Governance of Global Environmental Change: Towards a multidisciplinary discussion in tertiary environmental education in former USSR and Mongolia
1. PROJECT SUMMARY
1. A. Issues and needs for change
It is typical for the region of the former USSR and Mongolia (henceforth ‘the region’) that universities and research centres have good expertise in mono disciplinary research (although greatly eroded now). Despite that much (isolated) quality expertise has been developed multi- and transdisciplinary studies are not yet well developed. Most important reason for this is a suspicious attitude towards multidisciplinary research in the academic establishment, especially because local multidisciplinary scholarship is often of a variable quality and lacks applications. Also, the way humanities and social sciences have been and still are taught at natural science and technological faculties are not creating trust in multidisciplinary approaches and concepts. This is even the case with environmental sciences – a field that by definition needs an interdisciplinary approach but is still dominantly perceived as a pure engineering/natural science discipline. Hence it is apparent, that strong action should be taken to demonstrate the advantages of multidisciplinary methodology in environmental sciences and the interdisciplinary advantages of identifying, understanding and accounting for the social and political dimensions of environmental problems and the subsequent development of policy options.
To date, plenty of bi-lateral international cooperation projects (in particular in framework of strongly institutionalized EU programmes) have been completed by universities and their teaching programmes in the region. However, in most cases, inclusion was limited. The participation of universities and researchers in the region in the dynamic (formal and informal) academic networks and programmes, in particular in the global change research community, is weak. This could also be due to a lack of incentives at academic institutes in the region to undertake “experimental” research and thinking that goes beyond disciplines. A lack of structural institutional interest in “unfunded” cooperation and networking also seems to hamper the impact of international academic cooperation
In regards to undergraduate teaching, the need for action applies to the content and practise of teaching. The content requires a vigorous review and subsequent improvement of both specialisation courses and supplementary “disciplines of the humanities cycle”. The practice in its current form does not support creative learning, and independent and coordinated team work. It requires improved involvement of young academic faculty into international networking and collaboration in the field global environmental change, stimulation of communication with international peers as well as encouraging young faculty to build their teaching more on their own research experience.
1. B. Specific subject areas in need of in-depth study and revision and new teaching approaches
The subject area of the project is environmental governance. More specifically, a new paradigm of environmental governance known as earth system governance, or: the interrelated and increasingly integrated system of formal and informal rules, rule-making systems, and actor-networks at all levels of human society (from local to global) that are set up to steer societies towards preventing, mitigating, and adapting to global and local environmental change and, in particular, earth system transformation, within the normative context of sustainable development (Biermann et al. 2009). Parallel to the development of this subject area, the project will also address the quality of teaching towards international standards while taking into account existing (isolated) quality of contents and teaching methodology, and the cultural and historic characteristics of the region.
On methodological development we want to introduce a more interactive and reflective mode of teaching, more oriented towards group work and encouraging inquires into bordering subject areas. In regard to contents, we will focus above all on the development of an understanding to why venturing beyond traditional disciplinary boundaries can be useful and rewarding (both as an intellectual and practical exercise and as opportunity for career development). The focus will be on capacity development and expert support to ensuring state-of-art interdisciplinary content and methodology as well as practical relevance of undergraduate courses with the additional aim to sharpen their innovate character and international orientation.
1. C. The institutional trends in the subject area in the region
The understanding of environmental governance and social contexts of environmental issues is not among the strongest features of existing undergraduate curricula in the region. Most countries in the region have similar institutional set-ups for undergraduate education. The departments and the faculties develop courses and programmes, which are approved at a university level and further submitted for the final approval to national ministries of education. The national level also sets the educational standards (few, e.g. federal universities in Russia, have more flexibility) and oversees review and evaluation by discipline specific curriculum and methodology boards. In this set up it can be difficult in general to introduce radical changes to existing curricula, especially so for young faculty to do. This project aims at supporting change.
1. D. The main anticipated outcomes of the project
- Substantially improved understanding of the need for multidisciplinary, innovate teaching in the environmental field among junior faculty in the region;
- Sustainable strengthened inclusion of junior faculty in the region in international and regional networks;
- Improved curricula through identification and explanation of deficiencies and flaws;
- Improved, more interactive, reflective methods of teaching that encourage multidisciplinary thinking of teachers and students;
- Raised expertise in multidisciplinary environmental science through training and individual consultations;
- Social learning for young faculty in the region and for resource faculty from outside the region who will therefore better understand the regional situation.
1. E. Meeting the goals and priorities of ReSET
The proposed action focuses on re-thinking and re-designing contents and methodologies of environmental studies programmes taught at universities in the region to make the students understand the complexity of global environmental change and the central role of the human dimensions in causing, adapting to, and solving environmental problems. Needless to say, an improved understanding of the society and its mechanisms is essential to independent and original thinking and to academic leadership that considers the human dimensions of environmental change. Open discussions and innovate thinking and teaching, including the related governance mechanisms, policy processes and questions of the accountability of governments and non-state actors are essential for good environmental governance. An improved understanding of the values of an open and sustainable society is absolutely necessary for junior faculty – as it is for students, senior faculty, policy makers, and as a matter of fact for the entire society.
The proposed project brings together cutting edge local and international scholarship with the ultimate objective to establish a framework for long-term regional and international collaboration of environmental scholars. This will be ensured through very close collaboration with the Earth System Governance Project (ESG) – an interdisciplinary, long-term social science project under the auspices of the International Human Dimensions Programme on Global Environmental Change (IHDP). ESG and IHDP share the values laid down in the ReSET call, and primarily aim at network-building and coordinating the international research and educational efforts in environmental governance.
2. INTELLECTUAL RATIONALE, GROUNDING AND THEMATIC FOCUS
Impacts of human activities on planetary biogeophysical systems have become so pervasive and profound that they could inadvertently (and irreversible) alter the Earth system. This development has become a key challenge for policy-makers at all levels of decision-making, ranging from the need to limit disturbance in natural cycles to the increasing exigency to prepare - politically, legally, socially and economically - for the adaptation to global environmental changes that can no longer be halted and to train young faculty to deal academically with these challenges in teaching and in research.
The proposed project takes as approach the paradigm of earth system governance. This concept has been developed as a scientific notion and analytical framework to cope with the challenging problem characteristics of global environmental change. Earth system governance stands at the interface of social science governance research and the more natural science dominated field of earth system analysis. Earth system governance is a cutting edge concept that recognises that pollution control and nature conservation – issues traditionally understood as the core of environmental governance - do no longer capture current global developments. New perspectives are needed to understand the complex relation between global transformations of social and natural systems, internationalization of policy processes, and the multi-scale consequences of ecological transformation. Consequently, innovative teaching and training of researchers is needed to taking into account not only political effectiveness and efficiency but also global and national justice and equity and the need to bridge levels of analysis and disciplinary assumptions, methods and foci.
The proposed project will look at undergraduate programs in which notions of environmental governance usually appear such as “rational use of natural resources and environmental protection”, “geographical ecology”, “introduction to sciences”, “environmental management”, “environmental law”, and in rare occasions also in courses on environmental politics. Another group of relevant courses are so called courses of the “humanities cycle” taught as a mandatory (or partly mandatory) addition to the specialisation courses. These include introductory philosophy, law and political science courses. This project will in addition also address the broader issue of the internal consistency of the programmes offered.