Teaching the change agents of tomorrow: Mapping the current status of education in Sustainable Development Master’s Programmes
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Introduction - The urgency of present day sustainability issues calls for a joint effort towards a more sustainable organization of political, economic and social systems. Traditional efforts by universities to produce sustainability professionals, capable of accelerating change towards a sustainable future, are regarded to be unsatisfactory. A new mode of knowledge production, transdisciplinarity, has therefore been proposed. Shifting an educational culture is difficult, however, and could create a gap between good intentions and actual implementation, leading to a blind spot about which educational visions currently dominate. To fill this, and other knowledge gaps on the way sustainable development is taught worldwide, a global survey among sustainable development students and lecturers was carried out, using online questionnaires. The survey was filled in by 287 students and 54 lecturers from 34 universities in 6 continents. The main focus of the study was to identify and explain the current balance of educational visions, sustainable development competencies and attention to sustainability issues in sustainable development master’s programmes worldwide. Educational visions - Based on the survey findings one could (cautiously) conclude that higher sustainability education is well underway in fulfilling the requests to become more transdisciplinary and value driven. The high representation of interdisciplinarity and transdisciplinarity that was found in the participating programmes together the high representation of competencies like systems-thinking competence suggests that in many programmes the conditions are met for producing generalists sustainability professionals, which are promoted in literature. The call for Mode 2 sustainable development teaching appears to be widely shared by the lecturers and students that participated in the survey. Students prefer their sustainability programme to be highly interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary with a share personal value development and subdisciplinarity. Lecturers appear to move further away from the empirical vision as main element of education and indicate that programmes should (aside from being interdisciplinarity and transdisciplinarity), focus more on personal value development and less on purely empirical knowledge production. Competencies - Eleven competencies, important for future sustainability professionals (to be able accelerate change towards a sustainable future) were identified from literature and brought together in the KIB framework (Know, Interact, Be). The ‘Know’ cluster of competencies appears to be the best represented cluster in the programmes. The Interact cluster received mixed scores. The low level competence of the ‘Be’ cluster, is widely represented, the higher level are not. Reviewing the KIB framework, students appear to consider all competencies of the framework important for their later career as a change agent. The competencies considered most important for sustainability professionals are K3 Systems thinking and analytical-integrating capacity, K2 Professional knowledge, I4 Leadership and social skills, I3 Strategic competence and practical skills and I1 Communicative skills. Sustainability issues – Energy and climate change is being taught about a lot in all programme groups. Population growth is the least taught sustainability issue on average. Ecosystems and biodiversity loss and inefficient production and consumption are both reasonably represented in all programmes. Poverty and food security is given significantly less attention in the programmes in Europe and Japan and Oceania compared to the programmes in North America and the developing countries. The only programmes in which Urban sprawl and unhealthy megacities is a main theme are Stellenbosch and TERI. It was found that in which world region a programme is situated cannot explain which the sustainability issues that are being taught in that programmes This mix of factors that are the most influential on the way sustainable development is taught include little influences from outside the university. The students’ job perspectives and demands from the labor market are considered only to play only a small role in which competencies sustainable development students are being taught . The lack of interest in the job market by master’s programme directors may relates to the fact that the programmes intend to educate graduates that are most suitable to tackle sustainability issues, not graduates that fit best with the current available job descriptions.