It’s a sweeping change. The University of Bremen is changing its mission statement, which is now more than 20 years old: the topics of climate and sustainability are to be given particular significance. This was decided by the Academic Senate in April 2022. Previously, a strong signal was sent with the establishment of a commission for sustainability, climate justice, and climate neutrality. For students and staff, this further development of the university means that the topic will play a major role in all areas in the future.
The students were the driving force. On their initiative, the University of Bremen has embarked on an even stronger focus on the topic of climate. Back in the summer of 2020, they submitted an inquiry to the University Executive Board and prominently put the topic on the agenda in the process.
Students Set Something in Motion
The student representatives in the Academic Senate wanted to know what their university’s policy on the topic of sustainability and climate protection are and what is being done in research, teaching, and on campus for climate protection. The background was the demands made by the Students for Future Bremen, which were presented and discussed at the student general assembly in November 2019. The Academic Senate – the university parliament consisting of professors, staff, and students – convened a closed-door meeting. At the meeting, the members discussed how climate protection can be incorporated even more extensively into research, teaching, and the university’s operations.
“The students didn’t let up and they’re right,” says physics professor Jens Falta, who heads the commission in the Academic Senate. “It’s important for society that the university doesn’t stay out of it. On the contrary: we need to be at the forefront.”
The commitment of the students has undoubtedly set things in motion. The commission for sustainability, climate justice, and climate neutrality (NKK) was established. It aims to bring the topic into all areas of the university and develop specific measures. In this context, the Academic Senate also agreed to formulate a new mission statement. The steering group is headed by the university’s President Jutta Günther. This group includes people from all status groups, deans, staff representatives, representatives for equality and diversity, Students for Future, and the university’s environmental manager.
A New Mission Statement for Topics of the Future
“The world is changing. This must also be reflected in our mission statement,” says the President. The mission statement of the University of Bremen is now more than 20 years old and needs to be updated. “The decision of the Academic Senate to make sustainability the fundamental guiding principle of the university means an enormous upgrade of the topic.” And she clarifies: “The focus on the topic is not intended to limit scientific creativity, but rather stems from our mission to assume social responsibility.” It is an overall project to which all disciplines could contribute.
Jutta Günther continues: “We want to look not only at the scientific side, but also at the social and economic dimension of sustainability in addition to the ecological. Preserving the natural fundamentals of existence is an urgent global challenge. When it comes to problem-solving, the humanities and social sciences are just as necessary as the natural and technical sciences.”
New Degree Course: Natural Science for a Sustainable Future
The new English-language bachelor’s degree course “Natural Science for a Sustainable Future,” which is currently in the planning phase, captures this idea. “We decided to develop the degree course together with the subjects physics, geosciences, biology, and chemistry,” explains Jens Falta. “With a focus on natural sciences, a degree course ‘Natural Science for a Sustainable Future’ is being developed here, which will also include a large proportion of other sciences: business, social science, philosophy.” The English-language course underlines the international orientation of the degree from the outset.
The degree course is not subject-oriented, but topic-oriented. Energy and resource issues, ecology, and global health play a role. It will be supported by the participating faculties. This requires new approaches to cooperation. Jens Falta hopes that the first students will be able to start in two years.
There will also be changes in existing degree courses. Professor Falta provides an example from his area, solid state physics. “This is where efficient light generation, for example, with LEDs, is on the curriculum. A great deal has been done in this area. I don’t just want to teach physics students about what great opportunities there are here.”
One thing is clear, this topic will extensively shape the university. A Green Office for students is currently being set up. The idea is to give students a permanent place, so that their work on climate protection finds more continuity. And the voice of the students should be heard more clearly and networking made easier.
Climate Protection Has Long Been an Important Topic at the University of Bremen
The topic of climate has long played an important role at the University of Bremen. In research and teaching, it is already well positioned in terms of sustainability and climate protection. There are many specific climate protection activities on campus. For example, the university obtains all its energy requirements from green electricity, and an employee initiative operates solar panels on university rooftops.
“So we’re not starting from scratch because the university was concerned with environmental protection early on,” emphasizes the university’s President. Dr. Doris Sövegjarto plays an important role in this and is responsible for all the climate and environment management on the University of Bremen campus and is also part of the Academic Senate commission. For example, she has achieved that the university has had a continuously validated environmental management system in accordance with EMAS (Eco-Management Audit Scheme) since 2004. This certifies that the university meets its environmental performance beyond the statutory requirements.
That’s why Jutta Günther is confident: “From my point of view, the University of Bremen is already very well positioned to make climate change and sustainability its main focus,” she explains. “This is a great opportunity to make the degree course even more attractive. It’s about the sustainability of our university.”
The decision of the Academic Senate from April 27, 2022, reads as follows:
The university is committed to its responsibility for the necessary global socioecological transformation and for the equity of present and future generations. For the purpose of this transformation as an overriding, strategic task of the university, concrete and binding objectives and measures will be defined in a university-wide sustainability strategy. In doing so, the university will build on its understanding of sustainability, where ecological framework conditions as well as social and economic aspects should be taken into account in a networked manner.” (Decision no. 9162)