In May 2021, Russia started to chair the Arctic Council for two years to come. The Arctic Council is an authoritative international organisation that coordinates cooperation in the northern circumpolar region. At the same time, St Petersburg University opened the Arctic Project Office. The Head of the Office is Doctor of Political Science Natalia Mikhalchenkova. She spoke about: Arctic studies; the importance of being able to cooperate within the framework of consortia; and what the new structure of the University was going to delve into.

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Ms Mikhalchenkova, could you tell us what is the focus of the Arctic Project Office? Why was the Arctic Project Office chosen to solve the Arctic issues?

Prioritising requires a concentration of resources, both internal and external. At the national level, this is within the scope of responsibilities of a special office for the implementation of priority national projects. At the level of St Petersburg University (with its enormous potential and special structure), it is within the scope of the Arctic Project Office. The Office is to accumulate the potential of staff in research and education and the University infrastructure to solve the tasks outlined by the updated Strategy for Developing the Russian Arctic Zone and Ensuring National Security until 2035 and St Petersburg University Strategic Plan 2021–2030. The Rector of the University Nikolay Kropachev has already set the task to develop project activities in terms of the Arctic initiatives, strengthening partnerships, and the results and outcomes in education and research.

For St Petersburg University, establishing the Office is far from being the first Arctic project. Could you tell us how the Office can contribute to the Arctic direction?

Today, the University is carrying out over 127 research projects on the Arctic. Development of the Arctic zone of the Russian Federation and international engagement implies cooperation, including providing staff support for regional universities by opening an access to educational resources St Petersburg University can offer. The national project ’Science and Universities’ outlines the task for Russian universities to be among five countries that are at the forefront of research in the priority areas. The University is also developing partnerships with universities in the Arctic region. It actively supports the Arctic consortia established within the framework of the ‘Priority 2030’ programme at the universities in the Arctic region. Among them are: Northern (Arctic) Federal University; Arctic State Institute of Culture and Arts in Yakutsk; Murmansk Arctic State University; and others.

What are the main areas of activity of the Arctic Project Office of St Petersburg University? What will be the scope of its responsibilities?

The Arctic Project Office focuses on five key areas. First, education. It implies to provide staff support for the projects to develop the Arctic zone and develop partnerships with Arctic universities. Second, research. The Office will provide support in research carried out by scientists at St Petersburg University and ensure research cooperation within the framework of the updated Arctic Strategy of Russia. Third, strengthening international engagement and cooperation through developing project activities in the Arctic. Today, we are discussing the project proposals to develop the thematic networks of the University of the Arctic (UArctic) and projects in intercultural communication. Fourth, engaging in the consortia and events that implement the Arctic competencies at St Petersburg University. Last but not least, providing support to project initiatives.

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What are your aims? What changes can the Office bring?

Today, the University is undergoing a so-called audit of the Arctic competencies in terms of staff, projects, academic programmes, and infrastructure. Informing academic staff about what options for providing support for Arctic projects there are today and what benefits cooperation can bring is essential. In the nearest future, the Russian office of the University of the Arctic is to hold a seminar for a team of interested employees on how to support project initiatives and activities in the Arctic. Additionally, we are planning to continue our work in implementing project management to obtain support and realise the potentials of St Petersburg University in this strategic direction.

What are you going to do in the nearest future?

There are four key areas. First, providing targeted support for teams and researchers at the University. Second, developing the digital information and analytical platform ’Arctic-2035′ together with Murmansk Arctic State University. Third, studying the museum archives of St Petersburg University to develop Arctic collections and partnerships within the project ’Arctic Museum of Russia’; opening access to research data on Arctic research; and providing support to the initiatives to develop a unified catalogue of bibliographic descriptions of sources of Arctic research ’Arctic Library’.

Additionally, we are going to provide support to the consortia which include the University. It is an impressive list. Among them are the University of the Arctic; the Association ’National Arctic Research and Educational Consortium’ (NAREC); the World-Class Scientific and Educational Centre ’Russian Arctic: New Materials, Technologies and Research Methods’; the Consortium ’World Historical and Cultural Heritage of the Arctic’ and the 4th Arctic Science Ministerial (ASM4); the Scientific and Production Arctic cluster of St Petersburg; the Federal Autonomous Scientific Institution ‘Eastern State Planning Centre’ (FANU ’Vostokgosplan’); and the Project Office for Arctic Development (PORA). We are currently developing an industry-specific project with the project office of the Republic of Sakha (Yakutia). The project is ‘Staff for the North’. St Petersburg University prepares research staff within the framework of the World-Class Scientific and Educational Centre ‘North: Territory of Sustainable Development’.

Why was the Office opened at the University?

From the very beginning, the Arctic was explored and developed by scientists from St Petersburg University, the oldest university in Russia. New tasks of the world leadership of Russian science and education enable the University to accumulate the necessary resources and support.

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Could you please tell us about what experience you have in the Arctic projects?

In June 2016, when I was the Acting Rector of Pitirim Sorokin Syktyvkar State University, we opened the National Arctic Research and Educational Consortium (NAREC) with support of 13 rectors of universities in the Arctic region. This enabled to combine the resources of educational organisations to develop the Arctic. When I was Minister of Education, Science and Youth Policy of the Komi Republic, we, as part of the working group of the Ministry of Higher Education and Science of Russia, implemented personnel projects for such single-industry towns as Vorkuta, Inta, and Usinsk. As Deputy Chairperson of the Government of the Komi Republic, I headed the social sphere and managed project activities within the national projects. We organised events within the national projects through gaining funds from various sources (social infrastructure and training of medical personnel for the North to name but a few).

Could you tell us which area of what the Office is working on arouses your curiosity?

University management in the era of globalisation has always been what I have been interested in in terms of research and career. In 2018, I defended dissertation ‘Political determinants of state policy in the sphere of higher education: correlation of the global and national’ at St Petersburg University to become a Doctor of Political Science. My research supervisor was Galina Gribanova, Professor in the Department of International Political Processes. The dissertation introduces university management schemes for Russia and BRICS states.

What is important for me in managing the Arctic Project Office is working with people and scientists and managing the Arctic universities and research centres. Opening a new and engaging project through developing partnerships rather than through being engaged in a competitive race is essential. It can significantly contribute to the development of research, education, and the Arctic interests of Russia.