Norway has a long tradition for folk high schools. Now Stortinget, the Norwegian parliament, has opened up for establishing one on Svalbard. – Svalbard offers spectacular nature, says Minister of Education and Integration Jan Tore Sanner.
Up until now, establishing a folk high school on Svalbard has not been permitted. Now, however, the Ministry of Education and Integration has established an extraordinary application deadline so that it will be possible to apply for approval of a folk high school on Svalbard aiming to resume activities in the fall of 2019.
- Svalbard offers spectacular Arctic nature; however, Svalbard is also one of the places in which climate change is most visible. Establishing a folk high school on Svalbard will provide an exciting and unique offer that is not available anywhere else, and it may contribute to increased awareness of the High North, Sanner says in a press statement from the Norwegian government.
To Manager Espen Klungseth Rotevatn of Svalbard Folk High School, the fact that Stortinget opens the door for an Arctic folk high school represents positive news. He has contributed to the process of trying to change the present law, and he now sees an opportunity to contribute to turning the trend of a decreasing Norwegian share of the population in Longyearbyen.
- The change of the law that we initiated in 2016, was adopted by Stortinget at the end of May and was sanctioned in a cabinet meeting on 8 June. The change to the law enters into force on 1 August, and the Ministry of Education and Integration has set an extraordinary application deadline for Svalbard to 15 August. We consider the extraordinary deadline a positive signal, Rotevatn says.
What now remains is completing an application to the Ministry of Education and Integration. It is important to Rotevatn to keep the pressure up and not let the Stortinget’s decision become a resting pillow.
- We apply for approval for up to 125 pupils. Svalbard Folk High School has rigged a solid organization in which YMCA-YWCA is the main owner and Longyearbyen local government is part owner. We will thus have one owner who knows everything there is to know about the world of folk high schools, and one local owner who knows Svalbard and the local conditions. The organization has become just what we, the founders, wanted, Rotevatn says.
Will use what is already there
Svalbard Folk High School wants to make use of what Svalbard already has to offer and will primarily emphasize Arctic subjects.
- Without its meaning just ‘hardcore’ outback experiences. We envision two different tracks with nature experiences, where one emphasizes mushing and peak climbing, whereas the other will aim more at expeditions. We also envision a track emphasizing photography and art, as we already have a vibrant community for this on Svalbard already, Rotevatn says.
In addition, there will be a more research-inspired track offering subjects related to UNIS, the Svalbard University Center.
- This facilitates interaction with existing offers on Svalbard. It also responds to a general criticism towards folk high schools warranting more opportunities in natural sciences, Rotevatn says.
It is all about creating something new out of what is already there and about letting youth participate in the rich art and cultural scene in Longyearbyen.
- We also want to develop an arena for young people emphasizing High North policies, social sciences based on Arctic history, be it nature, culture or research. How attractive wouldn’t it be to apply for admission to a trapper program, to do something quite different for one year, Rotevatn says with a smile.
A demographic transition
Rotevatn says there are few people on Svalbard in the age group that is the target of the folk high school.
- I believe increasing the number of inhabitants in this age group will be beneficial. There are very few 19-20-year olds here, and they would contribute greatly to society. I clearly see the challenges represented by alcohol and abuse, which apply to all folk high schools, however, we will focus on avoiding this, the manager says.
He thinks it is amazing to experience the power of the Svalbard policy, to see that there is actually room for changing laws.
- Yet changing the law is free of charge. Now, however, the really hard work starts – the process of getting Svalbard Folk High School onto the state budget. That is where the costs are buried, though the folk high school represents a high level of activity and an increasingly larger portion of Norwegian presence at a relatively low cost, Rotevatn says.
He says there are already those who have contacted the folk high school to enquire about both jobs and study places.
- We have the organization, the operating model and potential facilities ready, and key politicians and bureaucrats have probably noticed that we are serious and professional. Our application to the Ministry of Education will confirm this. People call us because they want to work at or go to Svalbard Folk High School. We want to turn the trend of a decreasing Norwegian share of the Svalbard population. We are ready to start in 2019 and in reality, it is now up to the government whether or not there will be a folk high school on Svalbard, he says.
- Establishing a folk high school on Svalbard will provide an exciting and unique offer that does not exist elsewhere and may contribute to increased attention to the High North, the Minister of Education and Integration says.
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