Following a long process of reorganisation within the Flemish higher education landscape, KU Leuven acquired and integrated several academically-oriented degree programmes from the University Colleges Hogeschool-Universiteit Brussels (HUB) and Thomas More (Antwerp) in 2013. The new KU Leuven Faculty of Economics and Business (FEB) is now responsible for research and academic offerings across four campuses: Leuven, Kortrijk, Brussels and Antwerp.
As part of the integration process, FEB is currently combining the various initiatives happening on the different campuses around sustainability and ethics, strengthening them, and learning from each other. I recently spoke with Dean Luc Sels and Talia Stough, Sustainability Coordinator at the FEB, about their experiences.
How was the process of creating a shared platform for ethics, responsibility and sustainability?
The two new campuses came to the integration process with different educational offerings, research centres, policies, visions, etc. The goal of the integration was to create a shared vision, mission, policies, and goals while maintaining the strengths of each of the four unique campuses. The Faculty used the EQUIS framework as a backdrop during the integration process. The EQUIS Standards and Criteria 2014 include expanded coverage of ethics, responsibility, and sustainability (ERS), which, “reflects the need of business schools to contribute to the resolutions of societal challenges and to act as ‘good citizens’ in the environment they operate in,” (EQUIS Standards and Criteria 2014, pp. 6).
What have been some of the challenges?
There is potential in economic and/or business education for the link with “sustainability” to not be initially evident. While business management programmes can easily integrate and align with topics such as CSR, stakeholder engagement, etc., uncovering the link between purely economic programmes proved to require deeper examination. During the process of EQUIS accreditation, schools must identify a certain programme that will be used as an exemplar for the visitation committee to examine. We chose the Master in Business Economics (MBE) on our Leuven campus, where the link with ERS is not initially evident based on the list of core courses. When we examined courses more closely, it became clear that ERS was being integrated as a theme for case studies, project work, etc. within seemingly unrelated courses. A major challenge for the near future is to bring these ERS themes to the forefront and to integrate them into one coherent learning trajectory with which students and faculty can easily identify.
What have been some of the successes?
The four campuses came to the integration process with different strengths and experiences. In regards to ERS, the Brussels campus had a long history of integrating sustainability and corporate social responsibility into education, research and operations, while the Leuven campus had strong research links to ethics and policy development, and several strong ERS-related student initiatives. The Brussels campus had been a signatory to PRME and had already been reporting on its sustainability performance for four years. As an integrated faculty, we are now a PRME signatory as well, and the EQUIS Self-Assessment Report Chapter 9 on ERS served as the framework for our first PRME SIP report. Currently, we are discussing what the sustainability indicators will be for the integrated faculty and how we will report in the future. By having different experiences and expertise, we can learn from each other.
How did you bring all of this together in your first faculty wide SIP report?
As the Brussels campus had experience with reporting on sustainability performance, they significantly contributed to our EQUIS Chapter 9/PRME SIP. When examining the MBE programme, the Brussels colleagues were able to help the Leuven professors of the MBE programme identify which activities (case studies, project work, etc.) were contributing to ERS in the curriculum, even though it was occurring outside courses specifically on ERS themes. This changed the conversation from, “maybe we are not really doing anything on ERS,” to “look at all these interesting examples we have on ERS in curriculum.”
What advice would you have for other schools thinking of or going through a similar process?
Change can be a moment when things are lost or gained. For us, the synergy between change and quality standards that gives serious weight to ERS created the opportunity for ERS to be a major topic for the integrated faculty moving forward.
While assessment tools for sustainability in higher education ask for inventories of courses on sustainability, assessing the content of courses is still rare. Looking beyond just the courses titles, although more time consuming, can really change the picture—and the institution’s perspective—on how ERS is integrated into education.
For faculties with multiple campuses, having an integrated approach to ERS is important. In the case of FEB, we are developing a cross-campus team to oversee the themes of ERS and diversity, focusing on education and research initiatives as well as stimulating student initiatives. Having an integrated approach allows each campus to excel in different areas (i.e., research centres with different emphases, ERS educational activities catered to different study programmes, etc.), but also gives common vision and goals, and the potential to learn from exemplars at other campuses.