First graduate school programme on SDGs hugely popular

The Lund University PhD programme on Agenda 2030, the first of its kind in Sweden addressing the UN Sustainable Development Goals or SDGs, has become an instant success, with all faculties participating and enormous interest from international students. Some 1,183 applicants registered from 106 countries for 12 PhD positions that will start in 2020.

With five students previously accepted, the graduate school is now running with 17 PhD students who will all relate their specific research topic to the issues defined by the Sustainable Development Goals.

Lund University may hence have created a golden opportunity to attract some of the most remarkable talents of the younger generation now mobilising for cross-scientific research on the SDGs.

When calling for applicants to the graduate programme, Deputy Vice-Chancellor of Lund University, Professor Sylvia Schwaag Serger, released a short video, Transforming our World, in which she said: “In this time of uncertainty and conflict and increasing nationalism, it is a fundamental sign of hope that all the governments of the world have agreed on an agenda for combining social, economic and environmental sustainability for Agenda 2030. It is an agenda for transformative change for our common future.

“This is a unique opportunity. At the same time, it is also a fundamental challenge to rethink, sometimes from scratch, the way we teach, the way we learn, the way we approach problems and solve problems and how we implement solutions. This applies to researchers, students, governments and to citizens.”

All doctoral students will have a specific research study programme, and will simultaneously take part in the university-wide interdisciplinary research studies courses developed on the basis of the issues defined by the global goals.

There will also be several activities linked to the graduate school to highlight the global sustainability agenda and to advance research on issues concerning the 2030 Agenda through seminars, conferences, study trips and collaborations with various societal stakeholders.

The Agenda 2030 Graduate School is administered via the Lund University Sustainability Forum and the university’s Centre for Environmental and Climate Research.

Rector Torbjörn von Schantz, on his blog page, said: “I am really proud of the Agenda 2030 concept and that we have managed to fund these PhD positions from the surplus of externally funded research projects and that all faculties are participating. This is the first research school in Sweden within Agenda 2030.

“I am particularly satisfied with the enormous interest this project has generated in attracting applications from extremely well qualified candidates from all over the world. During the establishment phase we have had important experiences in how to build up cross-scientific academic teams that have released creativity, both within the academic and the administrative staff,” he said.

Highly selected experts

To achieve the 2030 SDGs, research has several important roles: to identify challenges and conflicting objectives, to contribute with new solutions, to generate dialogue and learning between different societal stakeholders and to critically analyse the goals.

The 17 PhD students, all highly selected experts, have widespread and international academic and professional experience from their respective fields.

They will all relate their specific research topic to the issues defined by the SDGs. Additionally, they will benefit from continuous, cross-disciplinary events and meetings within the group and with internal and external stakeholders which are intended to develop the interdisciplinary and sustainability thinking and research among the PhD students and at the university as a whole.

Among the students presented on the graduate school’s website, Alezini Loxa, accepted as a PhD student at the faculty of law, describes herself as a Greek lawyer holding a bachelor of law and an LLM in EU law from the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens. She has been engaged academically and professionally in the field of human rights protection in Europe with a specific focus on EU law and migrant and refugee protection.

“My research under the 2030 Agenda is built upon the question of how international soft law interplays with European protection standards in the field of migration. I intend to examine newly adopted instruments in the field of international migration law in order to analyse how they may affect the current legal setting within the EU legal order and whether they can be used as a basis for sustainable migration management in Europe,” she says.

Anna Stubbendorff of the department of clinical sciences, who is studying for a PhD at the faculty of medicine, will examine sustainable nutrition within the broader framework of the SDGs.

“Food production, food consumption and nutrition can be connected to all SDGs. The PhD project will focus on perspectives of health, climate and inequalities in health, based on data from epidemiological studies. I am hoping for a future where food is produced and consumed in a sustainable way,” she says.

Phil Justice Flores of the department of business administration is from the Philippines and moved to Sweden in August but has lived in Europe for six years. He is examining the marketing of new transport models to see how to “drive away demand from private vehicles to public means of transport, and to encourage people to choose more sustainable ways of travelling”.

William (Billy) Jones, a PhD student in the division of ethnology who is from the United Kingdom and has grassroots development experience in rural Kenya, has gained an acute awareness of the importance of understanding cultural nuances when implementing development initiatives.

“This led me to pursue a career in exploring the role of culture in sustainable development. My research explores the culture of pastoralists in northern Kenya and how well the international development community understands these cultures. My research interests include land ownership, inter-tribal conflict, indigenous knowledge and gender roles in pastoral practices.”

The PhD students have established their own blog page at the graduate school where they publish their thoughts and ideas even before these are written out in scientific papers. These include theoretical discussion pieces such as, for example, “the tricky issue of sustainability and human well-being” and “the need for policy integration in responsible investments and environment”.

Rector von Schantz said that the work in developing the cross-scientific programme for the graduate school has given the university important experience in how to build up such cross-scientific collaboration further at the university. Von Schantz in particular paid tribute to Deputy Vice-Chancellor Schwaag Serger who had initiated and driven the graduate school forward.