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  • Sustainability Report 2023


    Campus Bielefeld University
    Bielefeld University

Study and Teaching

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Portrait of Lore Knapp and Thomas Hermann
Lore Knapp and Thomas Hermann, Rectorate representatives in the participatory process to create the sustainability mission statement © Bielefeld University

We consider studying and teaching to be particularly important for achieving the sustainability goals, as the graduates of today can be the multipliers of tomorrow.

Lore Knapp, Thomas Hermann

As the rectorate's representative for sustainability in teaching and learning, we were tasked with developing goals for this area as part of a participatory process. We faced numerous challenges right from the start: What exactly does sustainability mean in the context of studying and teaching? What definition of sustainability should we use? How can we specifically measure the achievement of our goals? What horizon do we set for the goals? And in view of the alarmingly accelerating escalation of the climate emergency, is it not too indirect to create an impact years from now through degree programmes that last many years, when we need immediate change?

We consider studying and teaching to be particularly important for achieving the sustainability goals, as the graduates of today can be the multipliers of tomorrow - as leaders in companies, as teachers, as researchers. The better they have understood the extent of the sustainability crisis, the more inspired they are to work on solutions, and as people who are immune to disinformation and lobbying due to their ability to think critically. Education for sustainable development is future-orientated as it empowers people to find solutions to unexpected problems in a complex world. All students at the university should have the opportunity to engage with the principles and challenges of sustainability.

With this in mind, we set out to formulate initial goals for a sustainability mission statement for the university together with 24 committed members of the Study and Teaching Working Group. It quickly became apparent that different ideas prevailed as to how we should approach the problem: some emphasised that it was sufficient to convey information about mechanisms of action, while others saw the need to question more deeply what conditions are necessary to ensure that education does not stop at the acquisition of skills, but that transformation actually happens. Still others saw systemic resistance to introducing sustainability topics into disciplinary education at all. These discussions in such an interdisciplinary and diverse group, with representatives from all status groups, were not always easy, but ultimately enriching - and they reflect how different the views on the topic are, even in the small context of the university, even in the exchange between those who are committed to sustainability. The balancing act between 'too ambitious' and 'not ambitious enough', together with the task of ultimately formulating something that is connectable and can make its way through the committees, allowed us to find a consensus - in which one or two heartfelt concerns fell by the wayside.

We hope that, despite various compromises, the positive feeling will prevail in the end. And we are convinced that our mission statement is more than just a compromise, that it is a testimony to the fact that through dialogue, participation and a lot of seriousness, core lines have become visible and that we can use it to align ourselves well as a university, to anchor the topic of sustainability in teaching - and at the same time to teach and learn more sustainably. The process shows that the road is long - but we are on our way, and we are travelling together.

Anchoring sustainability in studying and teaching

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With its sustainability mission statement, Bielefeld University has set itself the goal of structurally anchoring sustainability in the curricula of its degree programmes. The aim is to enable students to recognise and assess problems of sustainable development in their context and to derive creative and scientifically sound solutions to sustainability issues. Teaching staff, instructors and lecturers should also be supported, for example through further training opportunities, in identifying sustainability topics relevant to their teaching and integrating them into their teaching.

Evaluation of sustainability in studies

In 2022, sustainability was integrated into the student survey for the first time in order to gain an overview of the status quo of the topic in the various degree programmes and subjects from a student perspective. Faculties were also asked to provide a self-assessment of sustainability issues in their degree programmes. This self-assessment is intended to provide an overview of the current offerings, focal points and any need for expansion.

The "sustainability" aspect has been added to the mission statement for teaching. It is closely linked to the quality management of teaching and learning and must be taken into account when introducing and further developing degree programmes. In order to ensure the further development of the quality of teaching and learning, all relevant and interlinked fields of action for teaching and learning are included in quality development and reviewed through regular evaluation. By including sustainability in the mission statement for teaching, the topic of sustainability is now also regularly considered and evaluated in the further development of degree programmes in order to bring about and monitor continuous development.

For many students at Bielefeld University, there is a comprehensive offer to attend modules or courses of their own interest outside of their fixed curricula as part of the individual subsidiary subjects. This gives Bachelor's students in particular the opportunity to include modules on sustainability topics in their degree programmes, even if these are not part of their regular curricula.

The Centre for Teaching and Learning (ZLL) offers various services to support teaching staff and departments in the future-oriented design of teaching, the qualification of teaching staff and the development of innovative teaching, learning and examination concepts. Students are also empowered to make their voices heard in participatory processes. In 2021, for example, many teaching staff, instructors, lectures came together as part of BI.teach to discuss sustainability in teaching. This dialogue was continued as part of the LehrBar Spezial, which has already been held twice on the topic of sustainability. Another step in this direction is the acquisition of a campus licence for the Sustain 2030 simulation game, which enables teaching staff, instructors, lectures and their students to learn about the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of the United Nations in a playful way.

In order to recognise the commitment of individual teaching staff, instructors, lectures and provide incentives for sustainability efforts, the university sponsored the testing of new sustainability-related teaching formats for the first time in 2022 as part of the Quality Fund. This funding was initially aimed at sustainability-related teaching innovations at course level. In order to also focus on modules and entire degree programmes and to encourage and ensure that sustainability-related topics are firmly anchored in the curriculum, a special call for proposals for the newly created Quality Fund plus was initiated with the Sustainability Office in 2023.

The sustainability prize for final theses was created as an incentive to engage with sustainability topics in the early qualification phase. This prize incentivises students to promote sustainable development with their academic contributions, e.g. as part of research-based learning.

Evaluation: Sustainability in studying & teaching

Sustainability topics (ecological, economic, social) in the curricula of the various degree programmes

In the summer semester 2022, there was a cross-faculty survey on the topic of sustainability in teaching and learning. The various Faculties were asked to assess the curricular anchoring of sustainability topics in their various subjects and to describe which sustainability topics are already being implemented. Sustainability was defined in ecological, economic and social terms. The survey was conducted on a voluntary basis for the faculties and not all faculties responded with an assessment, which was partly due to the fact that there is still a need for information from the faculties on the definition of sustainability in the degree programmes

The survey shows that sustainability topics with a social or economic reference are also anchored in the curricula of the various Faculties, but that the focus is on ecological sustainability topics. The survey also made it clear that there are differences between the degree programmes with regard to the anchoring of sustainability topics, although these cannot be quantified. For example, some Faculties stated that the topic of sustainability was already anchored in all of their degree programmes. Others, on the other hand, were unable to identify any anchoring in any degree programmes or stated that some courses were related to sustainability without there being any explicit curricular anchoring in the degree programmes.

Results of the student survey

In addition to this survey to determine the existing curricular anchoring of sustainability topics, the student perspective was also determined. To this end, in the winter semester 2022/23, students were asked for the first time in the student survey about their experiences and wishes regarding sustainability topics in teaching. Among other things, students were able to indicate the extent to which they had already been sensitised to the topic of sustainability in their previous teaching, i.e. whether they had already come into contact with sustainability topics. "Awareness" was explicitly asked for, as the curricular and modular design of sustainability topics can differ greatly between degree programmes.

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As part of the student survey in the winter semester 2022/23, 42.6 % of respondents stated that they had not yet been made aware of the topic of sustainability during their studies. In contrast, 20.3 % stated that they had been sensitised to sustainability issues to a (very) high degree and 25.9% to a medium degree. 11.2 % did not provide any information on this.

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On the other hand, the student survey revealed that 39.3 % of students would like sustainability to be increasingly integrated as a cross-cutting topic in teaching for their own degree programmes. In contrast, 24.2 % stated that they did not agree with this wish (at all) and 23.8% agreed to a medium extent. 12.7 % did not provide any information on this.

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