The International Sustainable Campus Network (ISCN) recently put on a really interesting webinar on Advancing Sustainability in Fragile Contexts. The webinar shared a few examples from the forthcoming “Bloomsbury Handbook of Sustainability in Higher Education” which I haven’t seen yet, but am looking forward to having a look through. To listen to the full recording, click here.
1. THE ROLE OF UNIVERSITIES
Aram Yeretzian from the American University of Beirut described the fragile state of the environment in which his university operates. With the continued devaluation of the local currency, purchasing powers have decreased dramatically and more than 80% live below the poverty line. In part because of this, little has been done at a country level to pave the way for a sound environmental setting. Within this context, the University promotes the opportunity to address the different aspects of societal imbalance through its capacity for multidisciplinary thinking as well as multigenerational between faculty, students and staff of different age groups and backgrounds. Students look at approaches and solutions through a constantly changing lens. Individual faculty are encouraged to realise their agency and the potential of their ripple can create quite profound change in an unstable and challenging environment.
2. CONNECTING LOCAL AND GLOBAL
At Newton University in Brazil, students are actively engaged in two agendas: the global SDGs and the local city sustainability agenda. The aim is to understand global topics and then to make an impact at a local level. These two agendas are a common language shared by all students, staff and faculty at the school but also external partners. Through their Smart Campus initiative, students are involved in not only learning about sustainability, and related skills, but making an impact in the local community. Students are allocated to one of 10 aspects of a smart city (e.g., energy, education, mobility, governance) and then are challenged to solve a campus problem that will be useful for the city and society more broadly. Projects have included helping adults to gain confidence riding their bikes through the city, providing qualification courses in the community and monitoring noise levels around campus.
Eric Mijts from the University of Aruba described the unique challenges that small island states are facing due to remoteness and insularity. As a direct consequence of natural resource limitation, there is high competition for these resources and the different needs of the populations living on the island. Inhabitants are often marginalised when these islands are developed into tourism paradises and not given equal access and rights to the resources. While often foreign universities come onto islands with a pre-packaged idea of what they consider to be a sustainability programme which they train a few people to deliver and then leave again, the University instead collaborated with the University of Lleuven to co-create a new Bachelor of Science that neither could have developed on their own and which explores the specific issues and challenges faced by the island.
4. SUPPORTING NATIONAL POLICIES
Purna Nepali from Kathmandu University in Nepal talked about the importance of governments setting national level sustainability related policies. These policies helped set the scene to encourage the university to really focus on the topic in depth and explore various ways to contribute. All the different schools at the university are working directly with the municipality to implement these policies, from the medical to the forestry schools. The school offers a number of sustainability focused courses across all programmes including a multidisciplinary Master in Sustainable Development.
5. WORDS OF ADVICE
The panellists offered a few additional words of advice based on their experiences. Having Deans involved and offering support is key. Connect what you are doing to the different priorities the school has. Develop partnerships with companies, NGOs, local governments and engage alumni. Connect the programs to skills that will help student employability, such as the ability to work on complex problems. For faculty, encourage them not to see this as something separate from their “day job” but something that is a fundamental part of their current job description.
THINGS TO CLICK ON
New crucial UN treaty protects 30% of world's oceans by 2030 (after a decade of talks!)
McGill University’s Sustainable Lab Guide
ICN is calling for entries for their Sustainable Innovation Challenge (open to Bachelor students)