My first thought when it comes to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is related to acquiring quality education for each human being in this world. But, when we are talking about universities, is always higher education also quality education? What means higher education and how we can improve universities’ or students’ contribution to the SDGs? These are some thoughts to reflect on. For me, higher education means simple things: good professors, good students, good intentions and sustainable development. My point of view regarding the improvement of students’ contribution to the SGD comes from the idea of increasing the opportunity for intercultural exchanges, but also taking into consideration all the time new opinions which students might propose for debate or exploration.
Firstly, to create sustainability in education it is necessary to explore more the cultures and areas of studying in other countries to understand how education works around the world. It is necessary to promote better the international systems, but also international mobilities. Each student should know which is the option he or she has in order to develop himself/herself in a certain area. More than this, it is necessary to work together to grow a good and fruitful network which can last over time. If we are talking about Asia-Europe higher education and SDGs, we should take into consideration more intercultural programs. More universities should be involved in programs which allow students to participate in short- or long-term intercultural exchanges. These exchanges shouldn’t be reported just at a formal education level, but also at a non-formal one, through which students can find out more about human rights, for example, but also about understanding others’ cultures, non- discrimination, peace, tolerance, healthy lifestyles, etc. These kind of students mobilities are vital for a good comprehension of the world. The outcome of these intercultural exchanges it is at least as important as the one from the formal education. In this situation, students will acquire not just new information, but also new skills which they can use in real life. In my own belief, I think every international mobility should have a part of non-formal education through which the students can learn something about what you cannot find in the books. For example, Erasmus+ is a programme which is founded by the European Commission and whose results are just getting better and better. Starting with some exchanges of good practices, this programme has become very important for policy recommendations and it has a positive impact for all the countries involved in it. In Romania in 2017, almost 70% of the students and youth workers who participated in an Erasmus+ project has admitted the positive impact and the good results they got after the project dissemination. Also, almost 100% of the respondents to an Erasmus+ survey agreed that the participation in these projects is related to the need of professional development, but also to the need of personal development(1). Expanding these kind of good practices between continents, between very different cultures and having some cross-sectoral partnerships, even if we talk about a common student mobility, might lead to a stronger focus on the quality of education and to the development of some new skills and definitely might contribute to the SGDs as well.
Secondly, higher education should always be related to the actuality of the disciplines of study, but also to the methods professors use in order to deliver the new information. Lacking one of these two things might decrease the level of transferring the information. I will give you an example. In Romania, in my field of study, linguistics, there are lacking important facilities, such as software through which a professor should exemplify theoretical information. In this situation, it is difficult to grow or to advance in understanding important information. A solution could be to implement some international policies through which other universities might share this kind of programmes on a database and students all around the world might access it. Any student should have the opportunity to get all the information needed in order to succeed in his or her research. In this regard, new ways of collaborating between universities is needed.
Thirdly, sustainable education means also both universities and students should pay more attention to people who are in very vulnerable situations. Many times, unfortunately, there are multiple cases of avoiding these kinds of situations in Romania than to solve them. For me, vulnerable people mean people in poverty, but also refugees, people with disabilities and so on. These people usually do not have access, or they are not encouraged to take part in any type of student mobility. For people having a vulnerable background, higher education must become more accesible, otherwise the gap will increase. The MOOC or e-learning resources should come closer to the members of these groups. Also, having shared knowledge with the representatives of local communities brings the educational content closer to these communities, as their members cannot afford attending regular classes. In this regard, having a new type of certificate that empowers and entitles one to share knowledge with vulnerable groups might be a step forward building sustainable education. Not only the content makes education qualitative, but also the accessibility of it.
In the end, I am totally sure and aware of the fact that there are many ways to improve universities’ and students’ contribution to the SDGs. Maybe the ones I have proposed might be some of them.