The first students have already started the fall semester at The University Centre in Svalbard. Six students in the Arctic Geophysics program are setting themselves up at one of the boats an Småbåthavna. They jump into the bay, gather in tubes and help each other out onto the pier. The rest of the class is finished and starting to take off their survival suits. Some of the students are from Poland, Germany and Austria. Maria Hammarvëck, 24, comes from Sweden.
"I'm here mostly for the field studies. We just don't have the same approach at home in Stockholm," she said, while getting help taking off her Neoprene gloves and survival suit.
This year students from 42 countries will study at UNIS.
"We have a new record," Ruben Eidesen, a study advisor in the university's Department of Arctic Technology.
He said students have come from about 30 countries since 2008, but this year a far greater part of the world is represented.
"There are more who are coming from studies at universities in Europe, but who are originally from other continents," Eidesen said.
In particular, many of the students are from China, Brazil and Peru.
The number of applicants at UNIS has increased in recent years. It has almost doubled since 2011, when there were 550 applicants for UNIS courses. This year there were 1,095 applicants, with 330 students accepted for enrollment this fall.
"We have students here from all Norwegian universities," said Ole Arve Misund, the university's administrative director. "We are the Arctic institute of the mainland universities."
The goal is for half of the students to be Norwegian. That figure has been difficult for UNIS to reach. Last year, only 35 percent of students were Norwegians.
"We are doing a lot of work to get more Norwegian students," Misund said.
After the semester starts, UNIS officials will meet with the deans from eight mainland universities to go through the course portfolio and find out which courses should be a priority and which they can eliminate.
"There is a certain dynamic in this from year to year," Misund said.
He says that they want to develop a system that allows more Norwegian students to complete part of their education here.
"We are seeing that those that have first taken courses here would like to come back," Eidesen said.
Can house all
The mandate from Norway's Ministry of Education and Research is that there can be 220 full-time-equivalent students at UNIS this year.
"We are set to clear 195 FTEs," Misund said.
He said the ministry adjusts the number of full-time students each year after seeing how UNIS has managed.
UNIS has previously been forced to reject students because the university has not been able to house them. The university does not need to do that now since a new residence hall is ready this semester.
"We're looking forward to it," Misund. "When we begin that will be an improvement."
The official start of the semester is next Friday, but several courses are already underway. The first thing students learn is how to behave in Svalbard's nature.
"Svalbard is an area with small margins," Misund said. "Therefore, all beginning students take the safety course."
Students in the Arctic Geophysics program began the semester learning what to do if they fall into the water during a boat trip.