Wednesday 14. March 2018

Coastal Communities and Regional Development: new master’s program at UW

The University Centre of the Westfjords’ new master’s degree study program, Coastal Communities and Regional Development, starts at the end of August 2018. Coastal Communities Studies is an interdisciplinary course that offers insights into sociology, economics, geography, and planning. The course is Iceland’s first coastal communities academic study program, marking a milestone in the development of this field of expertise.

Since 2008, the University Centre of the Westfjords has been running its interdisciplinary master’s program on environmental and resource management with emphasis on the ocean and coasts, in cooperation with the University of Akureyri. This Coastal and Marine Management program has gone well and around 20 students enrol per year, with over 100 graduated so far. Coastal Communities Studies is built on this strong foundation and it will work in much the same way. Both programs are international and taught in English, while emphasis is placed on making the most of the Westfjords’ unique location; especially their proximity to the sea and coastal communities. As with the current program, Coastal Communities Studies will be a 120 ECTS master’s program, made up of 75 ECTS from courses and 45 ECTS from a final thesis. All classes are based at the University Centre in Ísafjörður, though students will formally be enrolled in the University of Akureyri and graduate from there.

“With the new program, we could say that the University Centre now stands on two strong legs, rather than one,” says Peter Weiss, Director of the University Centre of the Westfjords. New synergies arrive with the new program, as Peter also points out: “The synergy effect is partially economic, with many shared resources between the two programs regarding teaching and services, but even more important is growing the University Centre to critical mass. A new Academic Director will be appointed for Coastal Communities Studies, which means that the two Academic Directors can share workloads in any unforeseen circumstances and make sure things continue to run smoothly. The increased number of students makes this a more interesting place to come and study, and finally it will improve the Westfjords’ research environment, increasing capacity in the region.”

As stated above, this is the first coastal communities development program offered in Iceland. Coastal Communities and Regional Development will therefore become important to the country’s rural development landscape, from an academic standpoint, and will be an important new voice calling for academia to pay more attention to this topic as a field of study, as is usual in most other countries around us. As well as all this, the program is itself a regional development building block for the Westfjords, as it is anticipated around 20 new students will join the program each year. A report by the Westfjords Economic Development Agency shows that for every króna invested in the University Centre, two krónur are generated for the Westfjords economy. As well as supporting the Westfjords, the program also supports the University of Akureyri, as students of both programs are formally also Akureyri students.

Costal Communities Studies has been on the University Centre drawing board since 2010. At that time, it seemed unlikely funding would be available for the program, so little happened for a while. In 2014, the matter was raised again at a strategic planning meeting which concluded that work on the plan should resume. The University Centre appointed a preparation committee, made up of three university lecturers and the UW Director. The lecturers were Þóroddur Bjarnason, professor at University of Akureyri, Guðmundur Hálfdánarson, professor at the University of Iceland, and Kristinn Hermannsson, associate professor at the University of Glasgow. The preparation committee finished its work in summer 2016 and the project moved onto preparation for accreditation at the University of Akureyri. Accreditation ended at the very beginning of 2017. The program had been among the recommendations of the so-called Westfjords Committee, which published its report in September 2016, but its recommendations had no funding behind them at the time. The last year-and-a-half have gone into funding the program.

Last week it was confirmed that the last piece of the puzzle had fallen into place, in the form of a contribution from the Ministry for Education, and likely funding promised for subsequent years as well, subject to conditions. The first 70% of funding had already been secured for the first year from the Westfjords Development Fund, and from the University Centre itself in the form of synergies with the existing program and registration fees.

The new Coastal Communities and Regional Development program will be formally introduced at the University Centre’s regular Vísindaport lecture series, at midday on Friday 16th March. All interested will be able to find out more then.

In starting the Coastal Communities program, the University Centre of the Westfjords is taking its biggest step since the Coastal and Marine Management program began in autumn 2008.

The new program in Coastal Communities and Regional Development is taught at the University Centre of the Westfjords in Ísafjörður Iceland. Photo: Anders Peter Amsnæs.
The new program in Coastal Communities and Regional Development is taught at the University Centre of the Westfjords in Ísafjörður Iceland. Photo: Anders Peter Amsnæs.