Humankind is faced with profound challenges. Climate change and unsustainable use of natural resources undermine the living conditions of current and future generations and drive species extinctions. Like many other organisations, the University of Jyväskylä aims at making the world a place where everybody would have equal opportunities for good life. JYU approaches the issue by integrating sustainable development into education as well.

At the University, the resource wisdom community JYU.Wisdom pursues internationally significant multi- and cross-disciplinary sustainability research. JYU.Wisdom is a joint project of the University to promote sustainability, responsibility and planetary well-being across faculty boundaries. In addition to research, sustainability themes are included increasingly in educational provision as well, in order to develop together new ways of thinking and acting.

Promotive theses for sustainable development and responsibility

Finnish universities have jointly considered how to take sustainable development into account in all activities. In February 2019, the Rectors’ Council of Finnish Universities (Unifi) assigned a national working group for sustainable development and responsibility to enhance the universities’ efforts in this field. The group brought together 14 universities and the National Union of University Students in Finland (SYL) to jointly define shared principles, goals and modes of action for universities to promote sustainable development and responsibility. Their promise was concretised in the form of fourteen shared theses for sustainable development and responsibility, with Theses 4 and 5 focusing on teaching of sustainable development. The University of Jyväskylä is committed to the theses, and JYU.Wisdom has created four study modules wit sustainability themes.

– The goals of sustainable development can be achieved only if we know what it requires from us and we are motivated to work together for these goals. The studies of sustainable development help us perceive, from the perspective of various study subjects, the functioning and interaction relationships of nature, economy and society, tells Senior Researcher Mikael Puurtinen, who coordinates the teaching of sustainable development at JYU.

Sustainability concerns everybody

All study modules of planetary well-being will be provided through Open University and they will be available to all, also to the degree students of JYU. In addition, the courses will be included in the University’s educational provision for continuous learning. The study modules are advertised to students of upper secondary schools, and the courses will be provided online as so-called MOOC courses with a flexible schedule and so that studying can take place practically anywhere. The one-study- credit courses are prepared by experts from different faculties. The language on these courses is English, except for the introductory course, which will be provided both in Finnish and in English.

– We wished to make the courses as easy to take as possible both in Finland and internationally. Themes related to climate change and ecological loss have become essential parts of social debate and decision-making. Through these courses, anyone will get a chance to learn how these problems have arisen and how they can be solved, Puurtinen says.

On the way of sustainable education

The first study module will start in September 2021. The course ”Planetary well-being 1” gives an overview on the theme. The aim is to learn to understand how human activity threatens current and future well-being and how solutions to ecological and societal problems are pursued with sustainable development. The course will also look into the changes in values and societal systems that are necessary for achieving sustainability.

– The theses for sustainable development and responsibility mention that the study programmes of all students of Finnish universities should include one basic course on sustainability and responsibility. Our aim is that at some point, the introductory course would become compulsory to all JYU students, Puurtinen tells.

The study module ”Planetary well-being 2” concentrates on understanding the properties of ecosystems, social systems and their interactions from sustainability viewpoint This module will start in the beginning of 2022.

– Sustainability problems need to be dealt with holistically. If we discuss single themes separately, we will not be able to see the critical dependencies between economic systems, environmental problems, and humanitarian crises, for example, Puurtinen says.

The rest of the courses are scheduled to start in April 2022. The third course on planetary well-being focuses on ethics and values, in particular: personal choices of values, how values are formed and changed. In addition, the course addresses cultural values behind ecological issues and cultural practices. The last study module deals with the future, outlining future development paths and discussing actions by which unsustainable development could be made sustainable.

– We have designed a well-rounded set of four study modules, which also responds to the needs emerged in society and the world of work, Puurtinen describes.

A large set of sustainability studies under planning

In addition to the courses on planetary well-being, JYU.Wisdom has started to compile a larger module (25 study credits) of free-choice studies. It is aimed to form a complete set of sustainability studies, which students could include in their degrees. At the same time, we commit ourselves to the theses of development and responsibility to create cross-sectional structures enabling multidisciplinary study programmes.

– We will start planning this larger set more closely in this spring. Everybody interested in sustainability issues are invited to come along. If you know already that you would be interested to join the project, please contact me, Puurtinen encourages.

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