When HSG joined the initiative of the United Nations “Principles for Responsible Management Education” (UN PRME) in 2010 , they committed to making sustainability an item at the university. Accordingly, they have installed a responsibility and sustainability team that supports the implementation of the university’s sustainability vision. A guideline for such a sustainability vision is provided by the UN, in the form of the so-called Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). These include among many others “Quality Education”, “Responsible Consumption and Production” and “Climate Action”.
Which brings us here, to March 2021. oikos, HSG’s own sustainability non-profit organization, took a close look and revealed that the University of St.Gallen is lagging behind. In their “Letter for Climate Change” they explain that “in the most recent Positive Impact Rating, the University of St.Gallen’s performance (…) was only considered „emerging“ in the field of sustainability with a rating of 5.8/10”. Furthermore, in their own survey, oikos showed that the demand among students at HSG for sustainability action is indeed considerably large. With increasing demand for climate action from the students’ side and only sufficient if not lacking efforts from the university’s side, it’s only a matter of time until students will decide to choose another university that is committed to change not merely on paper.
Implementing sustainability into the curriculum
As an institution for sustainability change at the University of St.Gallen, oikos is continuously offering new workshops and initiatives to further improve the university’s climate action. Hence, the most recent Curriculum Change Academy, where students and researchers discussed the topic of curriculum change and the Open Evenings that followed, where experts offered their insight on the topic and students were able to engage in discussions with them. I was able to participate in some of the Open Evenings and witnessed lively, informed and informative debates between knowledgeable speakers and passionate and smart auditors.
At the kick-off event, last Monday evening, four speakers presented their perspectives with regards to the importance of implementing sustainability into the curriculum of a university, rather today than tomorrow. The student’s perspective was represented by Louise Maunoir, who presented oikos’ efforts of the last years and reported the difficulties of bringing forward change as a student due to the university’s complicated bureaucracy. Sébastien Chahidi from Blab Switzerland, represented the business perspective and explained why by now, sustainability makes a business case and is thus highly relevant for us business students. Prof. Jörg Metelmann offered a professor’s perspective and explained the prevalent dichotomy at HSG between the competencies that earned the university its top-ratings in the past and the competencies that are required to stay at the top of research, teaching and hence, university-rankings. He then went on to encourage students to “keep barking”, meaning that it is essential for the student body to make itself heard and insist on change.
This bottom-up approach is indeed important for HSG. It gives the departments a lot of freedom to freely create the curriculum and determine their fields of research. And it places responsibility on students to get involved in creating their university experience and their fields of study. However, it also leads to a diffusion of interests and can, at times, slow down progress regarding such universal topics as sustainability.
Lastly, on that first evening, Léo Gilliard spoke on behalf of the WWF and made a case for mainstreaming sustainability, i.e. bringing it to the masses which is only possible if universities get involved too. The other evenings brought forth many other important perspectives. On Tuesday evening, executive Director of UN Global Compact Switzerland, Antonio Hautle and HSG Competence Center for Social Innovation representatives, Tobias-Fehr Bosshard and Dr. Rachel Brooks discussed how companies and universities can and do implement the above mentioned SDG’s. Moreover, on Wednesday evening, Prof. Mathias Binswanger, the third most influential economist of 2020 according to the NZZ ranking, Lorenz Keysser and Anita Urban gave valuable insights into Plural Economics.
Curriculum change at HSG
On the last evening, several HSG representatives returned back to the topic of our university and discussed which steps actually have been implemented in the past, as well as what the success factors of sustainability progress are and where it gets difficult. Dr. Merla Kubli highlighted that the HSG’s master’s program Managing Climate Solutions (MaCS) marked an extremely big step towards enabling climate change at our university. Johannes Tschiderer, president at Student Impact and participant of said master’s program, enthusiastically agreed but explained that on a bachelor’s level, it is still too easy to miss out on the whole topic of sustainability, since the offered classes are scarce and do not meet the demand from the student body.
In conclusion, the whole event ended on an extremely positive note, because it became clear to all participants that they were on the same page when it comes to the question: “ Do we need a curriculum change at our university and how soon?” – “Yes!” and “now!” are the answers, however, all of those diverse perspectives showed that this change requires a lot of effort from all kinds of people from all kinds of professions, ages and expertise. Neither us, the students, have the luxury to solely rely on the university’s efforts, nor can the university wait another five years to implement meaningful changes, because one thing is for sure: climate change is real and the students of a leading business university have to be prepared to fight it.