Sustainability as a compulsory component of education: what will students notice?

Half a year ago, Radboud University was in the spotlight with its ‘Impact Day’. Every student in Nijmegen will receive education on sustainability, the university shouted from the rooftops that day. Is education on the way now?

‘Sustainability is a compulsory subject for everyone at Radboud University’, was the headline on 18 November last year. ‘At Radboud University, sustainability is becoming compulsory for every student,’ he says Fidelity same day. IN de Volkskrant President Daniël Wigboldus was given the opportunity to explain that Radboud University, despite its ambitions, would not become ‘goat wool socks’.

The media offensive was accompanied by a purchased commercial on national television. Opinion makers toppled over to shed light on the campaign. There were even (critical) questions about it in the House of Representatives. All in all, one should hide under a rock so as not to encounter Radboud University’s campaign.

Not new

While: the idea of ​​giving sustainability a permanent place in education at Radboud University is not so new. The seed for this was sown years earlier. In 2020, Carlijn Hendriks (coordinator of the Radboud Center for Sustainability Challenges) and Marije Klomp (program manager for sustainability) already presented a report in which this idea took shape.

‘We do not want a compulsory subject for all students on sustainability. Then it becomes a must

“Because of the corona, we didn’t put much pressure on it at the time,” Klomp says. Teachers and students already had enough on their minds because of the shutdown. “Yet we have not wanted to keep this ambition completely non-binding. That is why we have put 2025 as a dot on the horizon. ‘ Every student who graduates from Radboud University around that year must have received a degree in sustainability.

Confusion

In what way was there still some confusion about it on Impact Day. ‘To return to the headline of the NOS article,’ says Klomp. ‘So that’s not true. We do not want a compulsory subject for all students about sustainability. Then it becomes a must. We want to teach them how to critically reflect on sustainability issues in their own field. It must find its place in the existing curriculum in a natural way. ‘

Hendriks and Klomp are currently discussing this with teachers and presenters. Not infrequently, the first reaction in those conversations is that education courses do not have the great interest in sustainability. But, Hendriks explains, people often equate sustainability with the climate. Or who saw the university commercial with a seahorse wrapped in plastic, with overconsumption and pollution.

An Instagram post from Radboud University

But the university uses a much broader definition of sustainability. To do this, she looks at the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). This includes, for example, the fight against poverty and inequality and the promotion of equality, good education and fair work and economic growth. Klomp: ‘If we explain it, the educations often realize that many of these subjects are repeated in their education. Then we go in search of even more leads with them. ‘

Sustainable courses

Does not the concept of sustainability lose value when there are so many topics to be associated with it? With a little creativity, after all, almost all education could be linked to the SDGs. According to Carlijn Hendriks, there is a good reason for this approach. ‘Subjects such as poverty, health and equality and the environment are all closely related. Sustainability is much more than climate and biodiversity. ‘

Radboud University’s website contains a list of ‘sustainable’ courses, broken down by faculty. Students can go there if they are looking for depth in sustainable issues. At two faculties, faculties of management and natural sciences, it is possible for students to obtain a sustainability certificate together with their diploma if they have taken several sustainable courses and have focused their graduate research on this. The plan is that students from other faculties will also be able to obtain such a certificate in the future.

‘Every education has something to contribute’

The question remains: when is a course considered sustainable? Hendriks: ‘It is about the students making a thorough analysis, with possible solutions, of social problems within a course.’ If you look at it this way, many courses are dropped, she explains. ‘Take Biodiversity, a course in the first year of biology. You learn to identify plants and arthropods. It’s an important skill, but we do not want to put it on the list. ‘

Make it more visible

The testimony and the sustainable courses contribute to what Klomp and Hendriks see as one of their most important tasks: to make existing education on sustainability more visible. In many programs, the curriculum does not have to be changed at all, but it must become clearer that sustainability is a theme that runs through the program as a common thread.

After all, the university has created high expectations with its campaign, and these must be met. Klomp: ‘It would be a shame if, after four years of study, students do not fully understand how they can contribute to sustainable development. All educations have something to contribute. ‘

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