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Science & business encounters - in a Greenlandic perspective


Speech at Arctic Consensus' business conference - by Suzanne Møller, chairwoman of the board at Ilisimatusarfik

"First, I would like to thank you for the invitation to speak at this trade fair.

I have come to talk about the meeting between the research and business community from a Greenlandic perspective, and especially from Ilisimatusarfik’s perspective.

Being only about 40 years old, Ilisimatusarfik is one of the youngest universities in the world. There are many universities with a history spanning hundreds of years. For example, the University of Copenhagen was founded in 1479, so Ilisimatusarfik is young. And being a young university imposes certain conditions; we are in a start-up phase.

The establishment of the University of Greenland, or Ilisimatusarfik, in 1984 is to be viewed as part of the nation-building project that Greenland has laid down on the road towards self-governance. It was thus no coincidence that the decision was made to bring home Inuit Studies, which was the foundation for the further establishment of institutes focusing on culture, history, language and religion. It was in these areas that educational programmes were offered and were the subject of research.

The turn of the millennium saw more programmes being added and the social sciences programme becoming more extensive. In 2007–2008, the professional education programmes became part of Ilisimatusarfik, and the four current institutes were established: Culture, Language and History; Social Science, Economics and Journalism; Learning, and finally Nursing and Health Science.

As you can likely tell, Ilisimatusarfik has indeed expanded from focusing exclusively on culture-bearing programmes towards also offering profession-oriented and business-oriented programmes. The last two educational programmes and research areas established have thus been Law and Business Economics.

The next step for Ilisimatusarfik is to establish scientific programmes that will benefit from, among other things, the research generated at the Greenland Institute of Natural Resources. The portfolio must be expanded to also include programmes that are more aimed at the business community.

Therefore, Ilisimatusarfik in close collaboration with the Greenland Institute of Natural Resources, the Ministry of Fisheries, Hunting and Agriculture, and Royal Greenland has prepared a bachelor’s programme in Arctic Biology that aims to bridge the gap between research and industry. Unfortunately, the Government of Greenland chose not to support the establishment of such a programme financially, and it’s currently not possible for Ilisimatusarfik to find the means themselves. Therefore, for the time being, the project has been shelved.

As of now, Ilisimatusarfik conducts research in the Humanities, Social Sciences and Health Sciences, but how does that meet the needs of the business community?

Well, it is actually possible to bridge this gap between business and research. There are really great collaborations happening between the public sector and researchers. These encompass research into homelessness, diabetic eye disease, the importance of microbes, quality of life, aging, the state school, and much more - and we will see collaborations in the legal and economic fields as well.

The lecturers at a university MUST conduct research, and the teaching there MUST be research-based to ensure that the research and syllabus are closely linked. But how do, the researchers and the business community, find a common ground?

First and foremost, we must get to know one another - we must gain insight into the basic conditions that exist for each other’s work; running a business has one aim and conducting research has another, these are two different goals - two different bottom lines.

I will not go into the goals and focal points of the business community here, but I will briefly outline the conditions for research:

Research must be independent - that is, the research must find answers to open, wondering questions and cannot - and indeed must not - be forced in certain directions.

Research must comply with a code of ethics and it must use research methods recognised within the field. Research results must be published in peer-reviewed journals. This is the researcher’s way of being recognised. It is the researcher’s bottom line and part of a university’s quality assurance.

Like the public sector, companies can use researchers to elaborate on a problem, but as stated earlier it should not be in the form of a consultant you hire - it must be a researcher who wants to work methodologically with a problem.

But how does this work? 

If we look at how humanistic and social science research can contribute, I would like to give an example:

One of the research projects underway at Ilisimatusarfik, which some of you undoubtedly are familiar with, is led by the Department of Social Sciences under Professor Gestur Hougaard and concerns management in Greenland.

The project is initiated by researchers at Ilisimatusarfik.

The research project aims to strengthen management practices in Greenland by, through empirical descriptions, analysing the collective practices that leaders are part of and thus reveal the state of management in Greenland. Research such as this can provide companies with valuable knowledge about the basic conditions for management in Greenland.

Thus, the project becomes relevant in relation to the continued development of business in Greenland, both for the senior managers in the organisations being studied, but also through communication in meetings and seminars. In addition, it provides an important input to developing education at the academic level.

The research project takes place in collaboration with a large number of companies in Greenland where senior managers are involved as informants. 

It is thus a project that provides knowledge about management as it takes shape in Greenland, and it is an example of Ilisimatusarfik reaching out to the business community.

It’s all about reaching out to each other, to see the opportunities that research offers - the researchers really want access to the empirical data and knowledge obtained by companies. And many business challenges can be a great opportunity to gain knowledge through research. Royal Greenland has some experience with working together with researchers; however, it’s primarily in the natural / technical area.

How do we create a natural connection?

Ilisimatusarfik has established so-called "end-user panels" at all its departments, where the end-users, i.e. the various companies and organisations, who employ graduates from the various programmes are represented. The primary task of the panels is to ensure that the programmes are aimed at the professions the graduates are going to work in - but they are also a platform where an interaction takes place; where the gap between theory and practise is bridged.

By joining these and other forums, the gap from university to business is narrowed. It becomes a little easier to knock on each other’s door and discuss ideas, suggestions and issues.

Once a meeting has been agreed between people in the research community and business community, it is important that, as a company, you commit to the project just like the university or researchers do. It can be a matter of allocating resources to the project, be it working hours, financing or something else. Of course, it depends on what, where, how and who is to be included in the project. But there is, of course, a financial aspect that cannot be solely defrayed by the university.

As a company, you can make yourself available as a field of research, or you yourself can initiate research related to your company or a business matter, by requesting it and benefitting from the knowledge it provides. Another option is to be part of a business PhD collaboration. As you know, a PhD is a 3-year research programme, and for a business PhD collaboration the company co-finances a PhD project involving research into a specific topic or issue that the company wants to work with.

By hiring a business PhD researcher, the company gains an extra resource that can be utilised to solve specific issues for the company, develop the company, develop products etc. Through the collaboration, the company also gains access to university facilities and benefits from the expert knowledge that the associated supervisor possesses.

In addition to research collaborations, there are also great opportunities for collaborations around educational programme content, e.g. real-world business issues can form the basis of students’ theses. In this case, it is equally important that the company contributes with something more than just a "problem". The company must actively participate in the collaboration. As an example, we can look to Finland. Here the educational institution and the company arrange meetings with the student and supervisor during the process, thus ensuring that the connection to the company will ultimately lead to an authentic approach and a relevant thesis.

As is hopefully apparent from my presentation, and as chairman of Ilisimatusarfik, I am concerned with promoting collaboration between the research and business communities on equal terms.

At Ilisimatusarfik, we have hosted trade fairs in recent years - and achieved great success. The aim of these fairs has primarily been employment, but I believe an equally valid goal should be to match students and researchers with the business community in a discussion about collaboration.

What if? How? And why?

These are questions that are right up the research community’s ally, because they have the skills and expertise to answer them. By investing relatively few resources, it is possible to answer the not-so-straightforward questions. These can be questions about the company, staff, processes, management, customers, branding, innovation and so on, and the answers will strengthen the company’s competitiveness.

On the other hand, researchers must form networks and connections between the companies and the research community so that both sides are clear about what they can use each other for and what prerequisites each other have. The research must promote development by challenging the companies on their self-understanding; it must create the "aha" moments. This calls for the researchers to have an understanding of the companies and business development, and that they can master the balance between working with issues within the individual company and at the same time be able to scale the results to a research level. 

Ilisimatusarfik would very much like to collaborate with the business community.

We already do this through teaching and also partly through research - but the collaboration has to be increased. To achieve this, we will continue to invite the business community to end-user panels, public lectures, business fairs and to information meetings about business PhDs. So please accept our invitations and come and visit us. Please feel free to invite researchers into your company - let them help with research-based work on issues you would like to illuminate, let them come up with new perspectives and input. It will promote growth in your company.

The board’s strategy is to focus on the interaction between researchers, the researcher programmes and the educational programmes, and with the respective fields of practice and end users in society. Ilisimatusarfik is part of society, and the business community must benefit from the university on an equal footing with the public research conducted by Ilisimatusarfik.

Let us together create exciting progress and innovation. As mentioned, Ilisimatusarfik is working to expand the field of science, but until then we have plenty to offer you in the fields of humanities, social sciences, health sciences and pedagogical research.

Thank you for your time and for your participation."

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