Graduation is a special time at universities, but the ceremony for our University on Friday 24th June felt extra special — and not just because it was the first ‘all-University’ ceremony in my time here (due to covid).
Of course, the students all looked so fantastic in their national costumes and the Nordic House was bursting with the happy families and friends of our students — all so proud of the students’ achievements. And then there was the fact that this was a record-breaking ceremony and a record-breaking academic year for numbers of students graduating.
But perhaps the most important thing is that the Faroe Islands needs — desperately needs — these graduates for the functioning of its economy and its society. The labour market is hungrily crying out for them.
In the past years we have been conducting surveys of our graduates around a year after the graduation ceremony, and we are finding that almost all of them — some 99% — are either in employment or pursuing further studies, either here at Setrið or elsewhere. The overwhelming majority of those who are in employment are in positions which require them to have a University degree.
In everything we do as a University we say that we are here to serve the economic and social needs of the Faroe Islands, and clearly, we are doing that. But we want to do that even more and even better in the future, and that will require that our University continues on the path of growth and development it has been on for the past years, and in fact that the growth and development will accelerate.
There have been some really important developments in recent times. This year we received confirmation from the Danish Ministry of Justice that, based on an evaluation delivered by the law department of the University of Copenhagen, those graduating in law from our University will be able to become legal practitioners across the Danish Kingdom. And that confirmation also required that the Danish Agency for Higher Education and Research visit our University to scrutinise our developing quality system. The Agency staff were able to express confidence that our system will competently assure and enhance the quality of our law programmes — together with all of the other programmes at our University. That is a major boost for all our staff and students — and a vitally important step for our University and the Faroe Islands.
Also, at the request of government, this year we have almost doubled our intake of nursing students — to meet the identified needs of the health care system in the coming years. Next year, we expect to be asked to do the same for the training of pedagogues — and we are ready to do it.
We enthusiastically carry a big responsibility for the education of the professionals who are so badly needed for the Faroese public sector — teachers, pedagogues, nurses, civil servants, workers in the municipalities, and others. Faroese government and society demands that of us and resources us to do it, and these professionals fulfil such vital roles in all of our lives. But we are also very — and increasingly — focused on the needs of the private sector, even though we have been less resourced to do that in the past.
Take IT education as an example. We have been operating with government funding for a small group of staff — 4.5 staff, with others, including from the private sector, contributing as hourly paid teachers — and running a bachelor’s programme with an intake only every two years. On that basis, our ‘output’ of IT graduates is always going to be lower than that for, say, teachers (where there are more staff and intakes of students every year). This year we had six graduating with the bachelor’s in IT — but that reflects in part the biennial intake (there was no first year intake in 2019 which would be expected to graduate en masse in 2022)
But now this is changing. Working in collaboration with the IT employers association, KT-Felagið, and in the context of the work of the relevant Growth Forum, we have secured funding to substantially increase our staffing in the IT area, to have an annual intake to our bachelor’s programme, and to introduce also a master’s programme with an annual intake — beginning in 2023. We are currently working hard to recruit expert staff also from abroad who will join us to support the delivery of these programmes, and to educate a growing number of IT graduates.
The Faroes also needs engineers in many areas. After approval from the Ministry, a new bachelor’s programme in engineering was launched in 2021 with an initial small group of staff that needs to be extended in the coming years. Initially, we again will have an intake of students every two years. The programme allows students to focus in the final stages – in courses, internships, and their final thesis — on civil engineering, electrical engineering or energy engineering. These are vital areas for a modern society, where sustainability in civil engineering, energy supply and energy use are so important.
We also have a bachelor’s programme in biology, also with a small staff group and an intake of students every two years (again, there was no intake in 2019 which would be expected to graduate together in 2022). Graduates from this programme go on to take roles in, for instance, the aquaculture and fishing industries, as well as continuing with higher level study abroad. We would also love to expand our delivery in this area — including with a master’s level programme which would allow our graduates to continue with their studies here on the Faroes. Of course, that would require further resourcing.
Something else to highlight here is that there is a lot of very good research capacity in the aquaculture and fisheries areas in the Faroe Islands. But it is very largely located outside of our University, in other institutions, and that research expertise is not at the moment directed very much towards the education of the next generation of scientists. Personally, I often wonder if that is the right or best way for things to be organised, especially when we are so small and need to make the best use of the resources available to us. Thinking about that might help us all to better address the education and research needs for sustainable economic development on the Faroe Islands going forward.
In the meantime, we are very pleased to have had a successful research collaboration with Bakkafrost over the past three years, and we are looking to extend and scale up the work in this area, to create a Centre for Ocean Simulation, aiming to support further sustainable utilisation of marine resources for the Faroe Islands.