Arctic studies play a significant role in the research and academic work of St Petersburg University, both nationwide and worldwide. Issues on the agenda are: the search and exploration of new mineral deposits; the rational use of natural resources; and the protection the environment of the Arctic ecosystems. St Petersburg University is actively involved in these issues. As a centre for research and education that provides professional expertise, it unites leading scientists and trains new generations of Arctic researchers.

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Doctor of Economics Elena Efimova is a Professor of the Department of World Economy at the Faculty of Economics of St Petersburg University. She talked about her research, a new online course, and about the traditions of the St Petersburg school of polar exploration.

Elena Glebovna, in your career you successfully combine academic pursuits of research and teaching. How did you select your research topic? What are your research interests?

This research was initiated by the Aleksanteri Institute of the University of Helsinki with the support of the Academy of Sciences of Finland. The joint research project was carried out within the framework of academic staff exchange programmes under bilateral agreements between St Petersburg University and partner universities for 2015-2019. Three joint publications resulted from this work, with two more papers underway. The research findings were reported at international conferences in Tromsø, Tokyo, Moscow and St Petersburg.

As for your second question, my research interests are in regional economics, particularly focused on regional infrastructure. The objects of study are the international regions of the Baltic Sea and the Arctic. They were selected mainly because of my perception of the problem. I seek to understand the mechanisms that work to keep the object of study functioning, to establish causal relationships, and statistical dependencies. The Baltic Sea region was the first ‘training ground’ for my research. Currently, I mainly focus on the Arctic. It is steeped in the traditions of the St Petersburg research school, the historical past, and cultural heritage. Unfortunately, we were able to visit only a small part of the Arctic zone. When conducting research, interviews and the study of local periodicals are of great help.

Can you elaborate on this more? Please tell us about the essence of this project and specifically about your role in it.

The current research project is planned as the development of the pilot project ‘Sustainable development in sparsely populated regions: The case of the Russian Arctic and Far East,’ financed by the Academy of Sciences of Finland. The goal of this project is to study the sustainable development of sparsely populated regions (with a population density under two people per km2) under conditions of global climate change. The study aims to identify the social, economic and environmental impacts of resettlement indicators, and to assess the existing strategies for sustainable development in sparsely populated regions. The novelty of the project is a comparison of data obtained from different sources: the Federal Service for State Statistics (Rosstat) and its regional branches; the Google Earth model; and OMI / TROPOMI instruments that allow online monitoring of air pollution. My task is to ascertain the feasibility of further continuation of the project with regard to efficient energy and transport systems.

 

You are planning to give a presentation at the Russian Energy Week forum, which will be held from 2 to 5 October in Moscow. What are the issues you are focusing on in your presentation?

The topic of my presentation is ‘Sustainable energy systems as a driver of economic growth in the Russian region of the Arctic.’ The term ‘sustainable energy system’ is far from new in the international scientific vocabulary. However, previous studies were mainly focused on the foundations for sustainable energy development, the best sustainable energy practices, and on the energy supply problems in least developed countries. The Russian Arctic is a unique case. Traditional and alternative energy resources are organically combined there. The harsh climate, geographical remoteness, and insufficient transport infrastructure require significant adjustments to the existing models of the regional energy complex. The characteristics of the study subject determine the novelty of the research. The geopolitical role and strategic resources of the Russian Arctic make the project practically relevant.

The main thrusts of my talk will be the features of sustainable development of the Russian Arctic zone energy sector and its impact on the economic growth of the region. The main task is to correct the established stereotypes about the importance of the extractive industries for economic development, alternative sources of energy in the Arctic, and state support for the Russian Arctic zone.

Do you plan developing new academic programmes or retraining courses that will enable students to gain additional competencies necessary for work in the Arctic region?

Currently, work is underway on the online course ‘The aspects of entrepreneurship in the Arctic zone of the Russian Federation.’ This is an interdisciplinary course designed to examine the environmental, economic, demographic, and legal aspects of commercial activities in the Russian region of the Arctic. An assessment is made of the region as a strategic resource base and its importance for the development of the country. Leading experts of St Petersburg University are involved in the implementation of this course. They have extensive experience in research and teaching, and significant publications in Russian and international scientific journals. There is a growing demand for such programmes; especially among the students who already have experience working in the Far North and Far East regions. Therefore, such programmes should place an emphasis on: the innovative methods of analysis and forecasting of commercial activities in the Arctic zone; the study of positive and negative feedbacks related to the Arctic from Russian and international companies; and issues of legal regulation of the international and national development of the Arctic zone.

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In your opinion, will the programmes with the Arctic component become popular among economists? Whom do you expect to enrol for these programmes? Where will the graduates be able to apply the gained knowledge?

I believe such programmes are set up in response to a demand for experts who should not be positioned just as economists. These programmes will be sought-after by specialists who are willing to apply their knowledge in various sectors in the Arctic zone: mining and mineral processing industries; energy supply; transport; logistics; tourism; the public sector; and commerce and services. Collaboration with large companies operating in the Arctic region will greatly facilitate the employability of the graduates. As for the territorial base of the Arctic research, it has been traditionally located in St Petersburg and Moscow. Indeed, researchers spend a lot of time in expeditions; they organise scientific, business and public events ‘in the field’. The obtained data are summarised and analysed, and forecasts are made in the large research centres. These activities require the concentration of research resources; therefore, their distribution between individual institutions is inexpedient. Under the current conditions of limited funding and the shortage of research staff, the traditions of the St Petersburg Arctic school should be preserved.