Students Tackling the Challenge of Creating Smarter and more Sustainable Cities

A growing percentage of the world’s population lives in cities. These same cities are home to many of the business schools that are part of the PRME network. However there are important challenges for cities moving forward, challenges captured in many of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) but in particular in SDG 11. Tackling these challenges require us to explore and develop integrated and collaborative solutions. They also give students incredible opportunities to work on real-life sustainability challenges, an exercise that can be beneficial to all parties involves.

The Smart Sustainable Cities Challenge ticks these boxes and many more. This multidisciplinary and multi university project gives teams of students from different countries the chance to be part of the local solutions. I spoke with Russell Yates, Enterprise Fellow, European Cooperation from Manchester Metropolitan University Business School in the United Kingdom about how their school is involved in this project.


What is the Smart Sustainable Cities Challenge?

The Smart Sustainable Challenge forms part of an undergraduate course, ‘Smart Sustainable Cities’ delivered at HU Utrecht University of Applied Sciences and enables students to work together in multidisciplinary, international teams on real life sustainable city related issues proposed by Regional or Local Authorities. The course was jointly developed by 5 universities in 5 countries, and transnational work is designed into its content.

How did it come about?

‘Smart Sustainable Cities’ was developed in partnership within an ERASMUS+ Strategic Partnership project ‘ESSENCE’ (European Sustainable Solutions for Existing and New City Environments) by five European applied university partners including Turku University of Applied Science (Finland), the Polytechnic University of Valencia (Spain), Manchester Metropolitan University (UK), Hamburg University of Applied Sciences (Germany), and HU University of Applied Sciences Utrecht (Netherlands).

ESSENCE aimed to promote the development of sustainable cities through international cooperation through the joint development and delivery of new teaching methods, an international interdisciplinary curriculum, and real life student projects working with municipalities and regional authorities.

The full programme has been running in Utrecht for 3 years but this is the first time that Manchester Metropolitan University has participated in the Smart Sustainable Cities Challenge.

What are the key features of the programme and how does it work.

The students undertaking the full course in Utrecht select a project proposed by one of the hosting partner organisations in Turku, Valencia, Manchester, Hamburg, and for the first time this year also in Vietnam, where partners are all working together with a number of universities in Vietnam to extend the European activity to create a Smart Sustainable Vietnamese Cities module.

Whilst with the host university, the students work independently in a team on behalf of a real commissioner (in this instance in Manchester, Transport for Greater Manchester). The group is tasked with exploring the sustainability challenge that host city is facing, asked to design smart, creative and innovative solutions for this challenge and advise how this can be converted into a viable commercial proposition. The team is also responsible for the project management. Each assignment has a multidisciplinary character enabling every student to contribute effectively to the solution from his or her own discipline.

6 students form Utrecht have spent 4 weeks in Manchester in November and December working with 7 students from Manchester Met on the M-Business (Masters) course. Working together in this way enables students from both universities to benefit from new ways of working, working in an international team, understand different perspectives and contexts, and work with other students from different disciplines, significantly enhancing their learning and extending Sustainability into other dsciplines.

What are some of the projects students have worked on?

This is the first time Manchester has hosted a group of students from this course. Examples of past projects amongst the other partners include:

Alcoy (Spain): How can a substantial reduction in CO2 emissions from traffic in the city of Alcoy be achieved?

Utrecht (the Netherlands): With which innovative concepts can the circular economy in the construction sector in Utrecht be rapidly further developed?

Utrecht (the Netherlands): In what way can the Tuindorp-Oost district of the city of Utrecht be converted into an energy-neutral district in 2030?

Turku (Finland): How can the Skanssi area in Turku be developed in a smart sustainable way (regarding energy, sharing spaces, mobility)?

Is this connected with SDG targets?

Working with real life, real time issues proposed by the commissioning organisations, the projects proposed are responsive to real life challenges related to the development of sustainable cities. Manchester Met works closely with the Greater Manchester Combined Authority to progress the Low Carbon agenda in Greater Manchester and the students work is being driven by a challenge proposed by Transport for Greater Manchester around consumer behaviour.

As part of Manchester’s plans to become the first UK Carbon Neutral city, the challenge proposed is to change traveller behaviour, so that the norm is walking, cycling and public transport use, car share/hire and cycle-carriage on trains/trams and to come up with a 5 year plan to change consumer behaviour. The students examined the UN SDGs as part of their project.

How do you/do you measure impact?

We measure educational impact through the reports and assignments that the students produce while on the course. We will undertake an evaluation of this project, and feed it into next year’s work.

What have been some of the challenges?

Upon being asked if Manchester Met was willing to participate, the immediate challenge was not willingness but which course and students would be most suitable to work on the Smart Sustainable Challenge. The drive within the Business School to embed Sustainability within its provision whilst enabling innovation in teaching enabled a quick conclusion and tutors for the MBusiness course asked for a brief to be put to their students, who were quick to respond.

For both groups of students, working with international teams with different persepctives has been an exciting challenge. As both groups’ work is assessed in their home institution, their outputs need to be slightly different, which has meant a negotiation of tasks and responsibilities.

The groups have thrived on their new perspectives and developed an excellent joint presentation.


The international team worked very well together and have shared social events and meetings. Transport for Greater Manchester have asked the teams to come and share their project results at one of their staff’s Lunchtime Learning events, and we are developing future events with the results of the project, including inputting into the Mayor’s Green Summit in 2019.

What advice would you have for other schools thinking of putting something similar into place?

We would say do it! The differing perspectives gained from working together across geographical boundaries, as well as the challenge of including differing viewpoints has been invaluable for our students.

What’s next for the initiative?

We will work with the SSC Challenge again next year, aiming to embed this in the curriculum earlier for maximum effect.


Leave a Comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s