“UNIS is a fantastic innovation”

“UNIS is a fantastic innovation”

Top image: The snow bunting is Svalbard’s only songbird, bringing joy to the frozen Arctic landscape every spring. Here’s Morten Wedege with a newborn specimen. Photo: Tor Erling Vassrusten

4 April 2022
Text: Maria Philippa Rossi

Morten Wedege had dreamed of studying and working in the tropics, when a small advertisement on a student board made him aware of Svalbard. It became the start of the career path, that would bring him to every corner of Spitsbergen over two decades.

Morten Wedege started studying biology in Trondheim in the 90s. He had no concept of the Arctic, and “Svalbard” was just something he would hear about from time to time.

Nevertheless, an advertising poster on a student board made him curious and he applied for a year at UNIS. Little did he know it would change his career path.

– My original plan was to study in the tropics, I guess I could not have come any further away.

He laughs and remembers back to January 1996. He had planned for a year in Svalbard, because, as he adds, it was more common to do a full year of exchange back then.

– I fell completely in love with Svalbard. I was only 20, and it is a time I have so many good memories from. The study environment at UNIS was fantastic; small, and inclusive. Longyearbyen was smaller than it is today, and it was easy to get in touch with the locals, especially if you were active in Svalbardhallen.

Lecture in Møysalen

From a lecture in Møysalen in the 1990s. Photo: Tor Brekke

A life-long relationship

Wedege spent a year in Longyearbyen before moving back to Trondheim. Nevertheless, he quickly realized he was not done with Svalbard. A professor at NTNU wanted to start a bird project in Svalbard, and he was quick to sign up. Wedege delivered his master thesis on the snow bunting in 2001. He continued to work as a field manager in Svalbard every summer for many years.

– Eventually I wanted to try something new and spent some time in the field in Krüger National Park in South Africa. With work experience from the Arctic and the tropics, my resume started to become interesting.

He worked for the County Governor’s environmental protection department in Trondheim, and the Norwegian Environment Agency. In 2018, he became the environmental protection manager for the Governor in Svalbard.

– It was like coming home. I had been there nearly every summer but had not had a winter on the island for almost 20 years. It was quite a shock to see how changed the Svalbard nature was. I had followed the summer changed gradually, but the mid-winter periods with mild weather and the fact that there was no ice on the fjords were shocking. It really opened my eyes for climate change in the Arctic.

More demanding situation today

He spent almost three years in Svalbard before returning to the mainland in 2020. He is now the trade union leader in Naturviterne.

– Studying in Svalbard was incredibly exciting! I was moving away from home, living in a shared flat with lots of new people – a lot of them who I have contact with today.

– UNIS had good economy, and very skilled lecturers were invited from all over the world. The equipment was top notch and we had lots of field activity. It is costly for the university centre, but it is great for learning. The very high quality of the studies meant that we had few dropouts, and a good frame around our studies. And the nice, social environment. I only have great memories from back then.

Wedege thinks today’s students are faced with a more challenging situation. Although the quality of the studies is the same, there are tougher progression requirements.

– Today, Lånekassen is strict and demands progression, progression, progression. If you get delayed in your planned studies, you struggle. If I could change anything, I would make it easier to stay longer in Svalbard, get to know the place properly, enjoy and experience all the seasonal changes.

But despite having to work harder to get a semester at UNIS incorporated in your study program, Wedege is not doubting it’s worth the effort.

– If you are not sure about what you want, take a semester in a different environment!

– UNIS is a safe and good choice, that in addition to high educational quality will give you experiences of a lifetime. It is a fantastic invention, he finishes.

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