Dryas flowers near Tromsø, Norway. These  flowers are featured in the logo of UArctic. Credit: UArctic

UArctic and the Arctic Council at 25

By Lars Kullerud - President, University of the Arctic; Outi Snellman, Vice-President Administration at University of the Arctic; Scott Forrest, Chief Communications Officer, University of the Arctic

Around the time that we were asked to contribute to a recognition of the Arctic Council’s twenty fifth anniversary and UArctic’s role in that history, we received word that Professor O.W. Heal – Bill to all of his friends – had sadly passed away. If any single individual could be credited for hatching the original idea of the University of the Arctic, it would be Bill.

Nobody could have imagined that in the years since he first asked his colleagues from the Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Programme (AMAP) David Stone, Lars-Erik Liljelund and Lars-Otto Reiersen in Kautokeino in March 1997. “What do you think about the idea of a University of the Arctic?” that by 2021, UArctic would’ve grown into such a powerful organization with almost 200 members in nearly twenty countries, and activities in over forty Thematic Networks. We know that Bill was rightfully proud of the legacy that he inspired.

We can see how the seed of UArctic emerged from a very nascent Arctic Council, and in particular its Working Groups that date back to the establishment of the Arctic Environmental Protection Strategy – known as the Rovaniemi Process. It was only appropriate that the development of the University of the Arctic continued in the very place where the Arctic Council had its roots. Outi Snellman, then Secretary-General of the Circumpolar University Association, was contacted by Bill Heal and David Stone to conduct the initial feasibility study for such an organization and draft its initial development plans.

Although in this sense we’ve always considered the Arctic Council to be UArctic’s “mother”, our two organizations grew up alongside one another. Together with the Arctic Council and our fellow circumpolar research organizations IASC and IASSA, we have helped forge Mikhail Gorbachev’s vision from his 1987 speech in Murmansk on the Arctic as a region of peace and cooperation. International cooperation in science, knowledge-based decision-making and scientific diplomacy have been the cornerstones that have maintained strong bonds of collegiality, collaboration and friendship.

As an investment in human capacity, education is the key component in any effort to create a sustainable future for the North and the globe. Universities are drivers of new ideas and communities of knowledge, and UArctic is an expression of such a community on a regional scale. UArctic was supposed to have been impossible – some would say the same about peace. Today, most would agree on the need for both.

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