28 October 2022

The UMP delegation to Austria included Tabile Sikatile, a postgraduate student in Hospitality Management, and Carol Magagula who is doing her Honours Degree in Development Studies. They learnt that the relationship between human action and nature, sustainability is the constant search for a balance between the two, with an emphasis on resilience and future stability.

They also understood that the aim of sustainability is to change behaviours, both personal and systemic, and nudge society towards positive change. It is an action plan to reduce uneven societies, protect the environment, and still develop. It is, in short, a huge challenge faced by humankind right now.

The most often quoted definition comes from the UN World Commission on Environment and Development: “sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”

Dr von Solms reports that one of the most crucial aspects of sustainability, is systems thinking, as it minimises problems and that can redefine society to instil a conscientiousness of sustainability. Together with this, is the consideration of incorporation of a sustainable business model canvas in universities that consider sustainability actively as part of strategic sustainability considerations.

They also attended another workshop that highlighted the incorporation and the considerations of long-term initiatives, employee engagement, understanding complexities, and the consideration of sustainability at all levels of an organisation.

European universities, says Dr von Solms, have departments whose jobs it is to ensure the sustainability of their institutions. But in terms of a dedicated university-wide focus, other universities deliberately aim to encourage it throughout all departments and university activities.

“From a teaching and learning perspective, the host university indicated that they are not allowed to offer programs if students can’t be employed. This ensures sustainability of programs, students, and constitutions,” Dr von Solms elaborated.

UMPUMP lecturers with other delegates who attended the Sustainability Workshops in Austria.

Another workshop related to social aspects as well as environmental aspects. Peer counselling, making education accessible to more people (equality) and actively help people that assist students with disabilities was the main topic – how to make tertiary education accessible.

Discussions between university representatives highlighted that applied/technical universities have entrance tests as ‘metric grades do not ‘count’ and they have small classes. If those students fail the university loses that money.

Thus, notes Dr von Solms, it is important to have the correct calibre of students so that pass rates are guaranteed based on true education and students are note pushed through a system. The traditional universities operate different - marks count (more like UMP). There also seems to be departments that actively help students with disabilities to be able to study.

The third workshop related to sustainability on food systems, which highlighted the link between the consumption of food that increases the negative impact on the environment.

Workshops discussions incorporated the ‘farm to fork’ principle that include, for example, fertiliser, pesticides, water pollution and food waste that can damage environment and lead to loss in biodiversity.

The discussion also mentioned that there should be a change to a vegan diet to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and that we should consider locally sourced products as a project by 2030 to reduce GHGI. A suggestion was made that there should be more farmers market and how far products travel that are bought online.

The UMP team had the opportunity to set up a stall where they represented the university to the students who wish to study internationally or become part of the exchange programme.

“Our university booth was voted the best booth,” said Dr von Solms. “Overall, the experience was really rewarding. Apart from learning about sustainability, it was a great network opportunity. We learned a lot about how other universities operate; that they have the same problems we have and how they solve their problems.”

@ Story by Lisa Thabethe. Pictures supplied.