20 September 2017 Register to receive our free newsletter by email each week
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University-led sustainable development projects face obstacles

The final document of the UN conference on Sustainable Development in Rio de Janeiro underscores the importance of universities in carrying out research and innovation for sustainable development. But many universities in developing countries say it is not easy to get the necessary support.

In Indonesia, for example, Gadjah Mada University in Yogyakarta is already involved in sustainable development projects.

It is the university’s role to help the community understand about sustainable development, according to Siti Syamsiah, a lecturer in chemical engineering. “The university is the motor. The university has ideas about sustainable development. The job is to spread those ideas.”

But there are obstacles.

Within universities, many researchers stop once their research is published. “Universities should work until their research can be useful to society. They need to find ways to deliver the results to society,” said Siti.

And while universities have the research, she added, they need local government to implement it and private organisations to fund it.

With Indonesia’s ambition of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 26% through its own efforts and by 41% with international cooperation by 2020, there is still a lot of work to be done. Overlapping regulation is one of the obstacles to overcome.

“Each ministry is not ready,” said Siti, who is also programme coordinator of a waste refinery project, a major sustainable development initiative at the university.

The project, using waste from traditional markets as raw materials for electricity production, was planned in 2008 but was officially implemented only in April 2011.

It took two years for the university to get support for the project from the ministries of home affairs, education and culture, foreign affairs and finance, Siti told University World News.

The reactor now processes some four tons of waste daily from the fruit market in Sleman, Yogyakarta province, and converts it into biogas to operate an electricity generator producing 500 kilowatts per hour.

Because the project involves both local government and private organisations, the university requires approval from the ministries. For example, a Home Affairs Ministry regulation states that all projects involving local government should be approved by it.

The local government cannot make its own decision, even though the project is useful for local communities, Siti complained.

What is needed is a change in the local government’s mindset so it understands that universities can help with local problems.

For the waste refinery project, Gadjah Mada collaborates with Boras University in Sweden, which involves its local government, Boras Municipality, and Boras Energy and Environment as partners.

“We need [to collaborate with] international institutions because we need to learn how they succeed in organising these three different institutions to work together,” said Siti.

But the obstacles did not end after official support to build the waste refinery was received. “At first, the fruit sellers in the market were reluctant about the project.

Students had to go into the community to explain the benefits. “We also teach sellers how to divide the waste since not all waste can be used as material.”
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