Education revolution: sustainability in the EU states’ education policies (Part III-II)

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Implementing sustainability goals is specific in each state subject to national growth priorities; but the needs for transformative types of education policies are universal. All levels of national education have to incorporate SDGs into their courses, modules and curricula; the process includes teaching new skills (as well as re-skilling in vocational training) in accordance renewed national structural policies. This new teaching needs not only specific tools and methods, including on-line, but also new cohort of teacher capable of delivering SDGs. Only in this way, modernized education policies will fit into “quality education” required by SDG-4. 

Modern approaches to sustainability in education and teaching by necessity have to involve contributions from a wide variety of disciplines, e.g. from natural and social sciences to engineering, business management and humanities. It could be a difficult task to solve as most education providers are still having “traditional educators” oriented at existing and mostly outdated courses with the un-qualified staff; the transformation in sustainability needs inclusion of specific SDGs knowledge and experience in modern education.
The part III-II article is reflection the new approaches to modernised education policies, which among other directions shall be oriented to teaching sustainability issues for perspective workforce. The previous part III-I can be seen in:

Combining growth patterns and education
The “SDG-founding fathers” in elaborating the 17 goals have used a couple of methodological “tools” oriented at: a) providing a triangle in approaches to sustainability, i.e. political, socio-economic and environmental, and b) formulated set of “universal” 17 SDGs to be applicable for all states around the world as the “key advisory” mechanisms in political economy. Thus, the SDG-17 provided a concise orientation for both the national governance and educators: the former has the “tools and means” to re-direct national policies and follow SDGs-priorities, the latter have acquired some option to make the “teaching sustainability” a feasible system. Such system can have several options: a) establishing “sectoral high schools” in accordance with the most pertinent for a country set of SDGs, b) following the UN Agenda 2030 “triangle” creating general SDG-universities, along economic, social and environmental challenges, and c) establishing high schools for the most vital in states priorities and employment spheres, such as European “twin transition”.
The multi-purposeful set of 17 SDGs is not to scare the national education providers; on the contrary, it should make them turn to concentrated efforts on the most important and vital SDGs for each nation’s socio-economic priorities. As soon as, generally, the SDGs have been intended for the whole global community, each state would choose the most pertinent SDGs for a certain country’s perspective growth model. Then, according to the “national chose”, the education authority and, correspondingly, high schools and universities should start realising a complicated task of teaching sustainability.
Modern education has seen a rise of more complicated and costly digital teaching offering an alternative model to “linear courses” based on a decade-old EU’s Bologna system. Hence, most universities in transmitting SDG-knowledge have both to diversify the range of training subjects and offer effective partnership with corporate entities. Besides, there is an option of closer cooperation with “open courses” (so-called MOOC education platforms) providing short but certified training facilities; the latter is dominated by strong competitors from private education sector. Generally, the methodology of education is still varied: from the “intellectual training” according to the Humboldtian model, to predominantly utilitarian Socrates’ model, and/or providing SDG-knowledge for a range of new marketable skills.
Thus, on one side, a university is supposed “to embrace” the whole set of SDGs in “one shot” at the national education governance. In this regard, for example, at the tertiary education level, performing inter-disciplinary and cross-sectoral approach could be a salvation by uniting separate SDGs by several university’s chairs and/or departments. As an alternative, an SDG’s “team teaching” with participants from different disciplines and cross-sectoral approach could be an option: positive effects have been recorded in universities inviting guest lecturers representing local/central administration, business community and professors from other EU states.

Inter-disciplinarity in modern SDGs education
New cross-sectoral and inter-disciplinary approaches in SDG education and training are being vital in national education policies. In teaching sustainability it will be necessarily to “overload risks”, as cross-sectoral approaches require a broader load of literature and knowledge; it is often difficult to limit the compulsory sources which stretch across numerous science fields. For example, teaching sustainability is challenging because of the interdisciplinary nature of the SDG-global-wide problems: therefore, by the essence of sustainability, the teaching process requires both cross-sectoral and holistic knowledge from providers; the facilities not really present in most universities. Thus, in teaching sustainability, instructors are often facing the need to dwell into uncharted waters of other scientific fields – natural, technical, political and social.
Hence, the best ways to build sustainability’s qualification in education providers goes through the interdisciplinary approach.
As soon as sustainable growth becomes a critically urgent concept in the states’ governance, on the win-win situation shall be economically feasible approaches and solutions. However, most of the educators/teachers are still in the linear market economy practice, which do not allow for revolutionary approaches to modern SDGs. Therefore some new forms of teaching and learning are necessary to help students dealing better with complexity, ambiguity, uncertainty, as well as new values and moral dilemmas in implementing SDGs; in line with the breaking the “business-as-usual” approach, the “education-as-usual” concept is to be altered to include the SDG-oriented vision.
Additional information on SDG-4 teaching in: Eteris E. Teaching sustainability: modern challenges. – Lambert Acad. Publ., 2019. In:

Already presently, the academic professionals see the EU network “Higher Education Sustainability Initiative” as an important step for the EU in global cooperation in implementing the “teaching SDGs” concept. Three educational organisations representing the Anglo-Saxon, Francophone and “the rest” of international universities associations are seeking to consolidate higher education’s role in such spheres as: optimal implementing SDGs, creating new sustainable knowledge and innovation in dealing with SDGs, developing a generation of new leaders and skilled professionals who will implement SDGs ideas and concepts in future for the benefit of progressive socio-economic development.
More on the “initiative” and on the Association of Commonwealth Universities in:

Modern SDG-education has become an integral part of national political economy and societal development: without transformative efforts the present generation will lack sufficient and adequate means to withstand the changes and new professions and skills require perspective knowledge. However, some universities facing educational policy’s transition (coped with vital transitions in politics and economics) are placing on the university’s staff and academicians an almost unbearable task: either to break up with the trivial and common “education capitalism” or turning to revolutionary education policy that is answering urgent socio-economic needs. Thus, of necessity, educational policy’s transition shall be guided by a complex task of creating a responsible and transformative universities and high schools in line with the global sustainability goals, the SDGs. This is why it is necessary, some experts argued, that universities shall be both like “sanctums of education and research” and like corporate entities that aim to “maximize revenues and take advantage of the competitiveness of spaces in which they operate”.
Some ideas on modern education in:

Universities in delivering sustainability knowledge: digital aspect
The task of meeting the SDGs at the national level is roughly divided in two strands: a) through the transformed political economies, including twin transition, and b) by an active, guiding and leadership role of the education and training providers.
As to the former, the national political economy is subject to fundamental global/European challenges, including SDGs; in the latter, the changes are equal in dimension to “education revolution”, due to fundamental transformations in new skills and professions. If a modern university is to be responsive to the socio-economic and geopolitical needs of the respective countries, it is necessary to make “educational priorities” in national political economy in line with the perspective growth patterns, e.g. environment and nature protection/conservation, sustainable management, as well as in defined sectoral policies, such as industry and fisheries, forestry and agriculture, etc. which are all aimed at improving peoples’ lives and wellbeing.
The new trend in digital and on-line education is suffering from a lack of progress both at the EU and national level with some exceptions: the top three positions among the EU-27 are held by Estonia, the Netherlands and Finland; these states have reached a high level of computer literacy and a strong government policy encouraging digital learning and the use of digital solutions turned these countries into “pioneers”. Estonia, in particular, launched a number of ambitious programs to ease administrative burdens by using e-governance’s tools and tax registration, as well as digital voting.
Other EU states are slightly underperforming the European “digital average”: for example, Belgium is in the 21st position, Poland –on the 22nd, the Czech Republic -23rd, Romania -24th, Greece -25th, Italy-26th and Germany on the last 27th position. According to the digital report in 2020, these results are indicative of the governments’ limited policies in promoting digital literacy and the complexity of access to digital resources in these states. Germany has come under scrutiny for under-investment in digital infrastructure, low internet connection speeds, and a lack of broadband access throughout its territory.
European digital skills program provides strategic funding to support the development of skilled talents in digital transition with a total budget of €580 million over 7 years. The program enhances cooperation among the member states in digital skills and jobs through: a) specialised education programs in key digital areas such as artificial intelligence (AI), blockchain, robotics, quantum and high performance computing (HPC), provided by networks of higher education institutions, research centers and businesses (€120 million over the first two years of the programme); b) short-term training courses, tailored to the needs of businesses, with an emphasis on SMEs, jobseekers and citizens looking to re-skilling (€25 million contribution). Source:

The SDGs implementation in education policies is particularly important for competitiveness of European universities; hence, strength in higher education, training and innovation concerning SDGs over the last decade improved significantly in all parts of Europe; though it is still below the global level, for example, in the Baltic States.
Generally, the education quality in the Baltic Sea region is below the global SDG and “environmental competitors”: thus, among top global 400 best universities only Copenhagen University in Denmark is occupying the 69 place, Lund University in Sweden is on the 73 place, Finland’s Helsinki University is on the 91 place and Norway’s Oslo University on the 113 place. Among the three Baltic States, only University of Tartu is among the top 400 with 347 points in the list.
See more in:

Quality education in SDGs
The UN Agenda for Sustainable Development sets out the global framework to achieve sustainable development by 2030. The new objectives, formulated in a set of 17 Sustainable Development Goals (known as SDGs), were adopted by the international community at a UN Summit in September, 2015. Thus, the SDG-4 is specifically devoted to QA; it requires ensuring “inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all” and reaffirms the international community’s belief that education is one of the most powerful and proven vehicles for sustainable development. Besides, the SDG-4 aims at providing equal access to affordable vocational training, eliminating gender and wealth disparities and achieving universal access to a quality higher education.

The QA’s issues are indeed quite complicated and even controversial: e.g. there are still numerous questions to resolve, which makes the European University Association to take active part in streamlining the education quality issues and their assurance both in the EU and some neighbouring countries (e.g. Russia, Georgia and Serbia) using digital technologies for teaching and learning. In the EU alone, the new digital tools will be offered to 76.7 million students and teachers in 250,000 schools on a voluntary basis.
The main global guidance on education, depicted in the SDG-4, is aimed at two main objectives: i.e. quality education and lifelong learning; both shall be supported by ensuring and promoting inclusive and equitable education at the states, local and regional level. Digitalisation, including such spheres as remote working, online learning, AI and automation, as well as shifting global supply chains, ageing, etc. (coped with the main trends in green transition) is transforming national and local labour markets. Therefore national governance has to see and forecast the changes and needs for new skills, rte-skilling and vocational training.
National/local decision and policy makers, businesses, employee representatives and trade unions have to explore opportunities in cities and regions to develop strategies for lifelong learning, generate new data on local skills needs, build stronger local partnerships, and promote greater inclusion. Cities and regions are at the forefront of addressing the needs for quality jobs, access to training opportunities, preparing for “future of work”, as well as building resilient and inclusive local labour markets.
The COVID-pandemic has accelerated digitalisation and the green transition; potentially sparking radical shifts in people live and work over the long term. As soon as younger generations is having a different perspective on the world of work, the governance structures and policymakers need to consider shifting practices and preferences about the skills needed for current and future jobs. The main issue is to explore the cities’ governance efforts in short- and –long term employment strategies services, as well as in education and training systems to anticipate and adjust to ongoing changes in national socio-economic structures with due attention to present and future skills demands.

Bottom-line: several facets have to be visualized in the modern “educational transition” aka “revolution” fully transforming national political economy: both from within and from the educational sector to deal with the tasks of combating existing sustainability’s challenges. The SDGs are turning national priorities into challenges; therefore, the educational transition is becoming even more complicated: it is not just about introducing new courses and syllabuses in new education strategies, but making new courses in universities “adaptive” to teachers additional competences and digital means in changing socio-economic circumstances.
Of course, international cooperation in education is vital, but as the EU’s integration experience has shown, while education is mostly in the hands of states’ governance but the national growth patterns are generally based on efficient and up-dated education policy.
The EU’s educational cooperation through a short history looks the following way:
= October 2018: European Commission launches 1st call to higher education institutions asking them to submit their proposals to start testing different models for European Universities;
= June 2019: results of the first call announced and a pilot phase for 17 alliances started;
= November 2019: first “European Universities” start their cooperating activities;
= July 2020: announced results of the 2nd call announced and a pilot phase for additional 24 alliances of universities;
= November 2020: all 41 European Universities starting cooperating education activity;
=During 2021-2027: active cooperation under the new Erasmus program is proceeding, followed by an additional synergy with Horizon Europe and other EU research facilities.




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