FRAM – High North Research Center for Climate and Environment

Digital edition 2023

Training ocean leaders for a blue/green future

As the global need for food, energy, and minerals increases, some are looking to the oceans to provide more. This highlights the need for sustainable use of our marine resources. A new master’s programme at UiT The Arctic University of Norway hopes to contribute.


By: Ellen Kathrine Bludd // UiT The Arctic University of Norway

Fern Wickson presenting her research during a “Symposium at Sea” aboard the vessel Ushuaia as part of the Homeward Bound Leadership programme for women in STEMM. Photo: Homeward Bound

The new master’s programme Ocean Leadership is developing new ways to manage the ocean through an integrative approach. They aim to reach leaders in different ocean sectors to improve their abilities to lead transformations towards sustainability.

“We are in a serious global crisis. We need to move towards a more sustainable way of living,” says Professor Fern Wickson. She is head of the new master’s programme at UiT.

“There are now demands for the ocean to deliver more food and energy,” she says, “but this cannot just be through more extractive industries. We must support the ocean so that it can continue to support people.”

Fern Wickson

“We have to build knowledge, skills, and capacity to enable that transformation for the ocean to deliver more and in a sustainable way,” says Fern Wickson.

This calls for all the various ocean-related sectors to collaborate and requires researchers to work across disciplines.

Pilot students

A small pilot group of eleven people from the Nordic countries started the new programme in 2022. According to the programme description, Ocean Leadership is a part-time experience-based master’s programme for professionals in marine or maritime sectors wanting to advance the blue/ green shift towards a sustainable future.

The term blue/green shift refers to the world needing to switch to more environmentally friendly solutions for energy and food, while allowing the ocean to solve some of these issues. For instance, producing food in the ocean can reduce CO2 emissions, compared to producing the food on land.

The programme runs part-time over three years. The first two years are focused on course work, with a combination of face-to-face sessions, digital discussion seminars, and online course modules for independent study. The third year is dedicated to the development of a master’s thesis on a topic of relevance to the participant’s work environment.

“All participants in the programme work full time in an ocean-related industry, marine or maritime, and have a leadership role. To be admitted to the programme, they must have five years’ work experience, and two years in leadership,” says Wickson.

Most students are sponsored by their employers, which see the master’s programme as beneficial, and the teachers of the course strive to make it relevant for the students’ professional environments.

“We give them genuine ocean sustainability challenges that they must solve as a group. These challenges can be for instance aquaculture in exposed areas, wind power offshore in the Barents Sea, and shipping in the Arctic,” Wickson explains.

So, how to teach such a diverse group of people and add an interdisciplinary approach? We’ll get to that in a bit. But first, let’s talk to the students.

Finn-Arne Egeness. Photo: Marius Fiskum
Linnea Engström. Photo: Janne Danielsson
Nathaniel Matthews. Photo: Private

Finn-Arne Egeness

Finn-Arne Egeness is Chief Analyst for Seafood at Nordea Bank. The bank finances the seafood industry, with more than NOK 40 billion in exposure to seafood. It is the second largest seafood financing bank in the world.

I applied for this master’s programme for two reasons. Firstly, the economic activity in the ocean is increasing, which heightens the conflict between the industries operating there. It’s exciting to participate in enabling these to coexist. Secondly, it’s essential for all of us to learn more about sustainability.

Finn-Arne Egeness is Chief Analyst for Seafood at Nordea Bank.

Since I work primarily with seafood, I mainly view the sea from that angle. I hope to broaden the understanding of others who also harvest and make use of other ocean resources. In the programme I have learned about ocean governance, and how to steer the various stakeholders towards collaborating.

Networking is as important as the study programme itself. Meeting other players within the seafood industry and other sectors. It’s nice to have others to discuss things with in the future, and great to meet people from other countries. That adds a broader perspective to the discussions.

It’s exciting but demanding to combine studies with work. In the long run, I think it will be worth it, even if it’s challenging in the short term.

Linnea Engström

Linnea Engström is Programme Director for the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) in the Baltic Sea Region and Scandinavia. MSC stands behind the most used, most credible standard and ecolabel for wild-caught seafood globally.

I applied for Ocean Leadership because I wanted to expand my views and my network, learn new things, and be inspired. In my field of expertise, you need to keep evolving and learn new things to be competitive and find new solutions to sustainability challenges in our oceans.

I’ve gained many new insights into research and different perspectives from the Scandinavian countries. I have deepened and consolidated my knowledge on things I knew before but now I can see them from new perspectives.

Linnea Engström

Nathaniel Matthews

Nathaniel Matthews is a Lieutenant in the US Coast Guard, a branch of the US armed forces that works with maritime security, search and rescue, and law enforcement in a complex maritime environment. It is the largest coast guard in the world.

I applied to Ocean Leadership because I moved to Tromsø to immerse myself in a Norwegian perspective, as part of an exchange programme in the US Coast Guard. I initially thought Ocean Leadership was directed towards improving the personal leadership skills of the cohort in their work across different ocean sectors. I quickly realised I wasn’t thinking big enough. While personal leadership is certainly something we’ve discussed, the programme goals are directed towards systemic leadership to drive more sustainable use of the oceans.

I hope to gain some methods with which to approach complex problems, those with many interdependent elements and no clear resolution, only the possibility to improve on the condition. I have also really appreciated the leadership discussions with faculty and the rest of the cohort because it offers a structured space to unpack various approaches to working with other people in teams.

Ocean Leadership is a wonderful cohort of fellow students and a great interdisciplinary slice of professors and speakers that have offered new perspectives on issues I’ve only thought about from the relatively narrow perspective of a military officer engaged in law enforcement at sea.

We may need to rely more on the resources in the ocean to enable a greener future. Photo: Ellen Kathrine Bludd / UiT The Arctic University of Norway

Teaching methods

Back to the teaching methods in Ocean Leadership. The course is focused on integrated ocean management, considering all stakeholders that use the ocean. The students are taught leadership in complex systems, and leadership for sustainability. Leadership is the common theme recurring through all the subjects.

“We don’t aim to give them in-depth knowledge. Rather, we focus on giving them the ability to understand how the different sectors impact ocean sustainability collectively, scanning a breadth of knowledge, patterns, and connections,” says Fern Wickson.

She explains that they use active and blended learning combined with peer-to-peer teaching.

“We build bridges so that the students start to understand and connect differently.”

Wickson explains that different sectors are regulated separately. However, ocean sustainability requires management and leadership that looks at everything and takes it all into account.

“For sustainability we must see how all activities are affecting the ocean and manage these activities. We need transdisciplinary understanding and new forms of leadership to solve these issues,” says Fern Wickson.

Read more about:


Want to read the magazine?

Download the PDF-version of Fram Forum 2023