Thursday, July 05, 2007

Progress in the Artic

By Richard Vedder

A very old and dear friend, Rune Ryden, a distinguished semi-retired Swedish parliamentarian and academic administrator, called from Lund (Sweden) to wish my wife and me a happy Fourth of July yesterday, and in the course of a conversation reminded me of the useful work of the University of Artic, on whose board of trustees he serves.

The University of the Artic is a cooperative venture of all institutions of higher education north of the Artic Circle. Kids enroll in one school and typically do most of their work there, but also take courses via the University of the Artic at any of the dozens of other institutions in the region. Occasionally students will go to another institution within the consortium of schools to study for a term, earning University of Artic credit. Most of the coursework is Internet related, but not all. Roughly one-third of students come from Russia, one-third from the Nordic countries (Sweden, Norway, etc.) and one-third from North America (Canada and U.S. --Alaska). English and Russian are the languages of instruction, and considerable resources are devoted into translating materials into Russian, the area with the potential for greatest enrollment growth.

Enrollments are booming. I believe at the last report I gave to you, enrollments were around 3,000 in U. of Artic courses. Now it is 5,000 and growing rapidly. Indeed, the institution wants to restrain growth a bit to ensure quality does not suffer. Funding comes from the member institutions (which I believe exceed 60 in number), from the governments of the various countries, and, to a limited extent, from student fees.

There are lots of neat things about this institution which might provide lessons for Americans living south of the Artic Circle. First, of course, it allows for vast transfer of credit without hassle between institutions. It allows small schools that are geographically isolated to offer a more complete academic program at a fairly reasonable price. It promotes international understanding. It is a booming University -- even without a football team, its own library, etc. More inter-institutional arrangements like this would be desirable in the U.S. This approach would work especially well in thinly populated states like Montana, the Dakotas, Wyoming, and New Mexico.

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