The environmental issue to be included in all programmes
KTH is now making an extra effort with their educational programmes about environmental and sustainable development. Among other things, computer engineering students will be able to study a new course in sustainable development on how computer engineering can be used to solve environmental problems.
The course will focus on how technology can help reduce the environmental impact, explains the course administrator, Åsa Svenfelt.
“Computer engineering can of course create environmental problems. But above all it holds considerable potential for sustainable solutions,” she says.
Environmental and sustainable development (MHU – Miljö- och hållbar utveckling) is one of KTH’s priority areas and the aim is that courses on environmental and sustainable development will be integrated in all programmes. Therefore, five schools have been granted extra funding on Presidential order this year to develop courses on sustainable development.
The CSC School, which currently has relatively few courses on environmental and sustainable development, is one of the schools that benefited from the extra funding. Two new courses are now being planned there, one on media technology and one for future computer engineers.
Åsa Svenfelt, researcher in strategic environmental analysis at the ABE School is designing the course for the computer engineers. “Naturally, students also need to become aware of the negative effects that technology has on the environment,” she says. But the course will mainly focus on opportunities, how computer technology can provide solutions.
“Travel planners for instance, can provide assistance to make it easier for people to make smart choices so that the waiting times when switching transport modes is shortened – and this may therefore make it attractive for people to choose other modes of transport rather than using their cars,” she says.
“Not just programming”
Åsa Svenfelt is thinking of cooperating with companies in order to get suggestions to problems that students can work on and try to solve. Alexander Solsmed, a student of computer engineering, now in the third year of his studies and a student representative in development work, also points out that it is important that the course content is regarded as relevant to computer engineering students. Otherwise there is a risk that the course is perceived as less important than the more markedly technological courses.
The computer engineering course in sustainable development will be included in the second term of the first year of studies and will be included for the first time in the spring of 2013. Alexander Solsmed thinks that it is good that the course on environmental and sustainable development comes in at such an early stage of the programme.
“It is a way to make it clear that the profession is about much more than just programming. It is important that computer engineers that may be working with key socio-economic and democratic systems are aware of the concept of sustainable development.”
A recently conducted survey showed that KTH offers a total of 189 courses which fully or partly deal with the environment and sustainable development. In addition, there is a complete engineering programme, Energy and the Environment, about MHU with specialisations in sustainability in several other programmes.
Alumni dissatisfied with the environment issue
Nevertheless, both the EAE – Education Assessment Exercise, the major evaluation of the educational programme which was conducted in 2011, and alumni surveys, have pointed out that MHU needs to be strengthened. In the surveys, the alumni generally answer that they have received a good education which has given them the tools they need in their work, says Göran Finnveden, KTH’s vice president for sustainable development.
“Except when it comes to environmental issues. On this point, roughly 50 per cent of the alumni answer that they have encountered problems such as they have not been given the tools to work with during their education. This applies to all the universities of technology and is a pretty clear indication of the need,” says Göran Finnveden.
Therefore, quality assurance work is now being carried out on KTH’s educational programme on environmental and sustainable development. The survey formed a part of that process, but also serves to inform people about the courses that are in actual fact already available, Göran Finnveden explains.
He expects that in the future there will be both more refined MHU courses and an increased focus on highlighting sustainability issues in other courses.
“I expect a lot of development in this area over the next few years. But the important thing is not how you do it, but that environmental and sustainable development is integrated into all programmes.”
Text: Ursula Stigzelius