UNIS Annual Report 2021

UNIS Annual Report 2021

Top image: Drilling for groundwater at Von Postbreen, as part of the CLIMAGAS project in April 2021. Photo: Andy Hodson/UNIS.


In 2021, 482 students spent shorter or longer periods at UNIS, including both course students and guest students.

The Covid-19 restrictions introduced in 2020 were still partially in force in 2021, and consequently affected activity this year too. In the spring semester, most of the master’s and PhD courses were cancelled, while the maximum number of students in each course was set at 80% of normal capacity. However, in the autumn semester, no restrictions were placed on courses or the number of students.

A total of 60% of the students came from programmes of study at Norwegian universities, while the proportion of Norwegian citizens was 40%. This represents an increase compared to the years before the pandemic. The discrepancy between Norwegian citizens and students from Norwegian universities can be attributed to the fact that foreign nationals are admitted to ordinary programmes of study at Norwegian universities.

The Norwegian university that sends the most students to UNIS is UiT, The Arctic University of Norway, while the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) has had the highest relative increase. Students from 32 countries were represented at UNIS in 2021. As mentioned, the largest student group came from Norway (60%), followed by students from Germany (18%) and the Netherlands (10 %).

A total of 162 student-labour years were produced at UNIS in 2021, which is a nice increase from 97 student-labour years in 2020, but still somewhat less than the target for UNIS of 220 student-labour years.

The results from the final assessment of the courses were above average, with B as the average grade. The failure rate was low (1%).

UNIS had 29 PhD candidates in 2021, and seven public defences were held.


During 2021, UNIS received funding for several small and large research projects. The Department of Arctic Biology (AB) is the largest partner in a new project funded by the Research Council of Norway (RCN), led by the University of Bergen (UiB), (Terra – Thawing permafrost in the High Arctic: Understanding climate, herbivore and belowground feedbacks), which will study the climate, herbivores and the belowground processes that occur when the permafrost thaws. AB has also entered as a third party under SIOS on the EU/H2020-funded project ENVRI FAIR, which aims to make collected data more “FAIR” (Findable, Accessible, Interoperable og Reusable).

At the Department of Arctic Geology (AG), UNIS’s first internally financed strategic pilot project (SPP) commenced. Called PermaMeteoCommunity, the project will develop a permafrost and meteorological climate change response system for Arctic communities. AG has received funding from RCN to further develop the Svalbox project which, like ENVRI FAIR, deals with making existing data from Svalbard accessible. However, this project has special focus on geoscientific data in the Svalbox portal.

By appointing a new associate professor in remote sensing, the Department of Arctic Geophysics (AGF) has formally been transferred several duties from the Meteorological Institute in the ESA-funded Climate Change Initiative. During 2021, UNIS appointed the final externally funded position (a postdoctoral fellow) at the Birkeland Centre for Space Science, which is a Centre of Excellence, as well as self-funded PhD position.

The Department of Arctic Technology (AT) has started an internal initiative related to renewable energy. Within the course of a year, a professor post in Arctic energy and two PhD positions, focusing on wind and solar energy in the Arctic, respectively, have been filled. These appointments, combined with investments in equipment of around NOK 1 million, have led to the development of expertise and a research community that can generate further project activity and funding in the years to come.

Of other major and important projects in which UNIS is involved, we wish to mention the following: AB has a key role in the marine sampling in Svalbard in the EU/H2020 project FACE IT (The future of Arctic coastal ecosystems – Identifying transitions in fjord systems and adjacent coastal areas). AB and AGF are both heavily involved in The Nansen Legacy, and work extensively on tasks within marine biology, data management and oceanography. AG and AGF are well underway with iEarth (Centre for Integrated Earth System Education), a Centre for Excellence in Education led by UiB, which also has a significant research component. At ARCT-RISK (Risk governance, early warning and climate change adaptation in the Arctic), an NTNU-led project on risk management of climate-driven natural hazards, UNIS has during 2021 appointed a self-funded PhD position, a postdoctoral fellow and a researcher with project funding within the framework of the Arctic Safety Centre.

The combined income from the externally funded projects in 2021 was approx. NOK 40,200,000.

Finally, we would like to mention two other major initiatives: SIOS (Svalbard Integrated Arctic Earth Observing System), which has been organised as a subsidiary of UNIS through SIOS Svalbard AS since 2017, has as its main task to coordinate and further develop an international research infrastructure to explore regional effects of climate change. The total turnover of SIOS Svalbard AS in 2021 was NOK 33,100,000. Arctic Safety Centre (ASC) received an allocation of NOK 1 million from the Ministry of Trade and Industry for 2021 to contribute to increased competence about sustainable and safe activity in the Arctic. The funds have been used on concept development for an ASC knowledge centre, further development of practical safety courses for the business community and dissemination of expertise in Arctic safety through digital initiatives such as webinars.

Even though the past year has also been influenced by Covid-19, this has not had as much consequence as in 2020. Field campaigns and research cruises have both been affected, postponed or cancelled in 2021. However, UNIS has certainly benefitted from proximity to the field and a generally low level of infection, so the situation has probably been better here than in many other parts of the country.


The faculty at UNIS comprised of 13 professors, 12 associate professors, five researchers, 10 postdoctoral fellows, 20 PhD candidates, one research assistant and 50 staff with adjunct professor/associate professor attachments. Furthermore, there were 44 technical and administrative staff.

Women accounted for 40% of the faculty positions and 45% of the technical and administrative positions (41% of the staff). Five of the 11 members of the Board of Directors were women, as well as two of the eight members of the management group. The proportion of women in the other internal committees ranged between 33% and 67%.

The fact that Svalbard is not a life cycle community is reflected in the population and the employees at UNIS. As the higher education sector is an international sector, it is natural that UNIS has a high proportion of international staff (approx. 46%).

Download the annual report here (PDF)


Annual reports from previous years can be found here.

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