Lund invests US$11.7 million in Agenda 2030-linked projects

Lund University has announced a SEK100 million (US$11.7 million) research programme on Agenda 2030-related research projects, with part of the programme directed at international postdoc candidates, and the other at recruitment of PhD candidates.

The call for the first round of applications for PhD research projects was made on 16 March. The programme consists of two parts:

• An investment of up to 12 postdoc positions in interdisciplinary projects associated with Agenda 2030. Each project is to involve at least three faculties and to have a clear link to external engagement.

• Eight new doctoral studentships in the Agenda 2030 Graduate School at Lund University, which began in 2019 and currently has 17 doctoral students from all of the university’s nine faculties.

The programme’s aim is to attract international research expertise and to bring about the establishment of more internationally leading research environments in sustainability.

“With its breadth and cutting edge, Lund University has unique opportunities to tackle complex issues such as sustainability and here we have a fantastic chance to reinforce interdisciplinary environments,” says Lund University Vice-Chancellor Erik Renström.

Professor Per Mickwitz, who is pro vice-chancellor for research, sustainability and campus development, told University World News that when the Agenda 2030 Graduate School was announced in 2019, it created huge international interest and they received 1,183 applications for 17 PhD grant positions.

The investment in the 2019 Graduate School was SEK64 million (US$7.53 million) and the next phase of the programme is now significantly strengthened with a more than 50% increase in funding.

Strong endorsement by top leadership

“This is a strategic investment which emphasises excellence,” said Mickwitz, who is responsible for the programme. “By extending the Agenda 2030 Graduate School with more doctoral students and investing in a large number of postdocs in interdisciplinary projects, we expect to achieve a broad international combination of researchers and ideas.

“The goal is internationally leading research environments and we look forward to project applications that show innovation, collaboration and research with real development potential.”

The new research initiative is part of Lund University’s strategic work in the field of sustainability.

The Sustainability Forum, the coordinating hub for sustainability in research and education at Lund University, has been awarded increased funding and an extended remit, while the university has approved a new sustainability strategy and sustainability plan.

The new investment is also in line with the government’s strategic research and innovation initiatives in sustainability and the EU budget, of which a large part will be dedicated in future to meeting societal challenges associated with Agenda 2030.

“Lund University has not only the opportunity but also a major responsibility to contribute to increasing knowledge about sustainability and to assist in the transition that society is facing, which requires many different approaches, new ideas and innovations,” says Renström.

Projects involve three faculties

Associate Professor Kristina Jönsson, who is coordinating the Agenda 2030 Graduate School, told University World News: “Besides adding new funding of SEK100 million over four years, what is new this time is that in addition to new PhD positions (eight full-time), some 12 postdocs will be recruited in connection with research projects that involve three faculties.

“The research projects will be selected this spring (in competition) and the postdocs recruited this fall. The plan is to announce the PhD positions and a first batch of postdocs on 31 August.

“We have also developed some 10 research courses, despite COVID-19. The courses given in the autumn term of 2020 were ‘Digital monies for a sustainable future’, ‘Representing sustainability’ and ‘A law to save the world’. Also, all courses involve more than one faculty to ensure interdisciplinarity.”

Examples of activities at the school are found on the webpage
and YouTube, as well as on the Agenda 2030 Graduate School blog.

Jönsson said last time the applicants were mostly from Sweden but also from all over the world, with many from Iran and India and they included applicants aged 25 to 54, with five men and 12 women chosen.

Participants address ‘degrowth’ and ‘vegan activism’

The current 17 candidates are participating in the programmes addressing issues ranging from the impact of climate change on peace to vegan activism.

Christie Nicoson, a doctoral candidate with the department of political science, is doing research on how climate change impacts local communities and the implications for peace.

Naja Yndal-Olsen, a PhD student in sociology, is focusing on vegan activism in Denmark and Sweden.

“I am especially interested in how vegan organisations challenge dominant understandings of nature, including the ways in which relations between humans and other species are organised and institutionalised in society. In this way, I am investigating new forms of critique of animal agriculture in a societal perspective.”

She told University World News that what she finds “unique and promising” about the Lund Agenda 2030 school is the extent of interdisciplinarity.

“It doesn’t only facilitate collaboration between disciplines traditionally seen as neighbouring, since the PhD students represent a huge variety of fields from medicine to music and from engineering to sociology.

“It’s a privilege to have the opportunity to discuss my research interests with PhD colleagues, who are in fact working with some of the same topics but approach them from very different perspectives.

“In this way, the graduate school is in line with a central point of the Agenda 2030 – that the societal and environmental problems and crises addressed in the Sustainable Development Goals are interrelated. Thus, they can’t be solved within conventional subject boundaries.”

Aligns with national priorities

Hans Pohl, programme director at the Swedish Foundation for International Cooperation in Research and Higher Education (STINT), who last year did a study on how Swedish universities are addressing the Agenda 2030, told University World News: “Agenda 2030 and SDG-related research span to a large extent different scientific disciplines as well as national borders. Lund’s investment in an Agenda 2030 graduate school targets both these dimensions, which is very welcome.

“Given the international recruitment of young researchers, it might also lead to more international SDG research collaboration.”

Agneta Bladh, the special governmental investigator for internationalisation of higher education in Sweden, said that the Graduate School fits with the objectives of internationalisation waiting to be passed as part of the Swedish Higher Education Act and set to come into force this July.

“The objectives are that all activities at each higher education institution should contribute to improving the quality of education and research and, nationally and globally, to the sustainable development that higher education institutions are meant to foster.”

Thomas Jørgensen, senior policy co-ordinator at the European University Association, told University World News: “The next big step for SDGs in higher education will be institutional sustainability strategies that connect the different SDGs and reflect critically also on the trade-offs between the goals.

“For example, we can all imagine degrowth, but this also means less resources in society as a whole, with an impact, for example, on health: less money, less taxes, less public health services. A comprehensive sustainability strategy needs to address such trade-offs as well.”