Recent global movements indicate a rapidly growing awareness and eagerness of the European youth to actively engage with securing a sustainable future for all. Even though the need for a holistic and cross-sector approach to sustainability has been increasingly recognised on research and policy levels, the trickle-down to higher education has been slow. Halmstad University is part of Active8 Planet which is a knowledge alliance of higher education institutions and industrial partners to jointly tackle sustainability challenges from an interdisciplinary perspective.
The key challenge addressed by the Active8-Planet project is the lack of higher education learning models and mechanisms that would support activating (engaging, empowering, mobilising) students in climate and sustainability action. There is a mismatch between skills and competences of European graduates and the requirements of the industry and society in the field of sustainability.
By bringing together universities from diverse disciplines and industries operating in the field of sustainability, Active8-Planet will address the cross-cutting challenges and requirements of all actors involved. The project will support interdisciplinary and cross-sectoral university-business co-creation offering hands-on experiences for transforming students’ research, knowledge, and disciplinary expertise into future-oriented sustainability actionin three different domains:
- Circularity in built environment
- Health and wellbeing in future communities
- Urban mobility
Recent global movements (for exampel SchoolStrike for Climate, Global Week for Future, Extinction Rebellion) indicate a rapidly growing awareness, frustration, and eagerness of the European youth to actively engage with securing a sustainable future for all. Furthermore, The European Green Deal (2019) sets the tackling of climate and environment-related challenges as this generation’s defining task, forming ambitious policies to implement the United Nation’s 2030 Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals. Even though the need for a holistic, interdisciplinary and cross-sector approach to sustainability has been increasingly recognised on research and policy levels, the trickle-down to higher education curricula and learning approaches has been slow. The lack of interdisciplinary, applied, action-oriented, and problem-based higher education programmes and mechanisms leaves European graduates insufficiently equipped with the necessary skills and competences for transforming research and knowledge into future-oriented climate and sustainability action.
Higher education institutions (HEIs) have been recognised as having a crucial role and responsibility in the international pursuit of sustainable development (The Nagoya Declaration), as role models and as educators of future professionals and decisionmakers. However, change has often been easier to implement in terms of managing campuses and operations, rather than in teaching and learning (e.g. Rouhiainen and Vuorisalo 2019; Christie et al. 2015). The systemic and distributed natureof sustainabilityproblems requires working across sectors and disciplines, while existing HEI systems, organisation, and compartmentalisation of disciplines rarely support these. Unconventional approaches, experimentation and reconceptualising of higher education are neededto equipstudents with the required and radically different understandingof environment, society and socio-economic processes; this entails interdisciplinary learning, as well as cooperation of higher education and research organisations with non-academic entities in dialogue with theory, which would lay the ground in shaping new applied sciences and a planet-centred development approach.
At the same time, businesses are increasingly under pressure to profoundlytransform towards carbon-neutral and circular economy. However, innovation and development of sustainability solutions often proceed in silos –in majority dominated by technical engineering and with limited inclusion of societal and cultural factors. Technology in particular is by default always incomplete – it is re-shaped, re-purposed, and given meaning by people using or operating it. Introducing new productsorservices that have the potential to considerably impact our practices and lifestyles towards carbon neutrality therefore requires a shift from monodisciplinary expert mindset to planet-centred developmentwhich combines technical expertise with socio-cultural knowledge, insights, and rigorous ethical considerations. Companies, in particular SMEs, often do not have access to interdisciplinary knowledgeand a broader range of toolsfor a more complex understanding of social changethat would increase the relevance andimpactof their solutionsor interventions.
The key challenge addressed by the Active8-Planet project is the lack of higher education learning models and mechanisms that would support activating (engaging, empowering, mobilising) students in climate and sustainability action. There is a mismatch between skills and competences of European graduates and the requirements ofthe industryand societyin the field of sustainability: in addition to short supply of interdisciplinary cadres on the labour market, the students have little opportunity for implementing applied research in sustainability issues and furthermore translating the acquired knowledge into design and development of interventions. This also results in the lack of key transferable skills (teamwork, interdisciplinaryresearch, research design and implementation, project planning and management etc.), which are increasingly needed both in the continuously changing nature of work and for offsettingthe way societies use the planet’s resources.Furthermore, there is a need to push passive ideas of “acceptance” of emerging technologies that are present in contemporarytechnological and public discourse into the realm of engagement and participation to create a push towardsactivating and empowering positions for the public in academic future-making practices.
Objectives of participating organisations
The participating Higher education partners (Halmstad University, Hasselt University, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam and University of Ljubljana) share several key strategic objectives that are in line with the project aims, in particular with developing and integrating interdisciplinary, cross-sector, and applied educational models in order to:
- strengthen employability of graduates by equipping them with skills, knowledge and transferable competences
- enhance the relevance of learning programmes (education for sustainability)
- enable learning mobility between university, business, and industry environments to increase students’ cross-sectoral communication, and applied research skills
- develop new forms of internationaland multi-stakeholder cooperation as a key driver of quality
- support professional development of teachers, researchers, and staff
- activate students in inter-disciplinary people-and planet-centred working models in on-going,multi-stakeholder projects and innovative educational settings.
The participating companies already cooperate with Higher education institutions (HEIs) in local and international contexts, inparticular in research and development projects and innovation actions, generating innovation by mobilising university research and knowledge. Volvo as one of the world’s most respected premium car brands and a creator of disruptive innovations is leading the change in sustainability, safety, connectivity, and autonomous drivingtechnology. Volvo’s goal is to become a global and diversified mobility service provider, developing new models of car ownership and access, and new attractive people-centred services. Similarly, being involved in advanced mobility business, Voyego’s objective is to bring new, meaningful, reliable, viable and sustainable mobility services to the market, which involves understanding of societal and cultural factors together with researching people’s actual needs, habits and behaviours. HIA as a cutting-edge innovation developer and consultant aims to strengthen their role in co-producing and shaping educational models that would respond to employment needs and speed up the transition into carbon-neutral economy. In line with Active8-Planet objectives, the business partners’ mission is to collaborate within the established knowledge alliance as equal partner, bridge generational boundaries, invest in talent development activities and access the creative potential of students involved in 7+1 Team Projects. In addition, all three companies aim to utilise the benefits of interdisciplinarity to engage with the EU’s economic strategies, which require working across the society-environment-economy triangle (e.g. The Green Deal).
In addition, in their role as an Intermediary organisation, Institute for Innovation and Development of University of Ljubljana (IRI UL)’s objectives are to:
- foster university-business cooperation, knowledge transfer and accelerate the take-up of research outcomes
- stimulate co-creation and sharing of knowledge
- promote innovation in higher education through interactive learning environments
The participating Non-profit Organisation International Center for New Media (ICNM) is specialized in networking throughout Europe, in particular in the fields of digital technologies, social entrepreneurship and creative content. The Active8-Planet proposal is in line with their objectives to:
- strengthen the cooperation between HEIs and businesses across Europe and offer a platform for networking, co-operation and experience exchange
- further support the innovation and entrepreneurship potential of European youth to foster creating innovative solutions for societal challenges
- contribute toselection, evaluation and promotion of best practices across Europe and worldwide
About the project
- January 1, 2021 to December 31, 2023
- Halmstad University
- Hasselt University
- Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam
- University of Ljubljana
- Institute for Innovation and Development of University of Ljubljana
- International Center for New Media
Halmstad University will work closely in collaboration with Volvo in implementing projects within Active8 Planet.