Published: 04-04-2019 13:25 | Updated: 03-09-2021 22:49

Rethinking Higher Education: Students in focus at conference on global goals

The integration of the UN’s Agenda 2030 Sustainable Development Goals into higher education and the importance of engaging students in the process were in focus at the recent conference, “Rethinking Higher Education: Inspired by the Sustainable Development Goals”.

Conference report: “Rethinking Higher Education – Inspired by the Sustainable Development Goals”

The conference, which was held in Aula Medica on Saturday 30 March, attracted over 500 participants. It was organised by KI, with the University of Gothenburg, Chalmers University of Technology and the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences as partners.

Keynote speakers were Helen Clark, former head of the United Nations Development Program, Michael Marmot, head of the Institute of Health Equity in London, and KI president Ole Petter Ottersen. Also on the programme were group activities and panel debates. The participants were students, teachers, researchers, administrative personnel, decision-makers and representatives from the business and government sectors.

Helen Clark, Ole Petter Ottersen and Michael Marmot at the Rethinking Higher Education conference in March 2019

The global goals concern us all

Ole Petter Ottersen, Helen Clark and Michael Marmot opened the conference.

“The global goals are specific and concern us all. We now need to integrate them into higher education by being ourselves specific, creative and collaborative,” said Ole Petter Ottersen.

Universities have an important part to play in putting students on the right path towards creating a sustainable society. Action must be taken now, and all sectors of society must be involved. Current levels of environmental degradation pose a grave threat to global health.

”We have been mortgaging the future and we can’t go on like this. To grow now and clean up later is not a sustainable approach. This will undermine the health gains that we have made in the last century,” said Helen Clark.

A sustainable society is impossible without health equality, however, which is to say that everyone must have the same opportunities to keep themselves healthy and obtain the medical care they need.

”Getting rich is not the way to a better society. Health is the measure of a good society” One way to greater equity in health is to reduce poverty and degradation. Evidence-based policy and a spirit of social justice will take us far,” said Michael Marmot.

Eva Wiberg, Göran Finnveden, Sandra Alm and Annika Östman Wernerson

So how do we go about integrating the sustainability goals into higher education?

We must engage the students in the design of their education and cooperate more across disciplines and subject fields. These were two of the conclusions that came from the group activities, which addressed everything from health inequality to antibiotic resistance. Many answers were also given by the participants of the two panel debates.

“The sustainability goals should be addressed even at the teacher recruitment stage,” said Göran Finnveden, vice president for sustainable development at the Royal Institute of Technology.

Teachers have an important part to play, inspiring students with their knowledge of sustainability and listening to their opinions and concerns.

“The most important group we should be focusing on is the teachers. Apart from teaching, they should also be encouraging critical thinking, cross-disciplinary collaboration and a willingness for change in their students,” says Annika Östman Wernerson, academic vice president for education at Karolinska Institutet.

“We must not only teach our students about the global goals but also encourage them to get involved in activities around sustainable development outside their studies. But to do this, teachers must also be receptive to the students and capture the knowledge they have about sustainability and the world they live in,” said Kerstin Sahlin, professor of business economics at Uppsala University and representative of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences.

Eva Wiberg and Stefan Bengtsson

Gothenburg 2020

The conference Rethinking higher education – Inspired by the Sustainable Development Goals will be followed up with a conference in Gothenburg on 28 March 2020.

“It’s going to take a lot to surpass this excellent conference,” said Eva Wiberg.