Published 2019-03-12

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Sustainability programmes rising in students’ estimation

The Stockholm School of Economics (SSE) study programme in sustainable development, Global Challenges, intended to permeate undergraduate education, is increasingly popular among students and teachers alike.

‘The course evaluations are steadily improving and we’re finding it easier to recruit teachers to the programme. Still, the most pleasing aspect is the response I get from the students who have been in the world of work for a while. Many of them say they’ve greatly benefited from the Global Challenges courses,’ says Svenne Junker, the person in charge of this programme’s development.

Global Challenges extends over the first two years of the MBA at SSE. It is a compulsory programme, based on the School’s strategy of making sustainable development one of four starting points.

The programme is run by Misum, the Mistra Center for Sustainable Markets, which is based at SSE.

Global Challenges started in 2016, and after more than two years the programme forms have become established, Junker says.

‘Initially, we had some teething problems, as so often happens when you start something new. A few students challenged some basic facts, while others called into question the human role in climate change. Our solution was to choose a course in philosophy of science to start the whole programme with.’

At that stage, it was time to bring in Karl Popper, Thomas Kuhn and other thinkers and theorists.

‘We discussed the meaning of critical reflection — whether truth is constant or dynamic, and how knowledge evolves. It was highly fruitful.’

Global Challenges comprises four parts: Knowing, Doing, Being and Expressing. Because of some hefty modules, 16 full-time teachers are required. At first, the programme spread ripples of uncertainty among the staff, just as change usually does.

‘Some of the teachers were worried about how it would affect their own programmes and courses. Now the concern has begun to subside and they’ve started to link Global Challenges with other programmes, so that the teaching is further integrated.’

The whole point of Global Challenges is for the sustainability approach to characterise teaching at SSE, and Junker sees a major advantage in this happening at the undergraduate (basic or first-cycle) stage.

‘The students who come here are young and malleable. Although the research is extremely important, it’s not our main driver of change — our undergraduate education is. That’s where we can really make a difference. And I’m now noticing for the first time that students are applying to SSE because of our Global Challenges initiative,’ he says.

In October last year, SSE was invited to a meeting with the UN organisation Principles for Responsible Management Education (PRME) to hold a lecture about best practice in meeting global challenges.

‘There were lots of questions and it was greatly appreciated,’ Junker says.

Text: Thomas Heldmark