Sustainable development is and must be a strong profile element at Linköping University. Vice-Chancellor Jan-Ingvar Jönsson doesn’t doubt this for a moment.“We are already doing a lot. LiU has excellent researchers and research environments contributing knowledge that benefits society, and we have extensive collaboration with external actors. This means we have a solid foundation, but we must take further steps, not least to bring sustainable development into our study programmes.”
A comprehensive report about the work with sustainability at Linköping University recently landed on the desk of Vice-Chancellor Jan-Ingvar Jönsson. For more than a year, a group has worked to inventory environments within research, collaboration and administration that can be related to the global sustainable development goals in Agenda 2030, adopted by the UN General Assembly in 2015.
Interviews with LiU researchers and other actors have led to descriptions of around 80 examples. The interviews have been supplemented by bibliometric analysis of how researchers have published scientific articles in various fields of sustainability.
Jan-Ingvar Jönson. Photo credit Thor Balkhed“The report demonstrates an impressive width. But I can’t say that I’m particularly surprised. I knew that our researchers for a long time have examined and worked in these areas that are today recognised as major societal challenges in the political arena”, says Jan-Ingvar Jönsson (picture).
In recent years, many research funding bodies, both in Sweden and in the EU, have placed a more intense focus onto sustainability and sustainable development, often with reference to Agenda 2030.
Agenda 2030 presents 17 sustainable development goals. These are related not only to climate and environmental objectives, but also finding solutions to poverty, ill-health and inequality. They deal with social, economic and environmental sustainability. Sustainable development has been defined by the UN as development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.
Linköping University conducts research and knowledge dissemination targeted at all goals. Some of them, however, are prominent as areas in which we are particularly strong. LiU has considerable activity and publishes many scientific articles related to good health and well-being (Goal 3), affordable and clean energy (Goal 7), industry, innovation and infrastructure (Goal 9), sustainable cities and communities (Goal 11), responsible consumption and production (Goal 12), and climate action (Goal 13).
“This is an imposing foundation for further work. We know where we stand. There’s no doubt that LiU is helping to build a sustainable society”, says Jan-Ingvar Jönsson,
LiU’s vice-chancellor emphasises that the university must master the complete pathway from basic research to utilisation, and points out that many actors are placing great hopes on cross-disciplinary and multidisciplinary initiatives, in which all faculties at Linköping University have a strong tradition.
“At the same time, it must be said that we are far from being alone in working with sustainable development. We must use our limited resources as wisely as possible, and this may mean putting an extra focus onto certain fields.”
“Within ECIU, which is our collaboration with innovative universities in Europe, the concept of Smart Cities, for example, is being discussed. This involves very interesting ideas that cover several environmental goals.”
But Jan-Ingvar Jönsson does not want to directly influence the choice of research topics that researchers make.
“My basic philosophy is that the researchers choose the topics they want to work with: they are the people who can best see how to contribute in the most effective way. So I’m very interested to hear what they have to say.”
In his role as vice-chancellor, however, he believes that he can provide instruments for the allocation of resources, and two of the aspects he takes seriously are to provide support for the next generation of researchers, and to enable research results benefit society.
“The ways in which these aspects can be achieved will be illuminated in the work with strategy that is now being set in motion”, says Jan-Ingvar Jönsson.
Jan-Ingvar Jönsson believes that the major challenge for Linköping University with respect to sustainable development is how it can become a living perspective in the study programmes offered, more than is currently the case.
“There are today many companies and organisations, the future employers of our students, who need to consider demands placed on them for increased sustainability more seriously. This means that they are looking for graduates with knowledge and expertise in sustainability issues.”
“This must affect teaching at all faculties, and possibly in the form of completely new study programmes”, Jan-Ingvar Jönsson speculates. He does not want to, however, make unjustified assumptions about the results of the work that has been started, and is more interested in pointing out the direction in which he believes that LiU must go.
“In summary, I want to work towards making sustainable development a natural part of the university’s activities, so that we can prepare students for their future professional life, and that our researchers can compete for funding. LiU can, together with others, take a leading role in the fundamental transformation of society that Agenda 2030 will involve”, says Jan-Ingvar Jönsson.
Footnote: The report ”Plattform för Agenda 2030 – Linköpings universitet” has been drawn up by a working group consisting of Michael Peolsson (project manager), Karin Ackerholm, Therese Asplund, Örjan Dahlström, Sara Glaas, Malin Granath, Anna Gustafsson, Sara Gustafsson, Ola Leifler, Maria Lerm, Daniel Orraryd, Micael Thunberg, Peter Karlsson (Region Östergötland) and Anna Maria Lönn Wahlqvist. The bibliometric analysis was carried out by Lovisa Österlund and Per Eriksson from the University Library.
Translated by George Farrants