International Antarctic Institute Position Paper

By international agreement the Antarctic continent is set aside for scientific collaboration. As has been seen over the past half-century, international co-operation is the key to the success of large-scale research programs in Antarctica and the Southern Ocean.

The aim of this discussion paper is to stimulate a conversation on working together in Antarctic education towards the goal of establishing an International Antarctic Institute (IAI). All our institutions are different and have different priorities, focuses, resources and restrictions. We should aim to develop a joint model of cooperation that can accommodate as many Antarctic institutions as possible. It is possible that not all institutions will be able to participate to the same extent. Therefore we should develop a structure and outlook that is able to be widely implemented.

The opportunity exists to establish an international educational structure, bringing together national academic institutes, consolidate each university's Antarctic focus and differentiation, and build on decades of international cooperation. As we will see in the final section the development of such an infrastructure is timely as we approach the International Polar Year in 2007-2009.

In several countries, distinctive university programs in Antarctic Studies and Research are already being offered. Many institutions offer units at the undergraduate level and many postgraduate level courses could be modified for undergraduates. We envisage a multidisciplinary educational program both at the graduate and undergraduate level. Our aim could be to cross-credit study programs, develop joint curricula, provide cross-accreditation for teaching and share educational, human and other resources and facilities. All the international partners are engaged in Antarctic and Southern Ocean research, and where possible programs would be conducted in the context of a research environment.

The International Antarctic Institute could be a multi-campus, multi-disciplinary institution with the opportunity to offer jointly accredited degrees up to, and including taught Masters. Pathways through the matrix of awards, courses and subjects assembled could be facilitated by this international institute through its cross-crediting arrangements, monitored by an Academic Committee. The IAI would play a major role in formalising these pathways. The available options are exciting and will be challenging for all of us.

An IAI will improve access to undergraduate education for each of its partners. Through active promotion and publicity the total number of students enrolled in Antarctic courses will increase and will benefit all participating institutions. This will have a flow on effect to enrolments in postgraduate research programs (research Masters and PhDs), which are currently suffering a global decline in enrolments. At the very least we will be able to advertise offerings through an IAI network, but there is the potential for much more.

If the proposed institute (IAI) is to be a success, it will need to provide a net benefit to all participants. In the medium to long term the structure will need to be self sustaining. This aspect should be kept in mind throughout the discussion.IAI Structure
Through group discussion we will need to consider various models of IAI mediated cooperation. This position paper presents several initial ideas for reciprocal arrangements, some which could be achieved within existing frameworks, others might need developing. The basic working model could be structured as follows:

IAI Organisational Diagram

The council of members is the group of IAI universities. Each university would be a member of this primary decision making body.

The academic council would oversee all academic matters including the planning of courses and the enrolment and supervision of students. It would comprise a smaller group drawn from the IAI universities.

The Secretariat could comprise a director, secretary and project officer. It would be responsible for the day to day operation of the institute, publicity and promotion and the identification of funding opportunities. It is envisaged that the secretariat would rotate between member institutions.

Undergraduate level

The IAI would promote:

  • International opportunities in Antarctic undergraduate education
  • Sharing of teaching resources between partner universities
  • Development of new and innovative Antarctic courses
  • Development of clear articulation pathways between degrees to encourage student and staff mobility
  • International cooperation engendered in the Antarctic Treaty System

The IAI would work towards establishing a multi-institute degree. Students would enrol in their home institutions but take up to an agreed proportion of their course units at other IAI member institutions. The range of acceptable course unit combinations would be established by the Academic Council. Degrees would be jointly badged, i.e. from their home institution and the IAI.

As a priority the IAI should identify possible areas of student access to Antarctic logistic facilities and also to island and continental field sites.

Funding student mobility

These degree programs are likely to be expensive for students. The need for students to travel to different institutions will require travel support. Each institution will need to provide a small number (i.e. < 5) of travel bursaries to support this travel. Travel to field work locations will add considerably to costs.


Student exchange programs are already widespread at most universities. Early in the life of the IAI it might be possible to utilise existing student exchange programs. Undergraduate students interested in pursuing Antarctic studies would enrol and study at their home, IAI-affiliated university. They would then be encouraged to spend one or more semesters at an IAI partner institution during the second and/or third year of their course. The units taken during this exchange semester would be credited through their home university. As units become available by distance learning, these too would be advertised via the IAI. The IAI would expand the already existing structures to allow students to take appropriate units at IAI institutions. Most institutions would probably need to develop additional exchange agreements with IAI institutions.

Credit processes

If agreement can be reached on the structure and courses of the IAI affiliated Bachelor and Masters degrees, a formal arrangement through a system of Memorandums of Understanding (MOU) will need to be established between institutions offering or considering offering courses which credit towards an undergraduate or masters degree.
Advertising and promotion through IAI
Effective promotion could comprise a variety of different initiatives. A key point is the targeting of non-traditional student groups. One of the strengths of IAI will be its strong links to scientists in other universities and institutions. The IAI can be instrumental in gaining wide recognition for international undergraduate offerings. The secretariat will be responsible for maximising international exposure of the IAI and publicising its degrees and courses.

The IAI would establish a web site that would promote Antarctic undergraduate and coursework Masters postgraduate education. It would specifically identify and describe IAI degrees, undergraduate courses and programs. It would identify scholarships and sources of student financial assistance. The secretariat would be responsible for maintaining and regularly updating the website.

Higher Degrees

Postgraduate coursework degrees at the Masters level are proposed as initial, structured courses of the IAI. Four Masters Degree courses in Antarctic studies could be offered including specialists degrees in either physical sciences, life sciences and political sciences and one of a multidisciplinary nature. Students would have come from traditional undergraduate degree programs from their home institutes. They could then undertake compulsory modules of the masters programs from IAI partner institutes, with the remainder of the program undertaken at their home institute through course work, online IAI courses, literature research and/or research projects. Upon completion, students would receive a Masters degree from their home institute with recognition by the IAI.

At the PhD level, through the IAI, the student would have links to scientists and research facilities in other universities and institutions, which would significantly broaden their opportunities.

International Polar Year

An International Polar Year (IPY) has been proposed for 2007-2009 to promote international collaboration in polar science and social science. One of the main aims of the IPY is to 'educate and involve the public, and to help train the next generation of engineers, scientists, and leaders'. The development of the International Antarctic Institute at this time will capitalise on this initiative. The IAI will have similar educational aims and will greatly benefit from being involved in such a big international program that has the endorsement of all Antarctic Treaty nations. Together it could initiate a new era in Antarctic education. The IPY will include a broad range of activities organised around a select number of high profile scientific and outreach themes. One of the two objectives of the IPY education and outreach position paper is 'to attract and develop the next generation of polar scientists, engineers and leaders'.

Link between IAI and IPY

Both the IAI and the IPY share common responses to several questions:

Why establish the IPY?

  • To accelerate advances in knowledge and understanding
  • To leave a legacy to support ongoing advances in the future
  • To enhance international cooperation and coordination to achieve the above

Why at the international level?

  • Polar processes extend across national boundaries
  • Science challenge exceeds the capability of any one nation
  • Coordinated approach maximizes outcomes and cost-effectiveness
  • International collaboration shares benefits and builds relationships

The very same reasons answer the questions 'Why establish the IAI?' and 'Why at the international level?'

The IPY Draft Education and Outreach Position Paper is calling for expressions of interest to take responsibility for all or part of this program. The University of the Arctic has already been identified as likely to have a key role in Arctic education. The IAI could have a similar role in the Antarctic. The IPY is calling for expressions of interest to be submitted by December 2004. If there is support, the IAI should consider making a submission.

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