The COPERNICUS Alliance will be the leading European network helping people and institutions in a higher education environment to creatively address the challenges of tomorrow in a collaborative way, to jointly build the knowledge and competences needed for global sustainable development, and to actively engage with policy-makers and community stakeholders.
The COPERNICUS Alliance (CA) aims to enable European higher education institutions and their partners to jointly identify challenges in higher education for sustainable development (HESD) and spearhead development of processes, tools, and knowledge to address these challenges from a whole-institution perspective. The CA provides a platform and organizes events where its current and future members can share resources and co-develop innovative education for sustainable development initiatives. It provides Micro Funds for members’ networking efforts and supports joint HESD proposals through advice and alliances. The CA also promotes engagement with policy-makers and community stakeholders at the European and global levels and regularly celebrates members’ ambassador activities. The CA resolutely commits to reducing the ecological footprint of its activities.
Respect, commitment, and collaboration are deemed the highest values of the CA.
- Respect underpins members’ interactions and collaboration. Our members greatly appreciate the diversity of the CA community and the inspiration they get from exchanging.
- CA members commit to walk the talk, guided by a holistic perspective of HESD and the Agenda 2030. This commitment is supported by the possibility of exchanging with other people and institutions, and engaging in common activities.
- Collaboration is the mode of work of the CA community, who shares knowledge and resources, seeks to increase the impact of their work together, and find common solutions and funding for projects.
Context and purpose
An increasing number of higher education institutions in Europe acknowledge the urgent need for rapid and radical transformation towards sustainable development and agree that higher education has an important role to play in this process. The question is: How can this role be assumed and what values should lead the process? Four stumbling blocks need to be addressed to answer the question.
First, value-based research and teaching are often believed to be problematical by academics, who consider freedom of thinking to be the highest good at a university; sustainable development is often perceived as an imposed norm and therefore rejected on principle.
Second, assessment processes are currently measuring what can be measured instead of what should be measured, and the entire institutional setup of higher education institutions relies on competition rather than on collaboration.
Third, activities at higher education institutions tend to be compartmentalized; while this is necessary to ensure expertise and efficiency in science, teaching, and operations, it also hampers the systemic, interdisciplinary, and inter-operational approach needed for sustainable development and for moving from “knowing to doing”.
Once these three stumbling blocks have been addressed, a fourth stumbling block remains: Are we able to take up the challenge of teaching and researching with sustainable development in mind? This requires a focus on competences in addition to knowledge, as well as a shift from teaching to learning – which lecturers find challenging, in particular given the notorious lack of professional development to support these changes towards education for sustainable development.
The UN Decade of Education for Sustainable Development and ensuing Global Action Programme on ESD have been instrumental in broadening the call for change in higher education. This call was expressed already very early on in the history of sustainable development and was eventually translated by concerned European university rectors into the 1993 COPERNICUS Charta, originally signed by 326 universities – the CA’s founding document. The CA is indebted to this framework and to related policy action both at the global and the European level. It is committed to cooperative action that helps its members take up the challenges of HESD, in the spirit of the goals formulated in Agenda 2030. The present Action Plan is therefore framed to address the four stumbling blocks mentioned above in the context of the global and European debates on HESD, and with the principles of a whole institution approach and the “five Ps” of Agenda 2030 in mind.
Action Plan 2019-2020: Strategy and Goals
Goals for CA activities have always been the result of a bottom-up process, with members contributing in a substantial way on different occasions. For the CA Action Plan 2019-2020, that remains valid also in 2021, five priorities have been indentified which characterise the CA’s unique strengths and important areas of action. The first two are thematic priorities (Goals 1 and 2), the third epitomises the CA’s mode of operation and commitment to sharing resources and learning (Goal 3), the fourth confirms the CA’s involvement in European and global policy work (Goal 4), and the fifth characterises the CA’s operational needs as a learning organisation (Goal 5):
- Goal 1: Promote ESD leadership and professional development
- Goal 2: Develop transformative quality assurance and assessment for the SDGs
- Goal 3: Foster experience-based support for ESD
- Goal 4: Conduct advocacy work for higher education for sustainable development
- Goal 5: Ensure CA’s organisational resilience, capacity to innovate, and ability to serve its members
Detailed objectives and specific actions are assigned to each of these five goals. (Quantitative) indicators allow to determine whether the goals have been achieved. Please see the CA Action Plan 2019-2020 for more detailed information.