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Research Project

Sustainability in education at Ghent University

Running from 2015 to 2020.
Funded by UGent - DOWA.

This innovation- and research project addresses the integration of sustainability in education at Ghent University.

The project started after the university committed itself to contribute to sustainable development through education by familiarising its students with sustainability issues and potential solutions. The ambition of Ghent University is to substantively and systematically integrate sustainability in the full range of education programmes.

Phase 1: Integrating sustainability in education programmes at Ghent University (2015-2016)

In order to contribute to this objective this project started in 2015 with two pilot cases in the programmes of business administration and electro-mechanical engineering. The project aimed to record the current situation as well as to foster vision development and further implementation. The pilot cases were supported to further embed sustainability in the education programmes’ curricula. By means of a self-examination framework they recorded how and to what extent sustainability is integrated in the current programme. Subsequently, a sequence of workshops and seminars resulted in discipline-specific vision documents as well as an action plans for implementation.

The research component of this project focused on the development, try-out, evaluation and adjustment of both the self-examination framework and the trajectory for vision development and implementation.

The results of the pilots and ‘the lessons learned’ have been described in a book (in Dutch).

Phase 2: Integrating sustainability in education programmes, faculties and individual courses at Ghent University (2018 – 2020)

The pilot cases of phase 1 provided inspiration for similar initiatives in other education programmes at other faculties. It was clear that the efforts to facilitate and encourage this needed to be continued. At the same time there was a strong concern that a follow-up trajectory should not merely aim at supporting 2 or 3 new programmes in the same way but should strive to up-scale the integration of sustainability in Ghent University’s education. In the meantime, some important internal and external evolutions gave shape to a changing context for these efforts. Within UGent, an International Thematic Network on Sustainability Education (SEDwise) was set up in 2016. It provided us with a 'living lab' for innovative experiments with sustainability education and a selected group of international sustainability education researchers who act as critical friends to support these efforts. Internationally, the adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)  by the United Nations created momentum for ‘Transforming our world’ by combating poverty and social inequality, protecting the planet, and ensuring prosperity for all. Like many other universities worldwide, UGent committed itself to contribute to the SDGs. The framework proved fruitful for making sustainable development tangible in view of curriculum development and was therefore included in the self-examination tool for future pilot projects.

In 2018, a variety of new pilot projects started:

  • Testing trajectories of self-assessment, vision development and implementation in the Law degree programme and Electromechanical engineering technology. The focus here is on how to foster the integration of sustainability in the curriculum with less intensive guidance of external experts by making use of the lessons learned from the two previous pilot projects.
  • Upscaling the pilot case in the programme of business administration to the faculty level in the Faculty of Economics and Business Administration. The focus here is on the potential for upscaling via faculty channels and instruments (e.g. educational policy plans, education director, KCO ...).
  • Establishing a learning network to support UGent lecturers in integrating sustainable development into their own courses. The focus here is on the potential of this 'downscaling' initiative (from the level of a programme to that of a course) on the envisioned integration of sustainability into the education of every UGent student.
  • Experimenting with interfaculty collaboration to promote integration of sustainability in UGent education. Multi-perspectivism and transdisciplinarity are crucial for high-quality education on sustainability issues. Hence, we will support a start-up initiative of interfaculty collaboration: an 'Urban Academy' on sustainability issues. The aim here is to draw lessons from this innovative niche experiment.


Sustainability Education


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B-9000 GENT

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