The Scottish Association for Marine Science, SAMS, is hosting the event. SAMS is an academic partner to the University of the Highlands and Islands, a founder member of the University of the Arctic or Uarctic, an international network of universities. It might surprise some Iceblog readers to know that 7 Scottish universities are members. Scotland is the northernmost non-Arctic country. The pro-independence government in Edinburgh is keen to develop its long-standing links to its Arctic neighbours. Much of the funding for SCOTMAC comes from the Scottish government’s Arctic Connections Fund, launched in July 2021.
SAMS academics Finlo Cottier and Anuschka Miller are co-hosting it. The meeting will be led by Dr Anthony Speca, a secondary-school teacher at Norwich School in the UK, Adjunct Professor at Trent University in Canada, Managing Director of the UArctic Læra Institute for Circumpolar Education and the founder and Managing Principal of Polar Aspect.
Scotland and UArctic share deep and long-standing links dating back to the founding of the network in 2001. Alongside the University of the Highlands and Islands as a founding member, the University of Aberdeen, Glasgow Caledonian University, St Andrews, Strathclyde, Edinburgh, and Robert Gordon have since joined. Scotland’s growing contingent is now the second largest non-Arctic group within the network. The country actually hosts Europe’s largest glaciology group (the Scottish University Research in Glacial Environments).This strong partnership reflects a “deep understanding of Scottish-Arctic similarities”, says Uarctic.
Geographical proximity is not the only thing the world’s northernmost non-Arctic nation and the Arctic have in common. Scotland has 96 inhabited islands, with population numbers often in the single digits. As much as 98% of the country’s landmass is classified as rural, but it contains only 17% of the population, including some of the least densely populated areas in Europe.
The universities in the network believe knowledge-sharing and collaboration on matters relating to education provision in sparsly populated regions is essential to “deliver increased resilience and wellbeing for our communities, no matter how rural.”
Professor Finlo Cottier is a physical oceanographer at SAMS in Oban. He and his colleagues have developed what he calls the “Arctic strand” at SAMS, which, he says, is part of the identity of the University of the Highlands and Islands (UHI), with which it has a close partnership. One unique undergraduate course is called Marine Science with Arctic Studies. Students based in Oban can opt to take an Arctic stream to their degree, which allows them to spend time in Svalbard and write a final dissertation with an Arctic focus.
Anthony Speca had been running his own secondary schools version of the Model Arctic Council since 2016. He and Cottier thought it could be an idea to run a MAC event in Scotland. When the Scottish government opened the Arctic Connections Fund, the project succefully applied for funding. “And so the idea of ScotMac was born”, says Speca. This is the first one, and the team hope it will be the start of an annual series, which would rotate around the seven universities that are part of the Scottish Arctic network. Some additional funding comes from the Scottish Alliance for Geoscience, Environment and Society, SAGES.
32 student delegates in total will participate in the meeting. Most of them have no Arctic background, Cottier explains. Some are studying marine science, others journalism, architecture, international relations or politics. Interest and enthusiasm, not prior knowledge, are the prequisites.
So what makes busy young students spend their spare time working their way into a topic that may be completely unconnected with their degree subjects and taking part in an event like SCOTMAC? Speca stresses it was over-subscribed four times. SAMS Communications Head, marine biochemist Anuschka Miller is Cottier’s co-host of SCOTMAC. She teaches science communication and covers the Arctic Council as part of the university degree programme. She is not surprised by the considerable interest:
“I think it is really topical because young people are really trying to get involved in environmental diplomacy”, she told me. She cites the huge presence at last December’s climate COP26 in Glasgow.
“A lot of them landed there without any training, and I think this is an extraordinarily good opportunity for them to be trained”, she says. “Part of the purpose is to create the Arctic leaders of tomorrow“, Speca adds.