Unique Norwegian-Japanese collaboration

Norwegian and Japanese students will soon be able to take a joint course in Arctic-Alpine plant ecology. “Field work will take place in both countries, so this is a unique learning opportunity for the students,” says project coordinator Elisabeth Cooper.

The project is called JANATEX: Japanese and Norwegian Arctic-Alpine Terrestrial plant Ecology eXchange. The goal is to develop a joint master's level course featuring field work in the Japanese Alps, in Svalbard and in Tromsø. Students at UiT The Arctic University of Norway in Tromsø,and Japanese students at the National Institute of Polar Research (NIPR) can take the master's level course, which is worth ten credits.

More joint research

Since both Norway and Japan have alpine mountain areas, Professor Elisabeth Cooper at UiT and Masaki Uchida, the programme coordinator in Japan, believe that both researchers and students from the two countries will benefit greatly from a joint research-based master's level course.

“This is a wonderful opportunity for the younger generation of researchers to become acquainted with the Alpine-Arctic flora and monitor the changes that are taking place right now,” Uchida explains.

Group of students at fieldwork.

LEARNING AND ENTHUSIASM: A group of Norwegian and Japanese researchers and students visiting Elisabeth Cooper's research project in the Adventdalen valley in Svalbard, Norway. Photo: SIU

“The students will also have a unique chance to learn about the similarities and differences between Japanese and Norwegian flora. We also hope that they will develop friendships across countries and that this will lead to more collaboration between Norwegian and Japanese researchers in future,” says Cooper.

Cooper has known her Japanese research colleagues for more than 20 years and speaks a little Japanese herself. The professor and her colleagues have long wanted to establish a joint Norwegian-Japanese research and education project.

”When we discovered the High North Programme, we finally saw an opportunity to raise enough funding to develop something together.”

Ten lucky students

The course will be taught by teaching staff from both countries. Two students will be testing the course this year and in 2016, the course will start up in earnest with ten master's students. The Norwegian field work in the Tromsø area and in Svalbard will also begin this year, which should prove a special experience for the Japanese students. The year after, the students will visit the Japanese Alps.

“Japanese students rarely get to travel abroad. This is a fantastic opportunity for them. Both the Norwegian and Japanese students also get to learn about a different continent and culture,” says Cooper.

Motivate Japanese women

Only 14 per cent of all Japanese researchers are women. Cooper and Uchida hope that this cross-cultural collaboration can inspire and motivate more Japanese women to work in research.

“We don't believe that women are better than men, but that everyone should have equal opportunities to engage in research, regardless of their gender,” Cooper points out.

The course will have several female lecturers. They will serve as role models for the Japanese students. In addition, the course will have gender quotas of fifty per cent of each gender in both Japan and Norway.

Cooper showing two students the plant ecology in the Adventdalen valley

FIELD WORK: Elisabeth Cooper has acted as host for Japanese students for several years. Here she is showing two of them the plant ecology in the Adventdalen valley in Svalbard, Norway. Photo: SIU

“Since the course is funded by Norway, which has a strong focus on gender equality, we can ask the collaborating institutions in Japan to admit as many women as men to the course,” says Cooper.

Uchida says this will be a challenge, but that the timing of the effort to increase the number of female researchers is good seen in relation to the current political climate in Japan.

“The Japanese government is currently focusing on increasing the number of women in the workforce.”

Long planning phase

The programme coordinators are also gaining first-hand experience of the practical and cultural differences between the two countries during the planning of the master's level course. The semesters start at different times of the year in the two countries, and the social structure is more hierarchical in Japan. In Cooper's experience, it takes longer to clarify issues with the Japanese partners than she is used to in Norway.

“It can be a bit frustrating to have less time for my own research. However, I think that we, and, not least, the students, have a lot to gain from the master's level course in the long run.