Interviews

"Students are already encouraging universities to become sustainable"
 Martha Burkle

Martha Burkle took part in a round table on case studies at The Future of Sustainable Universities seminar by the ONE Project, which the UOC is involved in. (Photo: Martha Burkle)

19/01/2023
Āngels Doņate
Martha Burkle, Assistant Dean for Assessment Evaluation and Analytics at the University of Arizona's College of Medicine

 

Martha Burkle, Assistant Dean for Assessment Evaluation and Analytics at the University of Arizona's College of Medicine, took part in a round table on case studies at The Future of Sustainable Universities seminar on 7 November. The seminar was organized by the ONE Project, which the UOC is involved in. Dr Burkle, Assistant Professor of Family and Community Medicine, is an expert in the use of digital technologies for educational innovation, strategies for the evaluation of teachers and students, and the use of information and communication technologies for sustainable development. The University of Arizona, which was founded in 1885, currently has over 45,000 students and more than 2,600 faculty. It offers some 580 programmes, and is renowned for its programmes in Medicine, Management and Aerospace Engineering.

In September 2015, the United Nations General Assembly adopted resolution 70.1 and the 2030 Agenda: 17 goals to achieve a fairer and more sustainable society. Governments, businesses, and social institutions are all partners in this sustainability. In terms of this global agreement, what specific responsibility do universities have regarding the societies and countries they form part of?

I see three university responsibilities regarding the promotion and application of sustainable principles: to develop awareness among students about this important topic; to contribute to the sustainable development of communities nearby the university – in the case of my own institution, these communities are located in rural and border areas – and to consider sustainable development principles when building new infrastructure.

And what responsibility do they have to students, teaching staff and administrative staff? Is the university an example? A mirror? A facilitator?

Universities are at the centre of the production of new knowledge, applied research, and relevant activities that promote awareness and action among their staff and students. I believe that the role that universities play with regard of sustainability goes beyond being a mirror or setting an example. Universities need to be at the forefront of sustainable thinking and acting, to become leaders in this field.

From your point of view, and based on your experience, what are the main characteristics that a university must have to be considered sustainable? Are any universities close to achieving this? What does it depend on?

A sustainable university is one that impacts its community (promoting local economic development), while supporting sustainability in their academic programmes and research.

Who is responsible for a university being sustainable? The institution itself? The government? The educational community? What role in achieving this sustainability does each party involved play?

I see several forces supporting and promoting this goal: starting with the university itself, but also supported by government policies and incentives. Students, on the other hand, are already encouraging universities to become sustainable. This is clear in the number of enrolments on programmes with a sustainable approach (such as Environmental Engineering) and the creation of offices to support sustainable projects (such as the Office of Sustainability).

Apart from a political or philosophical role, what concrete measures can or should universities take? Incorporating these goals into their programmes of study, fostering research and knowledge transfer in this field? And what about being an example of sustainability on campus, in buildings, consumption, etc.?

Sustainability should be a theme that permeates everything, from university policies to the development of new programmes, to support of local rural or indigenous communities. 

Times Higher Education's Impact Rankings 2022 measure which universities are most focused on meeting the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals.  Seven of the top 10 universities are in English-speaking countries (Australia, USA, UK and Canada). Do you think this is a factor?

Being an English-speaking university plays an important role when occupying a place in any ranking, since the idea of quality and ranking is based on Western principles. Furthermore, the UN also reflects these Western principles. To put the comparison in perspective, it is like publishing. Some say that if you do not publish in English, you do not exist. English has become the international language that regulates norms and principles.