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Policy makers and the importance of transdisciplinary programs in higher education

By Prof. Ella Idsøe, Faculty of Mathematics and Natural Sciences, University of Oslo, Norway

Our global society faces complex issues that require economically and socially viable solutions; our students are impatient and express their need to act upon it, to get the opportunity to be involved in creating a sustainable future.   

The majority of us are familiar with the  The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, adopted by all United Nations Member States in 2015. At the heart of this Agenda there are 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which are an urgent call for action by all countries. These goals are research based and require research based approaches and solutions, which places a big responsibility on policy makers and higher educational institutions all over the world.

In this context, I wonder how do policy makers and our higher institutions can contribute to the urgent global 2030 Agenda? How can we address the traditional disciplinary boundaries that so often create barriers for sustainability in higher education?

There is no doubt that these complex goals and challenges require research that cuts across traditional boundaries (interdisciplinary research), but there is also an emergent need to cut across boundaries between academia and professional practice (what we call transdisciplinary research), there is a need to go beyond the SDG’s goals. Furthermore, a newly released Unesco report Knowledge-driven actions: transforming higher education for global sustainability, highlights three powerful key themes of urgency for higher education towards 2030:

  • the need to move towards inter-and transdisciplinary modes of producing and circulating knowledge;
  • the imperative of becoming open institutions, fostering epistemic dialogue and integrating diverse ways of knowing; and
  • the demand for a stronger presence in society through proactive engagement and partnering with other societal actors. (UNESCO, 2022, p.5)

There is a call for innovative pedagogies that frame sustainability in higher education and also increased motivations and incentives for pursuing sustainability. There is also a need to create new ways of knowing-offered by the transdisciplinarity perspective- by widening participation, decolonizing curriculum and the ways forward through some of the barriers in research, publishing and broadening community engagement; by implementing new models of partnerships, including lifelong learning, public and private sector, and student partnerships.

Our STEAM+ EU project – Innovating STE(A)M in Higher Education through Transdisciplinary Talent Programs– includes the essence of the themes mentioned above in the Unesco report in its core and activities, and intends to inspire and provide actionable steps for policy makers and HEI by providing 2 main outputs:

  • STEAM+ Innovation Lab Implementation Path-an instrument on how to establish transdisciplinary talent programs in Higher Education
  • STEAM+ Menu for Policy Inspiration– an instrument for policy makers at HE, local, regional, national and EU levels to support and recognize (development of) such programs.

The future of our world depends on the competences of the new generation to think and live sustainably, make sustainable choices and difficult decisions in the context of rising uncertainty, insecurity and ambiguity. Sustainability should be “the heart” of our higher institutions, reflected in all our structures, programs and activities, and most important involving our students in real world problems and experiences. This gives higher education institutions a unique opportunity- to embrace sustainability holistically!

Please keep up with STEAM+ and check regularly!

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