New benchmark report on Sustainability and Responsibility education

NSCN_blog_turku2016_reviewOnSust_studiesText: Katariina Heikkilä and Maria Höyssä, University of Turku, Finland

A new report on the status of Sustainability and Responsibility Study programs and modules has been published by Finland Futures Research Centre (eBooks series). The underlying benchmarking study was conducted in 2014 to support the development of Sustainability Studies in the University of Turku, but it has recently been edited and published so that also other sustainability educators can benefit from the overview that it provides to Finnish and Nordic sustainability education, supported by additional best practice examples from elsewhere in Europe.

The report finds that education in sustainability and responsibility is given in many formats. Different combinations of distance online learning and on campus studies are becoming more frequent. At the same time, cooperation and dialogue between students and teaching staff and even stakeholders outside the university are seen important. The multifaceted and open ended character of sustainability issues is emphasized to go beyond disciplinary boundaries and to make this concrete many modules include some interdisciplinary team work. Benchmarking process showed that students’ active role both in the planning phase and implementing courses may strengthen in the near future. Typical to Finnish minor study modules is that students choose their courses from a large variety of courses offered by different disciplines.

Whether to integrate sustainability and responsibility into curricula at all levels or to develop separate study programs is up to the university’s strategies and decisions. Information retrieval, however, shows that in any case timely informing and visibility of the offerings of teaching and research is of great importance and universities have adopted different solutions. Gothenburg University for instance adds a certain sustainability label to all courses that with varying degrees include the elements of sustainable development in their curriculum and so helps students to seek and find that type of courses.

From among these many issues and trends recognized in the report, the development efforts in Turku have focused especially on further developing the existing strength of the study module, the combining of multiple dimensions of sustainability. Rather than to expand Sustainability Studies in the University of Turku into a new Master’s Program, the decision was to develop it as a unique Minor that students from any faculty can take to deepen their understanding of sustainability from ecological, social, economic and cultural perspectives. The compulsory core course (10 cr.) has been further developed to train the students’ cross- and interdisciplinary communication, research and leadership competences—essential working life skills for all academic graduates.

Heikkilä, Katariina 2015. Sustainability Studies in Universities – Review on Study Modules of Sustainable Development and Responsible Business in Finnish and some European Universities. FFRC eBOOK 13/2015. Finland Futures Research Centre, University of Turku.



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