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A Norwegian pillar in Svalbard: the development of the University Centre in Svalbard (UNIS)

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  07 March 2017

Ole A. Misund
University Centre in Svalbard (UNIS), PO Box 156, N-9171 Longyearbyen, Norway and National Institute of Nutrition and Seafood Research (NIFES), PO Box 2029, Bergen, Norway and University of Bergen, Department of Biology, PO Box 7803, N-5020 Bergen, Norway (
Dag W. Aksnes
Nordic Institute for Studies in Innovation, Education and Research (NIFU), PO Box 2851 Tøyen, N-0608 Oslo, Norway
Hanne H. Christiansen
University Centre in Svalbard (UNIS), PO Box 156, N-9171 Longyearbyen, Norway
Thor B. Arlov
University Centre in Svalbard (UNIS), PO Box 156, N-9171 Longyearbyen, Norway and Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU), NO-7491 Trondheim, Norway


The University Centre in Svalbard (UNIS) is a unique institution with a history that is closely related to Norwegian policy regarding Svalbard, and to clever development of a highly specialised Arctic university institution by all the Norwegian universities. In practical terms, Norwegian sovereignty on the archipelago as confirmed by the Treaty of Svalbard of 1920 and regulated by the Svalbard Law of 1925, is maintained by the presence of Norwegian civil authorities and communities. Today, the “capital” Longyearbyen with its 2100 inhabitants is a modern hub for industry, education, research, logistics and tourism. Founded in 1993, UNIS has become a main contributor to this community, generating some 20% of the total economic activity. A prime motivation for establishing UNIS was to provide a supplement and alternative to the unprofitable, heavily subsidized coal mining industry, by using the location for research based education. In 2015, the mining company Store Norske Spitsbergen Kullkompani (SNSK) met with deep crisis again and significantly downscaled its coal production and work force. Thus, UNIS may play an even more important role as a cornerstone of the local community in the future. This paper discusses the establishment and development of UNIS, its organisation, capacity, and academic production in terms of student graduation and its scientific output, just as its future potential for growth is evaluated. Finally, we discuss the increasingly important role of science and education in Norwegian Svalbard policy.

Research Article
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2017 

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