Marina Lavrikova, Senior Vice-Rector for Academic Activities and Teaching Methods, speaks about how St Petersburg University has organised training for specialists who will be able to do research and work in the Arctic Region and, as a result, what changes are in store for the degree programmes. 

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Over the course of this year, the University is planning to supplement a great number of programmes with courses designed to focus on the Arctic Region.  When was this decision made?

We took up the topic of the Arctic much earlier.  The first programme devoted to polar research – POMOR (Polar and Marine Sciences) – was started up in 2011, and several years later the University joined the National Arctic Academic Consortium.  We have always understood that our city is historically related to this region and have been committed to the idea that the Arctic, as a special climatic zone that includes a rather large part of the Russian Federation, is in need of a wide variety of specialists.  This is a sparsely populated region with its own peculiarities, but, all the same, this land of the permafrost is home to the small peoples of the North, who lead a nomadic life and therefore have unique features and special learning needs.  We need to understand that the conditions in the Arctic region differ from those in any other region of our country.  With this in mind, we started bandying about the idea that there should be an Arctic component in our academic programmes.

There are currently 33 integrated fields of study at St Petersburg University.  Several programmes have been focused on Arctic studies from the time they were launched, for example Polar and Marine Sciences (POMOR), which is a joint degree programme with Hamburg University.  And there are two others I would like to draw special attention to:  CORELIS (Cold Region Environmental Landscapes Integrated Science) and FOBOS (Physical Oceanography and Bioproductivity of Oceans and Seas).  We asked our research and teaching staff which other already-existing academic programmes they felt we could incorporate this subject into and start training specialists who would be well versed in the specifics of professional activities in the Arctic zone.  Based on their recommendations, we selected six bachelor’s and eighteen master’s programmes.  They included the following:  Ecology and Nature Management, Social Psychology and Political Psychology, Baltic and Nordic Studies, Management of Real Estate Objects and Development of Territories, Hydrogeology and Engineering Geology, and many others.

Aside from the programmes themselves, practical training in manufacturing and research in various parts of the Arctic Region is arguably an Arctic component.  Even now, St Petersburg University students already work as members of international trips and expeditions of diverse organisations.   Every year, we have bachelor’s and master’s degree students defending their graduation projects based on the results of their research trips.  The jobs that students take part in are carried out both in the waters of the Arctic Ocean and marginal seas and also on land.  Geology, geophysics, oceanography, geomorphology and ecology students are the most frequent participants in such practical training activities.

It is in the works to add the Arctic field of study predominantly to programmes associated with environmental geology, petroleum engineering and international politics, but along with them you can also see sociology, social work and tourism on the list.  Why have they been included?

Our colleagues and the experts whom we consulted saw that those competencies which St Petersburg University can offer as a contribution to the training of specialists for the Arctic are within the scope of these academic programmes and the professional activities towards which they are oriented.   For example, we are planning to introduce an Arctic component into the Tourist Destination Management master’s programme.  A destination is a territory that is assessed in terms of its tourist potential, and the Arctic zone is certainly one of them.  The demand for Arctic tourism is gradually increasing all over the world.  Cruises to the North Pole, for instance, attract people from many countries, so there will always be work for students who have completed the Foreign Languages and Intercultural Communication in Tourism and Excursion Activities programme.  The Social Work programme trains students a priori to work with ethnic groups that have their own special features, and the Arctic Region certainly has its own special features.  I think sociology students realise that social research having to do with life in the Arctic is a valid option.

Are you planning to integrate courses connected with Arctic studies into the curricula of any other academic programmes?

Yes, if there is a demand for that from prospective employers and government agencies that set the policies for training specialists, for example the St Petersburg Committee for Arctic Affairs.  Working together with them, we can come to an understanding of what contribution the University can make when it comes to training specialists for work in this region.  We also give heed to the opinions of our international partners.  Incidentally, at the international forum of civil societies Dialogue Russia – Republic of Korea economic experts have always been receptive to the opinions of specialists from St Petersburg University on questions pertaining to the Arctic Region.

As part of the first UArctic Congress, artist Lilia Slavinskaya donated a series of paintings and photographs to St Petersburg University.  She had made them during an Arctic expedition.  Is the University considering the possibility of training artists and designers whose activities would be involved in a creative exploration of the Arctic?

It is quite likely.  I recently attended the opening of an exhibition in the Presidential Library, and it was devoted to multimedia video works done by graduates of the Applied Informatics in Arts and Humanities programme.  While there, I realised that we provide our students with technological skills, but when it comes to projects, it is up to them how to apply these skills.  Everybody says that as soon as you find yourself in the Arctic, you suddenly get the urge to take up photography in a serious way.  Needless to say, the Arctic Region in and of itself may be of interest to our artists and designers as a source of inspiration, and I think there is a good chance we will offer them this topic for both academic and creative work.

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Author:  Lilia Slavinskaya

At this year’s International Arctic Forum, Kirill Chistyakov, Director of the Institute of Earth Sciences, regretted the shortage of experts on the Arctic.  Is the University going to develop new programmes that will be fundamentally oriented toward training specialists to work in this region?

In order to reduce this shortage of professionals in geography, environmental science and other fields, the University is definitely going to continue training them.  In the coming academic year, we plan to double the number of government-funded places in the Polar and Marine Sciences (POMOR) master’s programme.  And, depending on the demand, we intend to train other specialists that the region requires.  As an example, we are now discussing the need for psychologists to take part in Arctic and Antarctic expeditions to help polar explorers deal with stress, since it is obviously very difficult to spend a long time in a confined space under harsh climatic conditions.

If St Petersburg University takes to actively training experts for the Arctic Region, don’t you think that in several years this will lead to a glut in the labour market?

I don’t think this is going to happen any time soon.  But I think we need to look at this question from a different perspective:  Where are these students going to be working once they graduate?  It may turn out that the specialists whom we train may not end up going to the Arctic, either because they change their minds or because nobody sends them there.  In this case, the core aspect of the University’s efforts in this field will continue to be Arctic research.  I think that in time there may well be a demand for programmes to retrain people and give them supplementary skills for work in the Arctic Region. 

There is yet another question here:  Who is going to be studying in our programmes that have an Arctic component?  Even though these regions have their own study centres that are actively involved in training professionals for the Arctic, a fair number of secondary school graduates from the northwest and northern regions of the country apply to the University.  And if inhabitants of the Far North are indeed interested in completing a programme with an Arctic component and then returning home, the University will respond to this demand.

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