Time for the North to move to a knowledge-based economy, says UArctic president

The president of the University of the Arctic says it's time to prepare for another shift in the Arctic - from a resource-based economy to a knowledge economy. That's something he says will only happen with investment.

UArctic held first congress in Russia, marking 15 years of collaboration in the circumpolar world

Delegates at the UArctic congress in Saint Petersburg, Russia. It's time for the Arctic to prepare for a shift from a resource-based economy to a knowledge-based economy, says Lars Kullerud, UArctic’s president. (UArctic)

The way research in the North is conducted has evolved significantly over the last few decades. 

'There’s no lack of wealth in the North, it’s just an issue of who has it,' says Lars Kullerud. (UArctic)
"Arctic research is something with and for the people of the North, instead of something people do and later tell Northerners," says Lars Kullerud, the Norway-based president of the University of the Arctic. 

"People often know the truth about their own life and don't need southerners to tell them."

That's a marked shift from 2001, when the University of the Arctic (UArctic) was first created by the Arctic Council. UArctic now includes 180 research-focused universities, colleges and institutes covering the entire circumpolar North.

UArctic hosted its first congress in Saint Petersburg, Russia, this month, bringing together 450 delegates to discuss Arctic science, policy and education.

Now, Lars said, it's time to prepare for another shift in the Arctic — from a resource-based economy to a knowledge-based economy.

But that's going to take investment. 

'Silicon Valley in the Arctic'

Kullerud says the traditional approach to developing economies in the Arctic has been to rely on fishing, mining, oil and gas exploration, as well as tourism.

UArctic congress in Russia Sept. 12 - 16. The congress coincided with the 20th anniversary of the Arctic Council and brought together 450 delegates. (UArctic)
"Tourism is great except it often means a small community of a few hundred gets overtaken by several thousand tourists in the morning who leave in the afternoon."

That approach leaves very little for the community, says Kullerud, who posits the creation of a "distributed Silicon Valley in the Arctic" as another approach.

Kullerud believes a focus on culture, oral history and language would be a natural fit — composed of thinkers working across the circumpolar world.

Investment in the North

Getting there will take investment in both education and infrastructure, he says. 

"First of all I think the community needs to appreciate knowledge, both formalized knowledge through academia and knowledge held by people in the traditional cultures," says Kullerud.

Broadband internet is also urgently needed, to make it possible for researchers in remote communities to connect and collaborate with each other.

'Higher education and shared knowledge are really the keys to building capacity, especially human capacity among Northerners,' says University of Alberta's David Hik. (UArctic)
"It is sad that particularly Canada, for the time being, is the one who lags behind. It is easier to get internet in Siberia than it is in Nunavut," says Kullerud.

The other missing component for Canada's North is the absence of a single university in the Canadian Arctic.

"This is absolutely critical and hugely overdue," says David Hik, a biological sciences professor at the University of Alberta, and one of the keynote speakers at the congress.

He says fostering higher education in the North is a major focus for UArctic.

"Higher education and shared knowledge are really the keys to building capacity, especially human capacity among Northerners."

North as a partner and actor

In a recent study, UArctic investigated approximately 100,000 research papers about the Arctic published in scholarly journals around the world in the past 10 years.

While the percentage of articles about natural sciences such as climate change have remained stable, articles in humanities and political science fields — dealing with language, culture and political issues — have grown significantly, says Kullerud.

He likes to think the Arctic Council played a role.

"The change in thinking about the North as a partner and actor instead of as an object — that's a fantastic development to see this change in the perspective of Arctic research."

Moving forward Kullerud says he expects to see more research on the independence of Indigenous communities in the North and their work on self-governance.


Sima Sahar Zerehi is a reporter with CBC North. She started her career in journalism with the ethnic press working for a Canadian-based Farsi language newspaper. Her CBC journey began as a regular commentator with CBC radio's Metro Morning. Since then she's worked with CBC in Montreal, Toronto and now Iqaluit.