CEMUS Diaries w49 – Visits to CEMUS 2015-2017: What the Finns have learned from the Swedes by Riina Koivuranta & Janina Käyhkö

CEMUS Diaries - week 49 #1

  Riina Koivuranta

Riina is working as a part-time teacher in the University of Helsinki (Multidisciplinary Environmental Research) and as a research assistant in a Horizon2020 project (www.hnvlink.eu). She is finalizing her Master’s thesis on grassroots innovation in nature management and working in Visia cooperative (www.visia.fi).






Janina Käyhkö

Janina is working as a course assistant in Global Environmental Challenges and Their Solutions -course and in environmental experts’ co-op Universo (http://www.universo.fi/). She has just started her dissertation research work on climate change maladaptation.


Both were course-coordinators in 2015 and 2016 SDE-courses and are devoted to mentoring and developing the course in the future!


As a part of the Nordic ActSHEN – Action for Sustainability in Higher Education -project, a pilot course in the University of Helsinki under the name of Sustainable Development in Education was launched in 2015. The idea was to study how student-led sustainability education could work in a Finnish university. Visits to and discussions with CEMUS had a strong influence on how the course got established.

The pilot course was established in the Unit of Chemistry Teacher Education. After the initial pilot in 2015, the course, which was designed only to be piloted for a year, was added to the curriculum with a promise of consecutive 5 years of further experimentation. This decision of continuation was mainly due to the active efforts of the first coordinators; all of whom made a pledge to continue as mentors if the course would be promised continuation. The pledge was part of Finnish Sustainability initiative: ‘Society’s Commitment to Sustainable Development’ by the Ministry of Environment in Finland.

In practice, the course is planned every year from scratch with an option for the student-course-coordinators to negotiate of the use of previous year’s teaching materials. The coordinator groups have consisted of 3 to 4 students at master’s level from different disciplines. Coordinators get study points from their work. So far, mentors have worked pro-bono.

Whilst planning for the course, the coordinators have had a chance to make a study-visit to CEMUS. Visits have been hosted by CEMUS course-coordinators and have provided a great opportunity to get to know the inspirational work of CEMUS, as well as get feedback and ideas for Finnish student-led sustainability courses.

Here are some of the things the Finns have learned from the Swedes:

Science and knowledge into real-life context
The transdisciplinary courses at CEMUS are student-led and built on a close collaboration between teachers, researchers, university administrators and societal actors. The aim is always to place science and knowledge in real-life context. As the courses are organized by students, they give a unique and empowering opportunity for the students to gain work-experience as well as see themselves as active agents instead of passive objects of teaching. This is something worth striving for.

Trans-, multi- and interdisciplinary education into action
Visits to the CEMUS-centre have raised new questions in our minds and have made us think about the way we work here in Finland. One of the things that we have been left wondering about after the visits is, what could student-led courses bring to the University of Helsinki? Could these new ways of working bring much needed synergy benefits and new ways of thinking?

Sustainable development education, trans-, multi- and interdisciplinarity are words often used, but less frequently truly applied. Could student-led courses help bring these terms to life?

Working with feelings, values & new operating models
The visits to CEMUS have also given the Finnish teams new and valuable insights to our Sustainable Development in Education- course; can for example new teaching methods which include performing, debating and discussion feel uncomfortable or non-academic for some students?

In SD education there is a need for the contemplation of feelings, values and operating models of oneself and also of the role of different disciplines and actors. This can be a difficult task, as there are deeply rooted views on how education should look like. However, it is clear that in order for us to be more sustainable there is role to play for each and everyone of us. Sustainable development is not the responsibility of certain individuals or certain disciplines, it is a joint effort and requires deep, structural transformation.

The pledge can be found here:

A research article on the pilot course:

A student point-of-view on the pilot course in ActSHEN-blog:


So thanks for the tips fellow-nordics! We wouldn’t say it’s entirely because of you, but at least with your great input, the Finnish pilot course, having great response from students and teachers alike, is still running. That’s what we call Nordic action for sustainability!

Riina Koivuranta & Janina Käyhkö, University of Helsinki




This is a part of the 25th Anniversary blog series “CEMUS Diaries: Stories from past, present and future”, where we invite present and former staff, students, work group members, associates, and other CEMUS friends to reflect on their time at CEMUS and shed critical light into the future. Read the other CEMUS Diaries entries here.

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