Integrating Sustainability in Education

Bruno van Pottelsberghe
Dean: Solvay Brussels School (ULB)

The Strategic Plan 2021-2026 brings leadership, innovation, and sustainable development into the curriculums and teaching methods. How is this strategy related to SDG4 quality education?

We have a strategic plan with several axes where sustainable development is at the core. We want the faculty to integrate this through pedagogical content and coordination but also research and the generation of new knowledge. Part of this strategy is also to pursue the international accreditation process of the school. We are already EQUIS accredited for five years, which is the European accreditation standard. We are also starting the AACSB accreditation process, which is the American one. This accreditation focuses on quality education regarding learning objectives, competence acquisitions, and assurance of learning. The idea is to close the loop by using student evaluations and alumni surveys to improve our programmes. In other words, our strategy focuses on quality education and integrating sustainability into our curriculum to provide our students with a multidisciplinary and systemic learning experience.

The number of projects Solvay Brussels School has launched in the past years integrating sustainability in education is impressive. Could you provide an example or two of projects the school has implemented?

One of the projects we started four years ago that has become part of our DNA is the sustainable development initiative (SDI). Instead of creating courses dedicated to sustainability, we opted for the coordination of many courses integrating four sustainability tracks in the broad learning agenda and curriculum. The tracks are energy, circular economy, well-being at work, and human development. As a result, we have a set of multidisciplinary courses, from business and finance to physics and chemistry. This allows us to tackle the same sustainability challenge from different angles. We truly believe in interdisciplinary education. For instance, on the energy pathway, students study the history of energy, its physical explanation, chemical components, energy sources, and the links with economic growth and regulation.

We are living in a fragile society and market. What do you think is needed to prepare the current students to develop a global mindset?

There are various strategies to secure that, but there is no strategy like an exchange program in a different culture and learning journey. This international and multicultural exposure is a crucial policy of Solvay, as we send 300+ students abroad each year, half of whom go outside Europe. Since 2001, we have made the one semester abroad exchange programme compulsory for all our master's students. They can choose between an exchange program or an internship abroad for one semester. The purpose is to open their minds and provide them with multicultural exposure and autonomy. We need cultures to be able to communicate with each other and to have the ability to coexist with one another. You can have some courses about this, but understanding cultures is not something you learn in a textbook, and nothing will ever replace the effectiveness of real exchange.

We are currently setting the stage for student mobility at the bachelor's level. We are negotiating with a business school outside the EU. The students taking part in the program will have access to a degree diploma from both schools and will have the opportunity to study on two different continents. In addition, we are negotiating heavily with a North American Business School. The program will deeply focus on sustainable development, placing education for the future as the core learning experience.

How do you see Solvay Brussels School evolving in your ideal world regarding education and sustainable development?

We are preparing the celebration of the 120th anniversary of the school, which was created in 1903 by Ernest Solvay. What we would like to reassess during the whole 120th anniversary is to reframe and understand what the characteristics of the leader of tomorrow are. We need to e a faster transition towards global well-being and sustainability. Aligning to this and implementing the right strategies will be a great success for the Solvay Brussels School-ULB.