- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 13, 2002

HELSINKI — When Pauline Knudsen flips on her computer, the lonely polar expanses vanish and natural barriers to higher education near the North Pole lift as she enters class in a new Internet-based University of the Arctic.
"It is opening new possibilities to me, it makes it possible to study in a place where there are no big institutions or universities," said Mrs. Knudsen, a 41-year-old ethnic Inuit and mother of three who resides in Nuuk, Greenland, just below the Arctic Circle.
For Mrs. Knudsen and more than two dozen other students enrolled in a pilot program, the online University of the Arctic, founded in June, offers educational opportunities in remote northern regions of eight countries adjacent to the Arctic.
With the emphatic objective, underlined on the university's Web site (www.uarctic.org) of delivering higher education "in the North, for the North, and by the North," the institution is particularly attuned to the geographically specific requirements of its students.
"The idea came as a response to the lack of real resources for higher education in the northern communities," said Scott Forrest of the coordination office for the University of the Arctic based in Rovaniemi, the "capital" of Finnish Lapland.
"It would not be practical for these to develop their own programs in all fields of studies, but instead share their expertise for the common good," he said.
Mrs. Knudsen is working on a bachelor's degree in history and culture through the University of Greenland, a University of the Arctic member that specializes in local and Arctic studies.
Her course load includes the University of the Arctic's pilot program, Introduction to the Circumpolar World, introduced on the Internet on Feb. 12 and taught by an instructor at Yukon College in Canada.
"The course takes more into account all the countries in the circumpolar north. Here we are used to learning about Greenland, but now we can also learn more about other societies and places in the Arctic," Mrs. Knudsen said.
It was precisely for students like her that the University of the Arctic was set up last year by 33 institutions backed by eight governments the United States, Canada, Denmark, Iceland, Finland, Norway, Russia and Sweden surrounding the North Pole.
The Finland-based coordination office is financed by the Finnish government, though funding for the university's planned list of programs comes from its the member institutions and other participating countries, school officials said.
One of those institutions is the Sami Area Education Center, a small college located in the village of Inari, 720 miles north of Helsinki and 205 miles above the Arctic Circle.
Known by its acronym SAKK in Finnish, the 150-student college specializes in teaching Sami language, culture and livelihood, like fishing and reindeer herding, but also offers courses in economics and computer science.
"For our school, it's important to get cooperation with other indigenous peoples around the world," said Outi Korpilaehde, coordinator of international exchanges at SAKK.


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