Mul­tidiscip­lin­ary sustainability course for all stu­dents at the University of Helsinki – What’s go­ing on?

Last fall the HELSUS trainee William Smolander wrote a comprehensive report on sustainability-related courses organized globally. After that a lot has happened and the development work for Helsinki Uni’s own sustainability course for all students continues at full speed. If you feel like you have missed something here and you have more questions than answers regarding this sustainability course, this is the piece of news you should read!

In the strategic plan of the University of Helsinki 2021-2030 one of the four main strategic choices is “our University is a leader in responsibility and sustainability”. The idea for the sustainability course is a natural continuation for the strategy and the thought that all future university graduates should have sustainability expertise. The idea of a sustainability course matured gradually and included ideas and discussions from many parts and persons. Also our Rector Jari Niemelä, University Lecturer Hannele Cantell and the Vice-Rectors Sari Lindblom and Tom Böhling have participated in the discussion. The Centre for University Teaching and Learning (HYPE) and Helsinki Institute of Sustainability Science (HELSUS) have also been involved.

The vision is that the sustainability course could eventually be compulsory for all students of all faculties. There is no such decision though and the faculties have still time to have their influence in the presumable decision sometime in the future. The development project is led by a steering group formed by Vice Rector Sari Lindblom and the idea is that the course could be included in the next curricula 2023-2026. The goal is that the course will consist of a three credits common course for students of all faculties which will be carried out as a MOOC online course and a two credits programme or faculty specific course. Altogether it will form a five credits course in the degree.

The course development is carried out by HYPE and HELSUS. In March 2020 these units employed a university teacher to lead the development process. The teacher is Rami Ratvio who has worked before as a university lecturer, project researcher, in geography division of the matriculation exam board and as a geography teacher.  Rami has a Ph.D. in Urban Geography and has a subject teacher’s qualification in geography and biology. Ratvio has organized online workshops for university staff and put together a student’ survey with the help of the HELSUS trainees Lotta Ruippo and Arttu Jokinen. There were almost 70 participants in the workshops and the survey gathered approximately 800 answers from the students. The course development can be followed in this sustainability course blog.

Next step in the course development is going through the results from the workshops and the student survey. In the spring semester 2021 the sustainability course will come out as an optional three credit online course for all students. The course will first be tested in this format before it will be expanded with another two credits. However, the work for doing the new curricula starts at earliest next year and all the faculties can have their say about the new sustainability course.

Everyone is welcome to participate in the course design process. If you have questions how to participate or something else on your mind concerning the course please contact University Instructor Rami Ratvio (

Student survey heading into its final week

The last week of the student survey is here! So far, our survey has received altogether 700 responses with respondents from every faculty at the University of Helsinki. There is time until Friday, so if you have not done it already, go ahead and fill out the survey here!

Even though proper analysis is still pending, it seems that the majority of the respondents (74%) are female. This is maybe less surprising considering the majority of the students at UH are female  (64% in 2018). Furthermore, whilst reading answers to our open-ended questions, I noticed many respondents mentioned the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic as an important moment for them in thinking about sustainability. It also seems that many students identified the Australian bushfires and the decision made by Unicafe to remove beef from its menu as impactful sustainability-related experiences for them in the past academic year.

Once the survey is closed, we will begin a more careful analysis of student responses. I hope that we will be able to tell you more about the results soon, but until then, thank you to everyone who responded – this information is vital to the project!


Workshops for sustainability course going on!

Last week started a set of four parallel workshops. The workshops were open to all staff members. The aim was to explore the university community’s perceptions of what kind of knowledge or skills a student graduating from the University of Helsinki should have about sustainability. The first two workshops were organized last Monday and Tuesday via Zoom.  

Despite the exceptional times and the fact that every event – also the workshops – have been moved online, the developing of the sustainability course has not stopped or been delayed. The course developer Rami Ratvio has with the help of the HELSUS trainees Lotta Ruippo and Arttu Jokinen continued the development work even if meeting people in person is not a possibility for the moment.  

Participants ideas in Flinga. The workshops are organized in Finnish and English.

The first two workshops have now been organized and the next two will be organized on Wednesday 6th and Tuesday 12th of May. In total, there are 62 people registered for all the workshops. The first workshops highlighted students ability to deal with multidimensional environmental problems which requires multidisciplinary thinking and the understanding that there might be several ways to approach and solve an environmental problem. There were also discussions about the ways to teach students these abilities in just one course since the course aims were put quite high.  

The workshop participant raised several aspects which should be fulfilled during the course. Not only should it offer facts about environmental problems but also the ability for the students to see their expertise in relation to others expertise. The workshop participants thought that understanding others way of thinking is at least as important as the environmental facts itself.  

The participants were also asked how the course should end and how the knowledge and skills of the course should be summarized. Most of the participants thought that a group project could be a way to do it. There were thoughts that a group project that is shareable online could be a functional solution. Also here the multidisciplinary approach were present. The workshop attendees thought that the group work should be done in groups with students from several degree programmes, not only with students from their own programme.  

Altogether it has been great to notice that university staff members with all kind of backgrounds are interested in participating in the course development. The knowledge they offer is priceless information for the course development and will bring us one step nearer to carry out the sustainability course for all students!