UNESCO CHAIR "Higher Education for Sustainable Development"
What is the role played by sustainable development in higher education? Is there a way to instill in students – in addition to the content of their respective professional studies – a holistic and responsible understanding of science, which includes sustainability aspects? Which competencies do they need, in order to assess the impact of their actions on future generations and other regions of the world, thereby making responsible decisions for the future? And how can relevant teaching and learning formats be integrated into the Curricula of higher education institutions? These are the questions of concern for the UNESCO Chair “Higher Education for Sustainable Development”.
Background and Genesis
The UNESCO Chair was conferred on Prof. Dr. Gerd Michelsen in 2005. Its focal point on “Sustainability” makes this professorial chair unique among the eleven UNESCO Chairs in Germany. By this award, the UNESCO acknowledged Professor Michelsen’s extraordinary research and teaching activities in the field of sustainable development within the context of communication and higher education. This chair owes its origins to the section “Communication and Sustainable Development” of the Institute for Environmental Communication, with which it is associated. For more than 15 years, the team around Professor Michelsen has been a decisive contributing factor in theory formation and professionalization of sustainability communication for the promotion of individual, institutional and collective competences towards forging a sustainable future.
By international cooperation, intercultural dialogue and interdisciplinary instruction and research, UNESCO Chairs undertake to contribute to the goals set by UNESCO. The meaning of the award of a UNESCO chair, therefore, reaches beyond distinction for past activities, it represents a future mission. The award of the UNESCO Chair to Professor Michelsen was made within the framework of the UN Decade “Education for Sustainability”, which the United Nations declared for the years 2005 to 2014. The aim of the program is to anchor the mission statement of sustainable development in all aspects of education. As a member of the National Committee of the German UNESCO Commission, Professor Michelsen accompanied the implementation of the Decade in Germany. Professor Michelsen is also involved in the follow-up activities within the framework of the World Program of Action “Education for Sustainable Development”, launched at the UNESCO General Conference in 2014.
With its international network and its appeal radiating far beyond the narrow discipline-based community, the UNESCO Chair of "Higher Education for Sustainable Development" is also of great importance for Leuphana. It has an exquisite way of reflecting the vision of the University, based on the principles of sustainability, action orientation and humanism.
Aims and Activities
Up until now, sustainability as a guiding principle including ecological, economic, social, cultural and political dimensions found but scant consideration in higher education. The challenges ahead, however, can only be successfully met if the development of awareness for the importance and complexity of sustainable development in all its facets is mediated at universities and institutions of higher education. Students need – in addition to their specialized study – methodical and social skills which enable them to engage in sustainable and future-oriented problem solving. The objective of the UNESCO Chair is, therefore, to establish sustainable development as an integral part of research and teaching and to promote it through international collaborations with universities worldwide.
The UNESCO Chair elaborated a variety of activities in order to achieve their goal. The research conducted at the Institute made important contributions to scientific theory development. They also transfer research results in the areas of university development, higher education, skills development and measurement, as well as current issues of sustainable development. The findings are transposed in various teaching-learning formats and put into practice, among others, in the Leuphana semester. In addition, the UNESCO Chair cooperates with several international universities. Thus, Leuphana conducted a project for university teaching with six Latin American and three European partner universities. In addition, various bilateral connections were established, from which lasting university collaborations have emerged, such as the cooperation with Pontificia Universidad Católica del Perú in Lima / Peru.
“Science Takes Responsibility”
The findings obtained at the UNESCO Chair “Higher Education for Sustainable Development” are applied in particular in the module on "Science Takes Responsibility" of the Leuphana semester. It introduces first-year students to a multidisciplinary perspective on the issue of sustainable development. A series of lectures and accompanying tutorials provide students with an overview of this complex matter. There, they receive the first tools needed to find orientation within interdisciplinary sustainability research. In parallel to this, project seminars are held, where students have the opportunity to apply the acquired knowledge within the meaning of learning-by-research in their own small research project. The students present the results of their work at the end of the semester at a students’ conference.