. Others will show ways to mitigate damage to the environment and future generations--all to the good.

And yes, any collaboration with Tromsø will move Minnesota forward.

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