Education innovator Biljana Pesalj on sustainability: ‘Students can really change things now’

Published: July 7, 2022 • Reading time: 3 minutes and 17 seconds • News

Four teachers from Rotterdam University of Applied Sciences recently won a Comenius scholarship, an incentive award for educational innovation in their education. Biljana Pesalj is a university lecturer at Rotterdam Business School, with a master’s degree in international business. It gives education and research on sustainability a huge boost and strengthens the bonds between students and practice.

What do you hope to achieve?

“Of course we are aware of sustainability in our consulting and entrepreneurship and international supply chain management courses. Unfortunately, there is a mismatch between the demand from the labor market and the supply of education. There is a great demand for the professionals, but we do not train enough with the right profile. That was the starting point for applying for the scholarship. In other words, aimed at a better match and better coherence between the students we educate and the academic field. ‘

How will you handle it?

‘The world continues to change and thus the demand and needs of companies. Of course, we teach at a high level about sustainability issues and concepts. But sustainability is such a broad and comprehensive topic, the risk is that one gets stuck in general knowledge and that students do not develop the right skills that are so necessary to help companies and devise smart sustainability solutions. Students lack the tools and software to be able to make a significant difference. And we are now changing that. ‘

What exactly does it take?

»Among other things, by contacting innovative organizations that have the tools and software. We call these companies ‘Industry Partners’. A good example is Ecochain, a software company. They developed Mobius; unique software that allows you to measure the ecological footprint of a supply chain and CO2 emissions. Very interesting because it allows you to understand and see where the hotspots are. Students who come to work with this software can then give companies recommendations on how to handle these hotspots. ‘

What will change for the students?

‘Students have a concrete tool that they can use for their assignments. We see that it works really well and that students are now learning a lot more than just the basic concepts. They develop specific skills that enable them to make a significant contribution to solving problems that a company is struggling with. There is a lot of talent among the students. This is not always the case during regular education, but now it is. Some, for example, are very good at the visual. With it, you can make it clearer in one image than in a multi-page article. ‘

What is the most innovative thing about this whole project?

The educational format in which this innovation takes place takes place in the living lab, a dynamic environment in which students, researchers and companies work together. We call this way of working on ACT, which stands for Active Collaborative Transition. New in this whole is the students’ flexibility and personal input. They can now choose the subjects they want to work on. They also decide how they fill in and present it. It can be in the form of a paper or a report that they present at a conference. It can also be a letter to the government, for example about the need for certain legislation or a change plan for a company. It can be anything, but they have to invent it themselves and invent and suggest something themselves. It’s really innovative. In this way, they actively contribute to creating a more sustainable world based on the thinking of committed global citizens. ‘

How will you use the Comenius grant?

“Through such a grant, you go a little further, and you can give your ideas more form and structure. The award of the grant is also a confirmation that what we are doing is good. Fantastic of course. The endowment is 2.5 years. We start on a small scale. It develops a bit organically, but we would certainly also like to collaborate with students from other programs, e.g. in the creative and technical field. We also arrange lectures by experts from different corners of the University of Applied Sciences. Finally, we are developing a third master: managing sustainability transitions. We develop these together with other applied universities. Of course, this also gives the Comenius grant a nice boost. ‘

Text and photo: Sanne van der Most

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