University of the Arctic offers lessons for resource development in NL


Feb. 26, 2014

L’anse aux Meadows

One of the topics that researchers at the University of the
Arctic are exploring is the development of rural locations
that offer tourism potential, such as L’anse aux Meadows,
in the context of extractive industries. (Photo
Credit: Courtesy Newfoundland and Labrador Tourism)

A business professor at Memorial says being part of a network of universities focused on vulnerable regions of the North offers important lessons for resource development in this province.

Dr. Gordon Cooke, associate professor of labour relations at the Faculty of Business Administration, is one of Memorial’s representatives to the University of the Arctic, a collection of universities with interests in the circumpolar north. Memorial’s department of geography is also involved.

“This is a dream opportunity for us to interact with experts in the field,” he says. “The things that they study are absolutely applicable to Newfoundland and Labrador. How are we developing offshore oil and gas? How are we developing water and mining opportunities in Labrador? How are we developing, or not developing, in rural parts of the province? It’s complicated, and to effectively manage these things you have to study them for years and years.”

There are many universities from around the globe involved in the University of the Arctic, all of which have an interest in Arctic issues as it relates to rural and remote locations, aboriginal peoples and resource development.

Memorial was also asked to join a thematic network of about 13 universities that focus on extractive industries (primarily oil and gas and mining) and have begun offering a pan-Arctic PhD program in Arctic extractive industries, for which Memorial is a main partner with the University of Tromsø in Norway. Courses offered focus on issues such as climate change, the environment, resources, transportation and logistics, and issues related to indigenous peoples, all within the context of extractive industries.

“It’s an amazing opportunity for students and faculty in the Faculty of Business Administration to immerse themselves in European examples,” says Dr. Cooke. “It’s certainly food for thought for how we could, should or would develop Labrador, for example, or what are we going to do with L’anse aux Meadows?

“It’s eye-opening to see the commitment, in some countries, to rural development at the small community level.”

The PhD program offers a certificate of specialization in extractive industries. To earn this certificate, students must complete a PhD program at their home universities as well as three for-credit and week-long courses that are hosted at various University of the Arctic locations.

Memorial hosted a course on human resource issues in extractive industries in 2012. Courses have also been held in Norway and Finland with the next taking place at the University of Northern British Columbia (UNBC) in May.

Mercy Oyet, a third-year student in the business faculty’s PhD in management program, has attended three courses, including the one hosted by Memorial. She says participating in the program expanded her research interests.

“I now have a better understanding of the relevance of research in the two sub-disciplines in which I am specializing – organizational behaviour and human resources management – to various work contexts. Participating in these courses has shown me that there are opportunities for more research exploring how research in these disciplines can be applied or related to research on work in the Arctic and remote regions,” she says. “As a researcher in training, and as a future academic, this is encouraging as I can continue to identify linkages between these areas of research and my research interests.”

Bui Petersen, a first-year PhD in management student, plans to join the UNBC course in May. He is studying the cultural influences of labour relations in Newfoundland and Labrador and the Faroe Islands and looks forward to learning from academics and researchers in a variety of disciplines.

“The courses are interdisciplinary, which will allow me to interact with faculty and students from disciplines such as geography, anthropology, political science and sociology. I expect to draw on research from all of these disciplines for my thesis so it’s beneficial to learn from these experts and to meet people that I could possibly work with in the future,” he says.

Dr. Cooke says this interdisciplinary approach is a key for the study of extractive industries in the North. As representatives of a business-focused mindset, students and faculty members from the Faculty of Business Administration quite often find themselves having contrary opinions than the more socially-minded anthropologists and environmentalists, but Dr. Cooke thinks that it’s important for researchers to be aware of the many different sides to the complicated issues surrounding resource development.

“From my perspective, I think if we’re not doing interdisciplinary research, then we can’t fully explore all of the possible answers and all of the possible questions,” he says. “We in the business faculty have a role to play, even if sometimes we are the contrarians in the room.”

Susan White-MacPherson