by team INSUS – Internationalising Sustainability
This blog entry primarily touches upon the following Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs; https://sdgs.un.org/goals):
Joint master programmes and international projects as a source of emissions
Apart from being a massive industry, business travel and tourism – also in the form of e.g. conferences and symposia globally – form a vivid part of researcher and student academic life and professional development. Face to face is the most engaging way for collaboration and meaningful discussions, but travel, in particular air travel, creates emissions. Often, due to lack of time or lack of funds, the choice of transport are still airplanes. However, the overall impact on e.g. biodiversity of different modes of travel is not completely straightforward, and for instance train travel (high-speed rails in particular) should be considered also in terms of the whole infrastructure needed for its construction and maintenance (Cornet, Dudley & Banister, 2018).
Recently, joint masters programmes have become increasingly common. For example, the Erasmus Mundus programmes have funded and continue funding prestigious double degrees, where students spend a part of their studies at different universities. These programmes aim to further the integration of European higher education (Papatsiba, 2014), but also necessitate travel between sites involved. As joined programs have been created for the goals of integration and cooperation, the sustainability of the modes of work have rarely been addressed.
Certain kinds of technological, digital solutions are needed to make joint programmes and inter-university learning modules communicatively meaningful and authentic. For instance, one member of our team has an EU-funded, EIT project where learning modules in circular economy are created and shared between technical universities in 5 European countries. Already at the planning phases of the project in 2018, the intent was to find new ways that enable student interaction without the (obviously hard-to-fulfill) need to fly between the participating countries, north and south. As part of the solution, Virtual and Mixed Realities (VR, MR) were considered (Sandström et al., 2020). However, even in a situation where multi-player VR is nowadays possible as such, the resources required for setting it up for the course purposes are often lacking or scarce.
Recently, some foundations have started to give grants to support the extra costs of sustainable modes of travel, but is travel always necessary? It is not simple deciding what the solution in terms of travel during a course should be.
Being international locally
The University of Helsinki includes over twenty foreign languages in the BA degree programs. In this regard, the Department of Languages could be viewed as a small whole world within a university in Helsinki, as teaching a variety of languages used by both large and tiny populations in all the continents. Learning a foreign language brings its culture and society to the learner’s mind, so that the education may yield a global citizen who is capable to handle sustainability issues in a multicultural context, being active online at home, with more communicative attitude. Lack of communication, especially on global level, could cause prejudice which might be developed to form a nationalism. Cliffon & Haigh (2018) states that “education helps learners recognize that humans are stronger and happier when they work together.” Foreign language education at a local institute may enhance international cooperation and collaboration, interdependence, diversity, cultural tolerance, etc. by equipping the learners with linguistic and socio-cultural capacity.
The value of local knowledge and traditions
As such, sustainability is often perceived as being universal for any country setting. In practice, the definition is sufficiently open to be flexibly adopted to the local needs and contexts. The challenge is to integrate and translate this flexibility into education, especially in the joint master’s programmes, where students are exposed to the teaching from multiple country settings. Often, the dominant view of sustainability is the vision inspired by Western standards of living, corresponding challenges of wealthier lifestyles and solutions via more sustainable production of more sustainable goods. But in many locations around the world aside technology and product innovations, there exist many everyday practices inspired by the local environment, traditional knowledge and frugal thinking. For example, Vergara et al. (2016) measure the informal traditional reuse of textiles in Bogota, Colombia and estimate it to be much more efficient in terms of reduced GHG emissions as compared to formal recycling or landfilling. Learning about such local practices is equally valuable for advancing sustainability, and learning about them is of great importance not only for promoting environmental sustainability, but also supporting the cultural dimension of sustainability, and contributing to social equity by considering how these traditional practices could be integrated to national economies.
Consider the international programme as a change maker?
One way of approaching the teaching and learning modules is to use three perspectives: systemic, socio-cultural, and longevity. The module could be seen a process and an outcome – a product. Transforming the modules and, eventually, the programme so that it is based on not only user-centric but planet-centric principles, can be achieved through certain steps. The content of the steps can be negotiated locally and glocally, and used as learning tasks in the programme.
Some guidelines towards planet-centric outcomes and processes might be the following (see https://medium.com/impossible/creating-a-planet-centric-future-a29fde7d85d7):
- Align the programme goals, where possible, with the SDGs
- Design the goals with the institutions involved, in a planet-centric way
- Test and iterate the approaches to improve the programme over time
- Evaluate and create a road map for the micro goals, making progress visible and understandable
Setting actionable, accessible and understandable micro goals whose fulfillment can be measured and evaluated makes the task more feasible. The action points should also be geared toward building and communicating a vision for sustainability, the core elements of which are embedded in the participating organisations’ strategies and missions. Internationalising sustainability starts with the participants, the owners of the intellectual property of the learning modules.
Cliffon & Haigh 2018: Internationalisation of the curriculum comes of age – https://www.universityworldnews.com/post.php?story=20181120132725749)
Cornet, Y., Dudley, G., Banister, D., 2018. High speed rail: Implications for carbon emissions and biodiversity. Case Stud. Transp. Policy 6 (3), 376–390.
Papatsiba, V. Policy Goals of European Integration and Competitiveness in Academic Collaborations: An Examination of Joint Master’s and Erasmus Mundus Programmes. High Educ Policy 27, 43–64 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1057/hep.2013.13
Sandström, N., Nevgi, A., Betten, T., Balkenende, A.R., Danese, P., Danese, Graf, R., Grönman, K., Holopainen, J. & Olsen, S.I. (2020). Excellence in education requires excellence in collaboration: learning modules in circular economy as platforms for transdisciplinary learning. A paper accepted to be presented at the 10th Conference on Engineering Education for Sustainable Development (EESD2020), University of Cork, Ireland.
Vergara, S.E., Damgaard, A., Gomez, D., 2016. The Efficiency of Informality: Quantifying GHG Reductions from Informal Recycling in Colombia. Journal of Industrial Ecology 20 (1), 107-119. https://doi.org/10.1111/jiec.12257
Planet-Centric design: https://medium.com/impossible/creating-a-planet-centric-future-a29fde7d85d7
United Nations Sustainable Development: https://sdgs.un.org/goals