Study Programme Sustainable Development. A Cross-Cutting Agenda for Bachelor Students


The issue Sustainability is getting more relevant in many professional contexts, it diffuses into various societal systems and is integrated increasingly into several careers. To handle and permeating complex issues such as Sustainability, their associate uncertainties and be aware of interlinkages of modern society challenges an integrated multiple perspective and basic knowledge from several disciplines is needed. In addition to that forthcoming managers need knowledge for implementing sustainable concepts in societal processes and to manage uncertainties of the overall transition process. Thus a coherent and less fragmented (disciplinary) knowledge also in terms of disciplinary speeches and diverse rules of transmission is crucial. This is the overall idea of the Study Programme “Sustainable development” at the University of Oldenburg. The study programme is eligible for Bachelor students of the entire university and is integrated in the overall university programme for cross-cutting themes. It gives a basic understanding about the idea of sustainability to the interdisciplinary students followed by the possibility to get - corresponding to the preferred professional field - specific methodological competences of methods and tools being used in several professional fields. The program aims to give also general overview of careers in the field of Sustainability.


Since its establishment the University of Oldenburg has upheld a commitment to a comprehensive approach to environmental research and interdisciplinary study. In 2008 the University launched an overall programme for cross-cutting themes aimed to offer bachelor students of the entire university interdisciplinary courses and a job-related/professional training. Thus provided the possibility to establish a special programme on Sustainability and the formal framework to integrate Sustainability topics in all Bachelor degree curriculum`s.

In terms of „employability” as the central idea of the Bologna process the study programme aims to interfere overall business and professional competences and the ability to solve complex challenges in the field of Sustainability. It gives a basic understanding about the idea of sustainability followed by the possibility to get specific methodological competences in several professional fields.

Structure and content of the programme

The study programme consists of two modules containing seven lectures (see Fig. 1). Module I gives a general introduction to the concept of Sustainability. The second module focuses on special application fields of Sustainability, giving an interdisciplinary perspective to the students and also the possibilities to obtain knowledge on a special topic.

The module I consists of one lecture and a seminar and is mandatory to obtain a certificate. The lecture “Introduction to Sustainable development” deals with concepts and theories of sustainable development, global and EU policies and how they impact on the society, global markets and international agreements. It gives a broad overview to the leitmotif of sustainable development, the basic idea, history, environmental strategies, laws, norms and audits. The seminar “Case studies of successful and failed innovation strategies – conditions, potentials and risks” focuses on case studies analyzing opinion formation and agenda setting processes answering the following questions: How do issues find their way on political agendas, how do participation procedures function and why do certain social innovations fail while others became success stories in the field of sustainability. The course aims to identify criteria for successful policy strategies in a globalised world: what kind of basic conditions do sustainable innovations need?

Module II aims to give students a wide overview of application fields of Sustainability and the competence to solve complex problems throughout a multi-perspective course of studies. This module contains currently five courses in various fields of specialisation.

One lecture gives an Introduction to Corporate Sustainability Management. The students gain knowledge about selected concepts, methods and tools of Corporate Sustainability Management like environmental and social accounting (ISO 14031, EMAS, SA 8000) environmental reporting and auditing. Based on requests of students in the fashion course there are currently discussions to connect both in a newly developed concept of a project course with the topic „Sustainability audit of Universities” focusing the purchase of environment friendly textiles at the University of Oldenburg. In this course students will achieve practical training on how to manage an audit process by performing the following tasks:

  • Benchmarking of Sustainability Reporting at European universities
  • Development of sustainable indicators for (purchasing textiles) universities
  • Identification of target groups and stakeholders within the university
  • Arrangements of workshops
  • This lecture could start in the following winter term and should be continued in the following terms. It is considered to evaluate the University´s report activities on Sustainability continuously through such a student expertise.

Fig. 1 Structure to the certificate program

A second course related to the topic of “Scientific assessments” aims to give a wide understanding of basic concepts being used in the field of climate mitigation or adaptation processes. With regard to the IPCC-Report principles of Environment Modelling are discussed to understand present scenarios of climate change. This course is a good example how to train students on interdisciplinary exchange and to handle complex items. Switching to other perspectives and transfer findings to other non-experts are important skills for future managers governing the transition to a sustainable society. This was the idea to develop the IPCC-lecture “Understanding climate change, adapt and mitigate” forced to discuss topics on renewable energies, governance, environmental policy and hydrological sciences within the framework of climate change (Hergert et al. 2011). The IPCC assessment acts as a case study and an information pool for solving societal challenges on different aspects. There are different lectures taught by professors from three departments who give short presentations on the following topics:

  • European and International climate policy,
  • Global governance, participation and learning structures,
  • Modelling and scenario techniques on climate change
  • Economic analysis on emission trading; efficiency and consistency theory
  • Renewable energy technologies and policy aspects
  • Ocean and climate – Flood risks and hydrological mapping
  • Adaptation and mitigation strategies in coastal areas

The lectures should motivate the students to become engaged in self contained group work. The results of this work should be presented in a final colloquium and written thesis.

Every winter term students can select the e-learning course “European Virtual Seminar on Sustainable Development (EVS)” offered by the Open University of the Netherlands. Students who have attended the course worked on case studies in the context of regional governance such as “Planning an ecological parque in Rumania” or developing “governance models for coastal zones”.

Another lecture is about Renewable energy. This lecture introduces to basic technologies of renewable energy supply. This includes lessons of physical principles and applications of different technologies. The students will also have the ability to follow the societal discussion about the socioeconomic conditions and challenges which will be evolved by changing energy supply systems. In the last summer term this course was enlarged with aspects on climate change to discuss energy aspects in a broader perspective.

Objectives and innovative aspects

Students who want to work on Sustainability issues in enterprises, international organisations or research institutes increasingly need knowledge from different disciplines to handle the complexity of modern society challenges. Sustainability is characterized as a complex scope of activities treated by several societal actors in different areas in different ways. Two basic competences for future experts can be recognized:

  • basic knowledge about other disciplinary perspectives and approaches
  • competence to solve complex problems in cooperation with several societal actors

The lectures often are interdisciplinary collaborations of different departments, faculties or even universities. Most of them contain a wide range of lessons across different aspects and sciences. The programme offers exchange possibilities among European students by offering innovative e-learning lectures and also among interdisciplinary and interfaculty lecturers. For both it is a huge challenge and chance to learn from each other through taking other (disciplinary) perspectives.

Results, Recommendations and advancements

To give the competence to exchange with other disciplines, switching to other perspectives is one the main objectives of the Programme. The idea was to develop lectures in which students from different disciplines forced to take a multiperspective look on an issue.

Educating Sustainability calls for interdisciplinary students groups and lecturers from several disciplines. So there at minimum two challenges: to create a learning setting which assists interdisciplinary exchange and second to interfere integrated knowledge. Our major experience is select rather little and well defined content to have more resources for working and experiment on appropriate learning settings on interdisciplinary topics.

As a result interaction within interdisciplinary students groups is a difficult task. It takes much more time to translate findings to non experts in the group, often – if possible - its been avoided. Lecturers have to pay more attention on innovative learning settings which have the potential to achieve interdisciplinary interaction (Barth et al. 2007). Setting up an interfaculty teaching project sometimes against the rigidity of administrative rules has been really an informative adventure. It is always a mystic moment and a pleasure to see when the awareness of the significance of interdisciplinary solutions arises throughout interdisciplinary discussions.

Fig. 2 Feasible advancements of the programme

Currently there are discussions to advance the programme based on Global challenges like there are mentioned for instance by the UN (see Fig. 2). But there is also a continuous bottom-up improvement process by the students – as mentioned in chapter 2 - which is always the better way.


  • Barth, M.; Godeman, J.; Rieckmann, M.; Stoltenberg, U. (2007), Developing key competencies for sustainable development in higher education. International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education, Vol. 8, issue 4, pp 416-430.
  • Hergert, R.; Barth, V; Klenke, T. (2011) Interdisciplinary and Interfaculty Approaches in Higher Education Capable of Permeating the Complexity of Climate Change. In: Leal Filho, W. (ed.) Universities and Climate Change: Introducing Climate Change to University Programmes. Heidelberg: Springer.
  • Leal Filho, W. (2000), Dealing with misconceptions on the concept of sustainability. International journal of Sustainability in Higher Education, Vol. 1, Number 1, pp 9-19.
  • OECD (2005), The definition and selection of key competencies: Executive Summary. Paris. (accessed 28.01.2011).
  • Schneidewind, U. (2009), Nachhaltige Wissenschaft: Plädoyer für einen Klimawandel im deutschen Wissenschafts- und Hochschulsystem. Metropolis: Marburg.
  • VCSE (2009), Virtual Campus for a Sustainable Europe: Best Practice Guidebook. (accessed 28.01.2011).

About the author

Dr. Roland Hergert is working at the Centre for Environment and Sustainability Research at the University of Oldenburg. He studied business economics in Göttingen, Madrid and Oldenburg and received his PhD for investigating organisations´ perception of sustainability issues in cooperation with Volkswagen.

Currently he develops study programmes on the topic of Sustainability at the University of Oldenburg. His research focus is on investigating how to integrate sustainability issues at the university and how to foster processes of transdisciplinary collaboration in-between scientific disciplines and society.


  • UNESCO. United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization
  • The Catalan Association of Public Universities (ACUP)

Sponsored by

  • Generalitat de Catalunya. Ministry of Business and Employment. Department of Research and Universities
  • Generalitat de Catalunya. Ministry for Foreign Action and Open Government