John Robinson and Charles Hopkins- The Role of Higher Education in Sustainability

September 16, 2019 0 By Ronny Jaskolski


The big thing is that higher education is
aligning; and moving from greening the campus to greening the mind. This is so important.
Only about 3 percent of the world’s population gets to go to higher education. Out of 1.1
billion people in Africa, 500 thousand get to go to higher education. But higher education:
these are the people who will form probably 85 to 90 percent of the shapers of the world
of the future. So as far as the UN is concerned, higher education is the target. How do we
engage them? Not through indoctrination. In fact, we have to question sustainable development
if we’re going to lead to something new. But somehow that has to be embedded in every course,
from philosophy to dentistry, from urban planning through to sociology. We have to still respect
the sciences but we also have to respect the humanities and social sciences. It’s one thing
to understand what methane will do to your body, it’s another thing altogether to be
able to change society, so that we don’t have to worry. How are we going to bring about
changes in production and consumption without the social sciences? Because part of the argument
I want to make is we need to think of universities around the planet as having a transformative
potential for society at large in acting as a kind of living lab and test-bed for society.
The post-secondary sector in general I think is a critical part of the transition because
we can do stuff nobody else can do, and I’ll come back to that point a little later on.
And we teach it, and we research it- nobody else can do those things. So we have a huge
opportunity but also, I believe, a responsibility to think of our institutions as critical parts
of a transition of everybody to a sustainable future, which is a non-trivial kind of task.
The interesting question is, so you have a student in bio-resource engineering and you’ve
got a student in Italian literature both doing a sustainability pathway. What’s common? Right,
they have totally different programmes- totally different course structure. But what’s common
if they’re both doing sustainability? We think these four things are common no matter whether
you’re in engineering, or science, or social science, or humanities. Some kind of recognition
of inter-connectedness. Some substantitiave knowledge that’s field-dependent; so you’re
going to learn somewhat different things in each field that you’re in. Certainly interdisciplinarity.
And a problem orientation. These are common to all students that do a sustainability pathway.