Hosting International Networks at Universities – Reykjavik University and the Arctic Circle

In 2013, H.E. Olafur Ragnar Grimsson, Iceland’s former President as well as the Chairman and founder of the Arctic Circle, was quoted saying that he started the Arctic Circle because he felt that the Arctic needed “a platform in a Medieval square format, where anyone could show up and present and share ideas”. Today the Arctic Circle, hosted by Reykjavik University, is the largest network of international dialogue on the Arctic. I spoke with Kjartan Sigurdsson from Reykjavik University about this important network and the impact it has had on the University and its students.

What is the Arctic Circle?

The Arctic Circle is the largest network of international dialogue and cooperation on the future of the Arctic. It is an open democratic platform with participation from governments, organizations, corporations, universities, think tanks, environmental associations, indigenous communities, concerned citizens, and others interested in the development of the Arctic and its consequences for the future of the globe. It is a nonprofit and nonpartisan organization.

The annual Arctic Circle Assembly is the largest annual international gathering on the Arctic, attended by more than 2000 participants from 60 countries. The Assembly is held every October at the Harpa Conference Center and Concert Hall in Reykjavík, Iceland. It is attended by heads of states and governments, ministers, members of parliaments, officials, experts, scientists, entrepreneurs, business leaders, indigenous representatives, environmentalists, students, activists and others from the growing international community of partners and participants interested in the future of the Arctic. The partners decide themselves the agenda of such sessions as well as the speakers. The Arctic Circle thus provides a platform for them to host or participate in various meetings and sessions, announce news of their activities and achievements, network, and showcase their important work.

What role does the Arctic Circle play?

In addition to the annual Assemblies, the Arctic Circle organizes Forums on specific areas of Arctic cooperation. Forums held in Alaska and Singapore in 2015 were devoted to shipping and ports, Asian involvement in the Arctic and maritime issues. Forums held in 2016 in Nuuk, Greenland and Québec City focused on economic development for the people of the Arctic and the sustainable development of northern regions, respectively. In 2017, Forums were held in Washington, DC on the United States and Russia in the Arctic, and in Edinburgh on Scotland’s relationship with the New North. In 2018, Forums were held in the Faroe Islands on Arctic Hubs: Building dynamic economies and sustainable communities in the North, and Seoul, in the Republic of Korea on Asia Meets the Arctic: Science, Connectivity and Partnership. Last May, the Arctic Circle held a Forum in Shanghai, in The People’s Republic of China on China and the Arctic. Organizing partners for Forums include national and regional governments, research institutions, and public organizations.

How is Reykjavik University involved?

The Secretariat of the Arctic Circle has been located at Reykjavík University since 2014. The Secretariat is responsible for the planning and organization of the annual Arctic Circle Assembly held each October in Reykjavík, as well as the smaller Arctic Circle Forums held in other countries.

One of the key objectives of the Arctic Circle is to engage with university leaders, professors, and students to increase research collaboration and awareness of the Arctic and to promote interdisciplinary dialogue. Professors and university administrators attend the Assembly
to discuss the current state of Arctic research from a holistic perspective and explore opportunities for international and interdisciplinary collaboration. The Assembly also offers them
the opportunity to network with government and private sector representatives involved in Arctic research funding and logistics, as well as with local and indigenous stakeholders.

What impact has this had on the students?

Arctic Circle has successfully emphasized the role of young people in the dialogue and many participante in the Assembly. Many participants note that they have never been to an international conference on this scale with such a dominant participation of young people. Those students that have participated in the Assembly have had the opportunity to deepen their knowledge on topics of interest, gain valuable insight on various Arctic related matters and meet and network with multiple Arctic experts and other Assembly participants.

Our students have the opportunity to participate in the Assembly and work on projects that both relate to the Assembly and their course work. Reykjavík University’s School of Law offers a course on “International Law and the Arctic,” for which participation in the Assembly is a course requirement. The University of Iceland has a special Arctic Circle course where students work on their Arctic related projects and attend the Assembly as part of their research for the course.

Does this impact extend beyond Iceland?

Every year the Arctic Circle sees an increase in participation from the Icelandic universities as well as from various international universities. Last year Harvard University used the Assembly as something of a training ground where 15 students presented their ideas for a better Arctic. Various Arctic universities have also used the Assembly booth system where universities can set up a booth for the purpose of presenting their research projects and programs. This has been a lucrative way to both attract attention to specific projects and programs as well as to attract future students from the large crowd of Assembly attendees.

What’s next?

The Arctic Circle is preparing for a very busy and exciting 2020. The 8th annual Arctic Circle Assembly will be held in Reykjavík, Iceland 8-11 October in collaboration with the University of the Arctic, UArctic. This collaboration will enable the UArctic Congress and the Arctic Circle Assembly to bring more researchers and students to the events. An Arctic Circle Forum will then be held in Tokyo, Japan in November in relation to the 3rd Arctic Science Ministerial Meeting. Early 2020 the Arctic Circle will announce other Arctic Circle Forums taking place next year and early 2021.

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