From a field trip to Dynjandi, the students took last year (Photo: University Center of the Westfjords)A master's program in Coastal and Marine management on the Western tip of Iceland sees students from all over the world engaging in Arctic studying. The University Center of the Westfjords hosts the program which is described as a cross-disciplinary program that prepares students for diverse positions in both the public and private sectors.
Among courses thought are Iceland's Environment and Natural Resources, Understanding the Coast and the Ocean, Underwater Heritage, Aquaculture and Marine Renewable Energy. See list of courses here.
The University of Akureyri cooperates with the studies, UNAK has specialized in fisheries science and related matters for many years.
The program at the University Centre of the Westfjords has been running since 2008. Before the program started it sought recognition and quality control from the University of Akureyri which in the end is responsible for the diploma. The fifth years started this fall but in total 40 students have graduated, the first ones in 2010.
The website also states: "Among the fields which the master's program in Coastal and Marine Management prepares students to work in are resource and land use planning, environmental impact assessment, consulting work, teaching and research. The program is internationally oriented and taught in English, and both students and instructors come from a diverse range of countries.
The master's program in Coastal and Marine Management brings together people of different backgrounds who share their experience, knowledge, and ideas in a small-scale, creative and fertile intellectual environment, with the goal of finding ways of using natural resources in a sustainable way. We welcome new faces to join our exciting group of natural resource management specialists."
A total of 92 have started the studies, 40 graduated and 46 are currently studying. Only a few have have abandoned the studies. "The students love their graduation day; they have a whole fjord for themselves!" Dagný Arnarsdóttir, the Program director, told BB, a local newspaper. The graduation is held in Hrafnseyri in Arnarfjordur, famous for the waterfall Dynjandi.
According to program manager Ingi Björn Guðnason the program has used social media for advertisement to reach the right people. "We have used Google and Facebook ads to lead people to our website which has detailed information about the program. We have also used specialized websites for advertisement which show different programs for students who want to travel to study. Later we have been lucky that the word has simply spread out about the program which we can thank both the students who have a good experience from here and the teachers as well. They have helped advertising the studies in numerous ways. That is probably the most effective advertisement, positive feedback from the students who talk to their friends about it. This positive feedback has allowed us to cut back on advertisement costs which were running high in the beginning."
Ingi says that visits to the University Centers website have increased greatly after this program was founded. They have grown greatly and can reach 700 per day, but in total it has 95.000 visits for the last year.
The program has three semesters, fall, spring and summer, which runs from April to July. Next is a thesis but students need to post a detailed description of their intended study for acceptance of a concession committee. "This year we will have a specialized workshop for the thesis and the result is a thesis question. Most students are graduated within two years but if they want they can leave after the courses, which take 18 months," Dagný says.
Each course is thought in a session, ranging from 2 to 8 weeks. They include lectures and individual and group projects. "We also try to use new technology as much as we can. Tests in a class room can be necessary in some countries, but how knowledge is measured and assessed, can differ greatly. We try to offer real project in the field when we can. We also use role-play for example to discuss different aspects to subjects from different groups. I see different kinds of valuations for the Universities in the future. A new generation is coming up of both teachers and students are coming up and the schools will have to adjust."
Westfjords the focal point
The location of the program is unique, in the West of Iceland, which has some of the most prosperous fisheries in the country, and breathtaking landscape. "We encourage students to do their projects about the area here and the result is that two out of three have written or done material about the Westfjords or its fisheries. Students have a reputation of wanting to give something back to the society here and by filling in gaps of knowledge about anything related to the studies, they do so, for example writing about sustainable coastal areas or exploitation and protection of the oceans and the coast. The students often have close cooperation with organizations and companies for their thesis work."
Puffins are everywhere in the Westfjords (Photo: University Center of the Westfjords)Many nationalities
"We get applications from all over the world but we have to limit the students to their capabilities with first grade or higher, their language skills (for example the TOEFL test) and if we can be assured that their material is authentic. Over the years most students have come from Canada but it's getting more international and more Europeans have come in over the last two years. We have representatives from every continent now except for Antarctica!"
"The students choose their projects in a number of manners, Icelanders tend to write a little bit more about Icelandic related projects, but international students do the same, they also write about Icelandic projects."
Diversity in teachers
Since the program has very little structure, no permanent staff for example, the knowledge has to be sought from diverse backgrounds. Getting teachers and instructors over the years has run smoothly and they are both Icelandic and international. "This is a real sign of quality for us. We have very high standards and have specific goals to keep, and this shows quickly in the Icelandic university environment." List of teachers and instructors can be seen here.
"After the studies the students have either continued to study, either doing PhD studies and other masters programs. Most often the students go to their homes for jobs related to the studies. Many of them have excellent jobs, a few work in project management, some are specialists in ministries, some in aqua centers or national parks. One runs the biggest national park in Canada, one has built a national Park in East Congo under very hard circumstances. And our students have kept in touch with the Westfjords and will be back with their families at some point! They help us in promoting the area, and Iceland."
"The future will see the University Center promote the knowledge even better than before, for example by translation projects to Icelandic. Another aim is to maintaining the knowledge in the studies with the institutions in Iceland," Dagný says.