Duurzaam manifest voor hoger onderwijs
Duurzaam manifest voor hoger onderwijs

The many faces of sustainability

In their manifesto, a group of critical scientists have explained what is required to make real strides towards sustainability within the university. This has also prompted the campaign to consider other forms of science and education.

Developing a campaign theme means making choices, much like the message in the new campaign, which focuses on the extinction of species. Countless species have already become extinct, which is primarily also due to human intervention. Highlighting this one facet in particular is also a starting point for the university to examine sustainability in a wider context, in which we explicitly connect the value of sustainability to the other values that the university upholds, such as equal opportunities for all in a free and just society. Offering such a wide range of disciplines on the one campus means that Radboud University in particular is ideally placed to explore sustainability in this full light, and to consequently teach our students about it. We already showed this ambition during the previous campaign of 2021, when the university was the first in the Netherlands to include the topic of sustainability in all of its curricula. In accordance with our ambition, all of our students have subsequently gained an understanding of this theme in one way or another since they graduated.

Coherence of science

The university can only fulfil such a promise because of its wide range of scientists and their commitment to and knowledge of sustainability, a group of scientists which ranges from lawyers to chemists, from biologists to political scientists, and from medics to linguists. Over two hundred of these scientists united to form the Radboud Centre for Sustainability Challenges (RCSC). Part of this group supports the October 2023 manifesto, A Sustainability Manifesto for Higher Education, which poses challenges for science to make real strides towards a sustainable society. According to the manifesto, this requires a more in-depth study of the coherence of all aspects – interdisciplinarity. Alongside this, it also reaches out to the parties outside of the scientific community, government authorities, businesses and private individuals, so that it can collectively achieve a sustainable agenda – transdisciplinarity.

In an effort to prevent the campaign message on sustainability from getting bogged down in rhetoric, the manifesto outlines at least two major challenges. The first of these addresses the impulse to purely link sustainability to climate and nature issues, which would run the risk of ignoring the essential underlying questions. As we look ahead to a more sustainable world, to whose world are we referring? Can you talk about sustainability without including the voices of the people who are living in poverty and injustice? How do you give voice to nature or animals, for example by implementing animal rights? According to the manifesto, without regard for power structures, politics and justice, sustainability remains an empty shell. The second challenge is directed towards the scientific community itself. The manifesto claims that contemporary education supports the status quo, while focusing on knowledge of measurable data. Education that promotes change must reach beyond today’s world by also reflecting on a desirable future. “Education values what we can measure, instead of measuring what we value,” says the manifesto. This is followed by the call for critical reflection on the role that lecturers and scientists are able and willing to occupy: Are we the messengers of society as it is now, or the advocates or activists for a truly different society?

Roadmap for reflection

Such questions are not easily answered. For some time now, many lecturers and scholars at Radboud University have been looking at how sustainability can be implemented in education and research, and with all this thinking and practice, the manifesto can be interpreted as a roadmap for further reflection. This has been compressed into five major themes, namely: the tension between knowledge and politics, humans and non-humans, ecology and justice, north and south and between education for knowledge and education for transition. And in all of these respects, the manifesto identifies specific action points, because no matter what happens, lack of action is not seen as an option. In the context of the manifesto, the campaign’s theme – we are now also endangering our own future – can primarily be read as a message. Instead of sitting idly by, we need to keep thinking about the sustainable society, and we also need to take action.

Je bent nodig

Our society is facing major challenges. Radboud University wants to contribute to a healthy, free world with equal chances for everyone. With ‘Je bent nodig’ (You have a part to play), Radboud University aims to reach people who want to contribute to that goal.

Would you like to actively contribute or read more about sustainability in our education and research? Visit www.jebentnodig.nl for more information.

The manifesto from October 2023: a Sustainability Manifesto

Radboud Centre for Sustainability Challenges - Radboud sustainable

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Current affairs, Sustainability