Chalmers University of Technology (Chalmers) is a private university in Göteborg, Sweden, with about 9,000 students on Bachelor and Master level in the engineering and architecture areas.
Chalmers is actively working on improving learning for sustainable development (SD) in its
educational programmes. The present vision of the university reads “Chalmers - for a
sustainable future”, which shows the strong commitment to these issues, in education as well as in other activities. The strong commitment in the university management is not the only driving force for improving education for sustainable development (ESD) at Chalmers. Since 2006, the Swedish Higher Education Act states that universities in Sweden should promote SD in all their activities. The Swedish Degree Ordinances for engineering, architecture and some other degrees also contain requirements on student learning related to SD.
At Chalmers, the choice has been to strive to include SD into all programmes. There is a local requirement (that originates from a policy created already in 1985) that the Bachelor curriculum in all educational programmes should contain a compulsory course of five full-time weeks of studies, i.e. 7.5 ECTS, focusing on environment and SD. An additional local requirement is that all five-year programmes must include 7.5 ECTS of courses in humanistic and social sciences (excluding economy and languages). There is a connection and some overlap between the two requirements and together they cover environmental and social aspects of SD.
In order to review and strengthen its ESD activities, Chalmers launched a three-year ESD
project in July 2006 (http://www.chalmers.se/gmv/EN/projects/esd_chalmers). The aim of the ESD project is to suggest an organization for handling issues related to learning and ESD, e.g. concerning continuous improvement of the quality of courses, and providing support and information to various actors. The aim of this paper is to share experiences from the ESD project in order to give input to other universities in their ESD work.
The ESD project is directed towards nine action lines, and different subprojects have been performed, each targeting one or several action lines. The people who are taking part in the ESD project, such as programme directors, teachers, study advisors, the environmental officer, and students, do it as part of their ordinary roles at Chalmers. Some important characteristics of the methods used in the sub-projects are:
- Backcasting approach, in which goals and visions are clarified before actions are taken in order to direct actions in this direction;
- Individual interaction, in which learning processes have been started in as many individuals as possible through active meetings and discussions;
- Approaching all levels in the educational organization in order to influence management level and programme level as well as course level and to gain support and create legitimacy for the work.
Sub-projects or activities in the ESD project can be divided into those that are aiming to:
- Create joint goals and visions: e.g. development of a text describing intended learning outcomes for compulsory basic courses for environment and SD, and discussions of what is meant by quality in ESD;
- Analyze present state: e.g. an inventory and evaluation of present courses, both from a teacher and student perspective;
- Support and create incentives for going from the present state towards goals and visions: e.g. collection and publishing of good teaching examples, a resource group that can support teachers or programme directors in integrating SD in courses and programmes.
- Elaborating means to improve and forms to present qualifications in ESD for teachers, programme directors and others.
The most important part of the fulfillment of the overall aim of the ESD project, to suggest an organization for handling ESD issues, is that a new centre on learning for SD in engineering sciences has been started at Chalmers. The purpose of the centre is to strengthen learning for SD within engineering sciences by spreading information, supporting and organizing different activities, and starting up research within the field. Efforts will address internal learning activities at Chalmers as well as public learning and learning in elementary and high schools. The centre will take on the main responsibility for ESD issues at Chalmers and will act to implement the suggestions that are brought forward by the ESD project when it ends this summer.
An important insight, which is recommended to other universities is that any ESD reform work in a university is a long-term process that preferably should be integrated into the ordinary organization of a university in order to remain a concern for all also when short-term projects have ended.