What should the university experience mean for our students? Is it just technical training for a profession? REDU believes it should be a meaningful experience that transforms them both intellectually and personally. The students of today are the pillar of future societies. It is not easy to keep that vision in mind when we become immersed in short-term, everyday problems. However, the way in which we shape the university experience of our students is instrumental in determining what that future will be like.
There is a tendency to believe that responsibility, critical awareness and commitment to a sustainable society are individual issues that have nothing to do with university. And yet they form the basis of our quality of life, just as much as – or even more than – the technical competence of our graduates. They constitute values and commitments that are learned through experience, particularly the university experience, because that is how young people consolidate their social awareness and develop their capacity for action in the world.
This REDU symposium is intended as a laboratory of ideas and experiences in which to rethink what universities offer in terms of sustainability and the medium- and long-term transformation of the living conditions of those living on our planet. This means reconsidering what universities do to help students develop a comprehensive view of the world they live in, analyse the major collective challenges ahead and understand how their scientific or technical expertise can help to provide solutions.
“Promoting more equitable and sustainable economies and societies, for the benefit of all countries, especially the most vulnerables” (Unesco, 2014; World Future Council Foundation 2014). This aim has translated into action through the Global Action Programme on Education for Sustainable Development (2014) and the 17 Sustainable Development Goals.
How do these mandates translate into experiences for our students? How can our degree programs combine the necessary scientific and technical learning in the field with a personal commitment to human beings’ well-being? How can we turn the global sustainability goals into academic and professional challenges that our students can adopt as their own undertaking? We need reflections, ideas and to hear the best experiences from those universities that have already begun to work in this field. That is the purpose of this meeting.
The aim is not so much to introduce sustainability-sensitive themes into the curricula (education on sustainable development) but rather to trigger behaviours and attitudes that are consistent with this approach (education for sustainable development) (Murga and Menoyo, 2015). Students need to be immersed in both curricular and extra-curricular experiences that require them to make a long-term critical analysis of the relationships between the environmental, social and economic spheres and look for the most sustainable and socially responsible options, whether they are studying law, engineering, chemistry, education, geography, medicine, economics, in fact any discipline or specialism, and in an interdisciplinary and collaborative way. In short, we must rethink our campuses, courses and curricula from the perspective of ethics and social commitment.
With this theme, REDU wants to move closer towards enriching the experience of all our students, as established in Zaragoza (2014), taking it in a new direction in line with the need to go beyond mere technical and scientific competence and to contemplate core skills such as critical analysis, systemic reflection, joint decision-making and a sense of responsibility towards present and future generations. In sum, we need to reconsider cross-disciplinary competences from a unifying perspective that gives meaning to Higher Education through an active commitment to people and to the earth.
Murga-Menoyo, Mª Angeles (2015). Competencias para el desarrollo sostenible: las capacidades, actitudes y valores meta de la educación en el marco de la Agenda global post-2015. Foro de Educación, 13 (19),55-83.
UNESCO (2014). Declaración de Aichi-Nagoya sobre la Educación para del Desarrollo Sostenible. Conferencia Mundial Aichi-Nagoya (Japón), 10-12 de noviembre.
World Future Council Foundation (2014). Global Policy Action Plan. Incentives for a Sustainable Future. Hamburg.