This professor states: students don’t have to obstruct the A12 to make a difference

27 Jun 2024

Sustainability could have even more of a prominent position in the university’s education: that’s Edwin van Meerkerk’s conclusion after dozens of interviews with teachers and students. That’s why the professor and his colleagues developed a toolkit with educational materials.

Edwin van Meerkerk has seen every corner of the Nijmegen campus in the past one and a half years. He visited all 38 bachelor programmes of the university twice for an interview with a teacher and a student. Topic of the conversation: sustainability in education. How is that topic already dealt with in the programme?

Ever since Van Meerkerk got his hands on a Comenius grant, the professor in culture education has been doing research with Elize de Mul and Britt Broekhaus into sustainability in all the curricula offered in Nijmegen. The Radboud University has made it a goal for themselves to introduce all students to issues regarding sustainability. Van Meerkerk’s job is to help actualise this goal.

The university also treats sustainability as a broad term. It’s not just about climate and the environment, but also about equality, poverty, and other issues that are mentioned in the goals of the Sustainable Development Agenda of the United Nations.

‘The way students experience the curriculum was often an eyeopener for teachers’

It’s important to see that these goals are all connected to each other, Van Meerkerk explains, because they influence each other. A simple example would be building a coal-fired power plant. ‘That might be good for the employment, but bad for the environment.’


Some of the programmes welcomed Van Meerkerk and his fellow researchers with open arms. Other places were more reserved towards them. ‘We already have a vision on sustainability here’, they would hear. By continuing to engage in conversations Van Meerkerk assessed that there is always room for more expansion or depth regarding the sustainability issues. He will visit the directors of education in the upcoming months to forward these points of improvement.

Edwin van Meerkerk

Van Meerkerk wanted to involve students during his campus rounds – hence the setup of interviews with one teacher and one student. Students were previously often forgotten about in the innovation of education. ‘Even though they are the ones who can describe so well how the curriculum is experienced. That was often an eyeopener for teachers.’

Planting seed

The goal of the interviews was not just to gather information; Van Meerkerk also wants to plant a seed. ‘How does a discipline affect societal issues? That can be made more visible in a lot of places.’ He also hopes that teachers and students engage in conversations with each other about their expectations of the education.

The university also strives to do more for the personal and professional development (PPO) for students. Sustainability education can play into that perfectly, states Van Meerkerk; for example, by reducing the focus on cramming more knowledge and instead prioritising competences such as teamwork and reflection.

‘What if we let students write one less paper per course?’

Another compulsory lecture or essay won’t contribute to that – other forms of education need to have an opportunity for that as well. There is a practical problem where both students and teachers complain about the intense work- and examination load. Van Meerkerk: ‘But what if we let students write one less paper per course, and instead use that time for another educational form? That way, students can be active in other ways.’


To give teachers a small push in the right direction, Van Meerkerk will publish a toolkit this week with presentations, workshop formats, and teaching materials about sustainability. An example is the conversation starter cards about sustainable development goals that help students reflect on their future contribution in solving complex problems.

Van Meerkerk has noticed that teachers have been waiting for such tools; they have been wanting to implement the theme of sustainability in their teaching. ‘They don’t have to encourage students to obstruct the A12 in order to contribute. Instead, they can explain that their education is tied to the problems they read about in the newspaper. That’s also how we can make a difference.’

Translated by Milou Aluy-van der Meij

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