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The university is preparing for a lengthy search

Ole Arve Misund (right) with some of his collegues at UNIS; Helen Flå (left), Fred Skancke Hansen and Ingrid Vinje. FOTO: Eirik Palm

UNIS director stepping down:

The university is preparing for a lengthy search

Efforts to find new director at The University Centre in Svalbard will start immediately, but the chairwoman of the board of directors says it may be next fall before a successor is in place.

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30.10.2015 kl 16:39

He's engaged in small talk with colleagues while looking at the photographer up the stairs. Now the search for new boss is starting.

At a cabinet meeting last Friday it became official: Ole Arve Misund will become director of the National Institute of Nutrition and Seafood Research (NIFES), a division of the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Fisheries, on Feb. 1. On Monday, UNIS Chairwoman Berit Johanne Kjeldstad received Misund's resignation.

'In the right direction'

The transition is happening while UNIS is attempting to expand to help compensate for the loss of jobs and residents in the wake of the coal mining crisis. The goal is an approximate doubling of staff and students.

How does Misund feel about departing now?

"I've been thinking some about that," said Misund, who was appointed to a four-year term when he started working at UNIS. "It's a bit strange to go during a period where UNIS is gearing up to take on a greater social responsibility. I feel that we have gotten the message across that UNIS should take more responsibility and things are going in the right direction. Svalbard is a national concern and UNIS is a national institution for the future."

When he arrived on a cold winter day in March of 2012 and walked up to his office on the second floor, he was coming from a job as chief scientist and deputy commander for The Institute of Marine Research in Norway. UNIS has grown steadily since its founding in 1993, and during Misund's time both student and staff FTEs have risen.

"It was a cold winter and I was not quite so cocky," he said about his first days on the jpb. "Fortunately there is a very good and competent staff here who have helped me."

Too few Norwegians

Misund said he's also aware UNIS is facing challenges when it comes to applicants. The Norwegian proportion of students is too low and the number of foreign students is increasing. The university's goal is that at least half of the students come from Norway. Misund said he believes other universities should be given greater responsibility for UNIS in order to arrange and develop programs of study and motivate students to complete part of their education here.

"In the future it must be emphasized enough that UNIS is a program for Norwegian students," he said. "Already now the mission statement declares that there should be a balance between Norwegian and foreign students. We are unfortunately not there today."
"I am quite sure that will come with the Svalbard 'white paper,'" he said.

A quick temporary appointment

In early October, Misund sent the board's input to the central government officials who are drafting the revised "white paper" that outlines policy goals for Svalbard.

The board is now preparing an extended period with an acting director before a successor to Misund takes over.

"We are going start immediately," Kjeldstad said regarding efforts to find Misund successor.

On Thursday of this week, the board held a special meeting to discuss the process of recruiting a new director. Kjeldstad told Svalbardposten she is prepared to have an acting director for some time into the future.

"I will not predict what we will do in detail, but it is important to have someone in place already when he leaves," she said. "So we need to find a temporary solution with an acting director. So we will announce that as soon as possible. This is an important position."

What timespan does she anticipate?

"We dare not have any idea about that, but we must take into consideration that it may take some time," Kjeldstad said. "Therefore it is important to have a good acting director. We must find the right person for the situation that Longyearbyen is in now. But we have to assume that it will continue through the the summer."

Seafood all the way

Since Misund started his term, he has been involved in about 80 hirings, many of them fellowships. Today there are 250 full-time students; the goal is 400.

In addition to his association with IMR, he has a background in fisheries. For three years during the transition from the 1970s to the '80s he was on longliners and trawlers. He was also involved in research about the behavior of herring caught by seine fishing. The road to the IMR was therefore short. He also spent seven or eight active years aboard the G.O. Sars research vessel and been involved in the planning of two research vessels, most recently the 1.4-billion kroner RV Kronprins Haakon. The vessel is under construction in Genoa and is scheduled to replace the RV Lance in 2017.

From 2000 until 2012, he was head of research at IMR. From 2007 onwards he was also deputy leader at the institute.

"I saw the announcement for UNIS and thought that if I were to do anything other than fisheries, it had to be this," Misund said, explaining how he ended up in Svalbard..
Contact with fisheries and the fishing industry has followed him further and further north, and the cooperation between IMR has been extended. As director, he has "at idle moments" presented research for scientific purposes. And in recent years, new species of fish have arrived and Isfjorden has filled up with cod.

"I take great pleasure in writing scientific papers and have an article now about the Svalbard fisheries," he said. "You know that already in the 1870s G. O. Sars encountered a large fleet of small fishing boats here. Then in 1878 that came to an abrupt end. That was related to temperature and now the conditions are right again. There is a debate in the fishing industry about extending the seasons. It may well be that we as a nation should use the opportunity to avail ourselves of the resources."

Misund has authored five or six articles, along with writing a book in collaboration with, among others, Leif Magne Helgesen and Kim Holmén.

On Feb. 1, Misund will go over to NIFES, which has 140 employees and offices in the middle of the seaward approach to Bergen. Until then, he said he will stand for UNIS until the final whistle and then send the pass on.

"A good pass. Forward," he said.

Operating 'on schedule'

The replacement of Misund with what will likely be a lengthy stint by a temporary director is occurring in the midst of a period when UNIS is taking on a more important role in Svalbard due to the cuts at Store Norske. UNIS leaders wrote the Ministry of Education and Research nearly a year ago to request an acceleration of expansion plans for the university center and research facility. The planning of the expansion is underway and a contract with architects has been signed.

Kjeldstad said she's is not worried the process will slow down.

"I think there is a very experienced board at UNIS and competent management beyond director, so the process that is already started to develop a future strategy is underway," she said.

Kjeldstad said the board will be attentive and doesn't want uncertainty surrounding its commitments.

She'd rather not say with certainty when the big changes are coming, but UNIS is "running according to the plan" for 2016.

"So it's a question of how we're rigged in 2017," Kjeldstad. "There I would think that the Svalbard white paper will say something about that."

That will provide an important indicator about the timeline. In addition, ministries other than the Ministry of Education and Research, which owns UNIS, will have their say.
Kjeldstad also emphasized it's important to establish a third phase of construction at Svalbard Research Park, which is in many people's interest.



Translated by Mark Sabbatini

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Berit Johanne Kjeldstad. FOTO: NTNU

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