Sophia Kirova

Students from developing economies respond to need for Sustainable Development 

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Top 5 countries where relative student interest in Sustainable Development has tripped
Top 5 countries where relative student interest in Sustainable Development has tripped between 2015 and 2018.

In a century marked by climate change and the ongoing quest for equality, the demand for Sustainable Development has been growing exponentially.
Governments’ focus notably shifted toward sustainability with the adoption of the 17 United Nations Sustainable Development goals in 2015, and student interest in sustainability-related degrees has quadrupled since then, Studyportals data shows.  

To rise to the challenge, higher education institutions across the world have been introducing new and more comprehensive programmes in Sustainable Development to help strike the delicate balance between the need for economic growth and the conservation of our resources and biodiversity. On Studyportals’ websites, we identified more than 1,000 such full-degree programmes in Sustainable Development, taught in English at universities around the world. 

The growing need for education in Sustainable Development seems especially prevalent in developing economies. Relative student interest in sustainability-related programmes as compared to other fields has more than doubled in Singapore (225%), Puerto Rico (143%), Bhutan (140%), Guatemala (134%), and Brunei (133%), followed by Myanmar (123%), Peru (112%), the Dominican Republic (110%), Mongolia (101%) and Ireland (101%).  

Growth of student interest in Sustainability-related programmes
Data from Studyportals users.

Students from Singapore and Ireland have oriented themselves toward Sustainable management and Civil Engineering  programmes, whereas Puerto Rico, Brunei, Bhutan, Guatemala, Myanmar, and Peru leaned more towards Environmental sciences. Sustainable energy is a popular subject among Sustainable Development courses in Oman and Costa Rica.   

The clear pattern is that Sustainable Development has been increasing in popularity in developing countries, although there are a few outliers, like Singapore and Ireland. In the majority of these countries, the need for progress on the UN Sustainable Development goals has been dire. With 2030 as its end date, the UN Agenda has been an alarming call for global action upon challenges that touch all areas of our well-being, from poverty to equality, to the climate and the environment, to prosperity and infrastructure. In response, countries have passed Sustainable Development plans, considering local priority sectors.  

Climate action is an arduous topic in South-East Asia, where forests are systematically logged or burned to clear land for agriculture - all practices known to majorly contribute to air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. 

Brunei for example – an economy heavily reliant on oil and gas - announced  it was actively seeking Sustainable Development in multiple sectors, predominantly energy, sustainable tourism and the environment. Nested in the borders of Malaysia and just a few miles from Indonesia, the small country sits in the midst the growing palm oil industry and its devastating effects on local communities, wildlife, and the climate. Relative interest is sustainability-related education in Brunei is up 133%.  

In Papua New Guinea – another country at the heart of the deforestation and oil palms crisis – interest in Sustainable Development is also rising (87%). Bhutan – where the nation’s development strategy is structured around environmental conservation, and Myanmar – where half or the working force is actively involved with agriculture, have unsurprisingly seen a spike in interest in Agriculture and Sustainability programmes (140% and 123%, respectively).  

Environmental protection is by no means separate from conscious and Sustainable Development in the social sector. In fact, they go hand in hand as effective environmental care is only possible when it represents a primary organising principle in societies’ economic and political activity.  While we are taxing carbon emissions and exploring alternative energy sources to combat climate change, we are applying economic and technological innovation to a seemingly “green” challenge.  In this sense, all UN Sustainable Development goals are strongly interconnected.

United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development goals

But perhaps the most unifying goal of all 17 is number four – Education. At this point, Sustainable Development is becoming an underlying principle – a fundamental value - not so much a new field, and education is evolving to integrate it into the curricula of sciences and popular fields of study like business, technology, architecture, engineering, policy making and many more.  

Education itself represents one of UN’s 17 Sustainable Development goals, with improving access to quality education as its main objective. Additionally, education plays a unique role in creating a sustainable future as it underpins all of UN’s sustainable goals.  As some higher education leaders commented in a piece by UWN: “As a knowledge producer, the core mission of higher education cuts across all learning domains.” 

Everyone at Studyportals is honoured to be an agent in the change towards a more international education, and excited to be helping more students cross borders to learn the skills they need to make a difference in their home countries and respond to some of the most important changes the world is currently experiencing.

This story was presented at Going Global 2019. See the full poster here.

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