The Curious Case of Greenland’s Research Hub

Minik Rosing is the man behind the idea of establishing a research hub in Greenland. High North News met him in Ilulissat for a talk about his visions for the hub, and the coming realization of the idea (Photo: Marc Jacobsen).
Following years of talk about establishing a research hub in Greenland, the idea now appears to make some material progress.

In 2013, Minik Rosing got the idea of establishing a research hub in Greenland. In 2017, it was listed as one of the concrete initiatives in the Danish government’s Foreign and Security Policy Strategy. Despite the attention from the highest political level in Denmark, the idea has not yet materialized. Now, the Danish-Greenlandic Professor in Geology is ready to take the next step in cooperation with Greenlandic authorities and research institutions.
High North News interviewed him during the Ilulissat Declaration’s 10-year anniversary where he also pleaded for the idea in his two presentations.

HNN: You mentioned again that it is time to establish the research hub. What is status?

Minik Rosing: Status is that Ilisimatusarfik (University of Greenland), the Greenland Institute of Natural Resources, and the Climate Research Center have agreed to start the research hub together.

We have also been in contact with Sermersooq Business Council and Sermersooq municipality, which have expressed their interest as well. Now we are ready to start by hiring one person who will be the hub; just one person, here in the beginning, who can make an analysis of what the needs are and the options available, so we can start scaling such a hub. His first task is to do some coordination, so the international scientific community can start interacting with the Greenlandic society. To get the different research communities to interact is actually also a need, so that is a good place to start. Next is to establish contact between business and research, because there is a great need for business circles to learn about research results – and perhaps also the other way around, so researchers get the opportunity to hear the most relevant questions from the reality in which the research takes place. In that way, it is rather straight forward to start slowly, and that way find out what the needs actually are, instead of creating a castle in the air from the beginning and then trying to find out what it should actually do. To create such an organization would both be expensive and take a long time. There is a need to improve this interaction between society and research, and the hub could also help facilitate collaboration between Ilisimatusarfik and Danish and foreign research communities about education, so visiting researchers could teach when they are in Greenland anyway.

Hub to interact with locals

HNN: Apropos castles in the air; it seems like many agree that a research hub is a good idea, but simultaneously it seems like there is not perfect agreement of what a hub actually is. From your point of view is the role of the hub to coordinate?

Minik Rosing: Rather to catalyze. It is very important that it is not merely present for the research communities, but that it also links them with the rest of society. Research is often good at coordinating its own activities, to make great projects together and so forth, but we are still missing that interplay with society.

HNN: In your presentation today, you highlighted article 7 and 9 in the Arctic Council’s new research agreement, which concern how research should benefit local communities. You said that it is important both to disseminate to the local citizens, and that the local citizens should be included more in the actual research. How is it possible to do the latter?

Minik Rosing: If you ask many of the researchers present here in Greenland doing incredibly exiting projects, then they are very eager to have some local Greenlanders employed in their projects,  sailing the boats and so forth, but they don’t know how to get in contact with them, thus, they end up bringing someone themselves. There are many in Greenland – especially young people – who would benefit greatly from visiting other parts of Greenland, which would normally not be possible for them to visit. At the same time, they would get to know some researchers, and when they come back, they would talk with all their friends about what they have learnt, seen and heard. In that way, local participation in projects could create great contact between research communities and local society. So a research hub could be a thing where one says ‘okay, I have to go to Qaanaaq and I will need three assistant. Can I find someone? – and then they get in contact with for instance the university, the high school, or local organizations in Qaanaaq, depending of what kind of skills they need. In that way, the connection is established so both parts benefit from it.

From my point of view, it is obvious that it should be located in Nuuk, because that is where the big research communities are, and that is where most institutions of society are located. What we could do then, is to create some ‘pop-up hubs’ other places – like here in Ilulissat – once in a while, where we say ‘okay, there is going to happen a certain activity here, or some relevant topic is on the agenda, so now we are establishing a temporary office in the school, the municipal office, or somewhere, where we then are ‘hubbing it’ for a while, so contact to the local business council, the fishing industry – or whatever is relevant – is established.

HNN: So can it also be a way to formalize some so-called informal competences, so peoples’ informal skills can be certified?

Minik Rosing: Yes, exactly! That could be done down the road. Perhaps also together with Arctic Command, or someone else, one could offer courses where research assistants can get certificates for the skills they already have.

What will China do?

HNN: There has been a lot of writing lately about China’s interests in establishing research infrastructure in Greenland. Would that be possible to combine with the hub, or would it compete with it?

Minik Rosing: I don’t think it would compete with this – I actually don’t. If Chinese researcher came, they could also use the hub and interact with local research institutions and society.

HNN: China’s ’Belt and Road’ initiative has a lot of millions billions. Could they potentially be beneficial for the hub?

Minik Rosing: I don’t think so – actually not. Starting a hub might perhaps need millions – but not billions – so it can find out what is most relevant to do and then grow organically. The great danger is, if one starts to say that the hub should do this and that; have a stockpile of tents and all that kind of stuff. Suddenly, it becomes a giant millstone round its own neck. I think it is better to cut it to the bone.

Danish support

HNN: First time I heard about the research hub was in the 2016 Review of Denmark’s Foreign and Security Policy. I have then been told that you were the one who originally suggested it at a meeting with the Ministry of Higher Education and Science. Where did you get the idea from?

Minik Rosing: It emerged at some point when there was rather little interplay between Ilisimatusarfik and the Greenland Institute of Natural Resources – and all in all between all the research communities in Greenland – and then it happened that I had talked with the National Science Foundation in the United States – because I was Chairman for the Commission of Scientific Research in Greenland and later of the Greenland Research Council, where I made an exploration into who had which interests – and repeatedly, when one talks to research groups and individual researchers, they said that ‘they were sorry that they didn’t have the opportunity to explain what we are doing locally in Greenland, and that they didn’t have any locals to cooperate with’. So it emerged because it seemed like there was a great need, and that Ilisimatusarfik could benefit a lot from foreign researchers who would care to tell about their research when they were in Greenland anyway, so they could help strengthening the academic environment at the university. It was actually straight forward, I think.

I was also incredibly irritated – and that I am still actually – that every time I am in Nuuk then I don’t have a place to live, so I walk around and live in staircases and sleep under cardboard boxes and things like that. Thus, I thought that if we had such a research hotel for scientists just next to the research communities in Greenland then both would benefit from it.

HNN: What happened when Peter Taksøe-Jensen started working on the Review of Denmark’s Foreign and Security Policy? Did he approach you, or was it the other way around, or how does such things work?

Minik Rosing: I guess it worked as things like that do. People talk with each other and ask ‘what do you think?’ And then he made this report with those input he got.

HNN: The research hub is a rather prominent recommendation in the report – and also in the Denmark’s Foreign and Security Policy Strategy, so it seems like the interest is intact.

Minik Rosing: I also think that it is an obvious win-win-win-win thing, which satisfies needs and wishes of both parties, so if both the Greenlandic society and the research communities wish so, then it would be stupid not to pursue it. Without saying that someone is stupid if they don’t pursue it of cause.