University Centre in Svalbard

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University Centre in Svalbard
Universitetssenteret på Svalbard AS
The UNIS main building (dated 2003)
Location of Longyearbyen
Type Limited company
Established 1993
Director Ole Arve Misund
Administrative staff
Students 497 (2013)
Undergraduates 80
Location Longyearbyen, Svalbard, Norway
Tuition Fees de facto 500 Kroner
Affiliations University of the Arctic
University Centre in Svalbard logo.png

The University Centre in Svalbard (Norwegian: Universitetssenteret på Svalbard AS; UNIS) is a Norwegian state-owned limited company that is involved in research and provides some university-level education in Arctic studies. The company is wholly owned by the Ministry of Education and Research, and the universities of Oslo, Bergen, Tromsø, NTNU and NMBU appoint the board of directors. It is led by a director appointed by the board for a three-year term.[1] The centre is the world’s northernmost research and higher education institution, in Longyearbyen at 78° N latitude. The courses offered fall into four main science disciplines: Arctic biology, Arctic geology, Arctic geophysics and Arctic technology.[2]


The centre was established in 1993 in Longyearbyen, a town of 2,100 inhabitants on the western coast of Spitsbergen island. Despite its name, it is not a university (a status that can only be conferred by the government under certain conditions to larger institutions), but a limited company involved in research and some university-level education. The main idea behind establishing UNIS was that the unique geographic location of the island permits the study of Arctic sciences in situ, right outside the company walls. Its official language is Norwegian, but English is widely used and 65% of its 497 students originate from outside Norway (in 2013, foreign students came from 23 countries).[1] Of the international students, the largest groups were from Germany (11%), the United Kingdom (7%), Denmark (6%), the Netherlands (6%) and Russia (5%). The tuition is free of charge and is carried out by 20 full-time professors, 21 assistant professors and 160 guest lecturers. The latter are invited from Norwegian and foreign institutions within various joint research projects.[2] Those projects are also instrumental for the enrollment of master and PhD students – UNIS does not accept its own graduates for those courses and requires potential candidates to present a letter of support from their home institution.[3] One important collaboration is the educational exchange program with Russia. The funding for UNIS is provided by the Norwegian government, research councils and private industry.[1]

Campus and events[edit]

The company conducts both teaching and scientific research. Its main campus is the Svalbard Science Centre, which was officially opened by the King and the Queen of Norway on April 26, 2006.[1] On September 2, 2009, the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Ban Ki-Moon visited UNIS. Together with the Norwegian Minister of Environment Erik Solheim, Ban Ki-Moon led a debate on the impact of a melting Arctic on the environment.[4]


Although UNIS has no formal tuition fee, students are required to pay a semester fee of 500 NOK (about 65 EUR). For overnight scientific cruises, fieldwork and excursions, students must pay a daily rate of NOK 200 for food.[5] UNIS has a library, established in 1993.[6] A significant part of the library is electronic: the company is subscribed to a number of electronic databases that can be accessed from the library computers.[7][8] UNIS has several research laboratories[9] and a 15 m long research ship Viking explorer.[10]

Most students at UNIS live in six renovated mining barracks in Nybyen (3,900 NOK), a settlement on the southern outskirts of Longyearbyen (30–40 minutes by foot). From September 2014, some students lives in the newly build campus Sjøskrenten (4,500–4,600 NOK), which is a 2 minutes walk from UNIS. Both campuses are owned and administered by the Student Welfare Organization in Tromsø (SiTo).[11]

Safety and well-being[edit]

Visitors and residents are not "permitted" to die in Longyearbyen, as the town's cemetery stopped accepting newcomers in the 1930s. The local authorities try to ensure that deaths do not occur in the region. Any seriously ill person is transported by ship or airplane to another part of Norway. The nearest regional hospital is located in Tromsø a two-hour flight away. This decision stems from the finding made in 1930s that buried bodies do not decompose in the cold climate of the island. Recent scientific examination of one body revealed a well-preserved influenza virus, which was the cause of a number of deaths on the island in 1917.[12]

Polar bears are abundant in the area and are a threat to human life. As a result, local citizens often carry rifles, and every UNIS student and member of staff spends their first day learning how to use a rifle to defend themselves against bears.[13]

Because UNIS activities include field work carried out on boats, snowmobiles or on foot in a harsh environment, all new students and staff members are required to present a self-declaration confirming that they are in good health.[14]


  1. ^ a b c d Annual Reports.
  2. ^ a b Arctic science for global challenges.
  3. ^ Rules of entry for studies at UNIS.
  4. ^ Eva Therese Jenssen (27 August 2009) UN Secretary-General to visit UNIS.
  5. ^ Academic matters.
  6. ^ About the UNIS Library.
  7. ^ Library information.
  8. ^ Full text and bibliographic search on the web.
  9. ^ UNIS Laboratories.
  10. ^ "Viking Explorer" (PDF) (in Norwegian). Archived from the original (PDF) on July 24, 2011. 
  11. ^ Accommodation.
  12. ^ Duncan Bartlett (12 July 2008). "Why dying is forbidden in the Arctic". BBC News. 
  13. ^ Eva Therese Jenssen (6 June 2009) Record number of UNIS students.
  14. ^ Health at UNIS: Main goal.

Coordinates: 78°13′21.74″N 15°39′6.71″E / 78.2227056°N 15.6518639°E / 78.2227056; 15.6518639