Interview by Nefeli Kleopatra Venetsianou |Student volunteering at universities and connection to the realisation of SDGs

Interview with Professor Serkos Haroutounian, Chemistry professor in the Laboratory of Physiology of Nutrition & Diet in the Agricultural University of Athens (AUA), Coordinator of the thematic unit “Organic Chemistry” in Hellenic Open University, Vice Rector of Administrative Affairs, Academic Affairs and Student Welfare

Nefeli Kleopatra Venetsianou

Which concepts do you believe can be promoted through volunteering?

Professor Serkos Haroutounian

The concepts that I would like volunteering to promote are participation, sensitization for the community, the environment and the other people. Certainly, through volunteering other concepts of the 21st century can be developed, such as sustainability and interest for the nature.

Nefeli Kleopatra Venetsianou

In Greece volunteering among young people is not that common. Why do you think this is?

Professor Serkos Haroutounian

One main reason that volunteering is not that developed in universities is the distance observed between the members of the university family, meaning the professors and the students, which stands as an obstacle for the development of such initiatives. Moreover, the educational system does not motivate students to spend more time in the university. Students are in the University just to participate in the main hours of their daily program (laboratories & courses), which are emphatically too many, and as a result they do not have more time to spend on other activities.

Nefeli Kleopatra Venetsianou

Do you think that the professors in Greek universities do enough to promote volunteering?

Professor Serkos Haroutounian

Basis the Greek legislation, there are no criteria that recognise the occupation of professors with activities other than their basic job. Therefore, only a small number occupies with horizontal activities, such as volunteering, because based on existing data the only factor of evaluation of the professors is with academic criteria.

Nefeli Kleopatra Venetsianou

Sustainability is a crucial issue that concerns modern Europe. Do you believe young people are informed on this topic?

Professor Serkos Haroutounian

I believe that in the existing educational system in Greece and generally in Europe, young people are not sufficiently supported to get informed and motivated with regards to sustainability. Consequently, it is doubtful if they will be able to tune into the important changes observed with globalisation, climate change, or transfer of jobs to third countries, etc. For all these issues, it is crucial to organise activities that inform and motivate young people, through which they will learn to be world citizens, even via volunteering.

Nefeli Kleopatra Venetsianou

In August 2015, the 193 UN states-members agreed on the 17 Sustainable Development Goals, which are now known as “Agenda 2030”. Which of these goals do you consider as a priority for  Greek  society?

Professor Serkos Haroutounian

Unfortunately, the primary goal in Greece should be the recovery of human dignity, a concept that includes the first 4 goals: nobody is poor, everyone has food, a good health system, and of course high-quality education. Nevertheless, as the accomplishment of these goals demands money, in order to accomplish, it is important to put in practice the other 13 goals, which are essential to provide the necessary financial resources in the country and the society at large.

Nefeli Kleopatra Venetsianou

How do you believe the SDGs influence our life? Why is it so important to accomplish them?

Professor Serkos Haroutounian

The SDGs are very important in everyday level for everyone. Firstly, everyone should feel them as a part of his life, so as to be able to incorporate them gradually in the rest of his activities. Certainly, for someone to be able to occupy himself with them, he should firstly ensure a good living standard. In this way, he will have the opportunity to occupy with extra activities, such as the accomplishment of the SDGs. Especially in Greece, if someone wants to act on the SDGs, he should firstly resolve other main issues that he faces, related to the unemployment and the financial matters. In any case, each one of us can start from our everyday life, and gradually adopt these practices and ideas in all parts of our life.

Nefeli Kleopatra Venetsianou

Until 2030, do you think that it is possible that we will have accomplished all the SDGs on the global level? How many of these goals do you believe Greece will have achieved?

Professor Serkos Haroutounian

I hope that the first four goals will be accomplished. Furthermore, I guess that the goal of partnerships  (17) will be achieved, as well as gender equality (5). Finally, I believe that on issues such as clean water and sanitation (6), and affordable and clean energy (7), we will have made great progress. Certainly, I think that in such a small country, as Greece, we should focus only on some of these SDGs.

Nefeli Kleopatra Venetsianou

Do you think that the SDGs concern directly the university community? Should informing students concerning the “Agenda 2030” be a priority?

Professor Serkos Haroutounian

The information of young people on the “Agenda 2030” is crucial, so it would be a great idea to organise  a discussion between professors and students, to raise awareness about the goals and search for innovative ideas for their realisation.

Nefeli Kleopatra Venetsianou

In your opinion, is volunteering a part of the “Agenda 2030”? How could the concept of “student volunteering” help in its accomplishment?

Professor Serkos Haroutounian

Students are not connected to the University, as most of them nowadays have low expectations from it. Student volunteering is a really important activity, who can inspire, sensitize and motivate students. As it is reasonable, professors and students have really different aspects in a variety of subjects. Volunteering gives them the opportunity to collaborate on issues related to  society, the environment and sustainability.

Nefeli Kleopatra Venetsianou

Do you think that young people in university have the opportunity to contribute to the accomplishment of the SDGs? If yes, in what ways?

Professor Serkos Haroutounian

The concept of sustainability is included in many courses, though students are not interested in topics out of the curriculum, so the correspondence of students is usually limited.

Nefeli Kleopatra Venetsianou

What would you change to motivate them?

Professor Serkos Haroutounian

I consider the existing educational system wrong. To motivate students, we should include more experiential courses, such as analysis, research and presentation of papers in any topic students wish. The more experiential the education is, the more sensitized the students are.

Nefeli Kleopatra Venetsianou

Do you consider that an open dialogue between students and Deans would be constructive, so as to analyse the “Agenda 2030” and the ways to implement it?

Professor Serkos Haroutounian

This is a great idea, that personally I would love to participate in. To me, the most important part is the participation of students in the improvement of the daily routine of our University. It is essential that students discuss with us how we can start the SDGs of the “Agenda 2030” from our place, AUA, for example the waste management. Firstly, we should analyse and discuss the “Agenda 2030”, propose ideas and put some minor targets to accomplish in the “microcosm” of AUA, so as to promote the experiential education of young people.

Nefeli Kleopatra Venetsianou

To conclude, is student volunteering in the University connected with the accomplishment of the SDGs?

Professor Serkos Haroutounian

I believe that volunteering consists a main factor in the University for the accomplishment of the SDGs and it is my pleasure to support such volunteering activities that help Greek society and contribute to its development.

Interview by Nefeli Kleopatra Venetsianou

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