First 65 students finish new European Master’s programme
Sixty-five students following the same Master’s programme at the same time, but scattered over and moving between the premises of five different European universities. It might sound peculiar, but this is exactly what CHARM-EU Master’s students do. The varying locations are, however, not the only remarkable thing about the European Master’s programme Global Challenges for Sustainability.
When she recalls the moment that students told her that the CHARM-EU master had been a life changing experience to them, it still makes Marjanneke Vijge feel very proud. It is what the Assistant Professor at Utrecht University and Utrecht Leader of the first ever joint European Master's programme had quietly hoped and aimed for when she and colleagues set up the programme.
The focus is not merely on academic analyses, but also on connecting to society through challenge based learning.
One of the key characteristics of the programme is that we offer opportunities to develop a diversity of skills, complementary to academic competences. The focus is not merely on academic analyses, but also on connecting to society through challenge based learning. It’s been super exciting so far to go on this exploring journey together with the students.
No further questions
Sounds cool, is the response Sofia Edroso - who is among the first group of students to have finished the CHARM-EU master – usually gets when she tells others about her European master in sustainability, organised by five universities. “And then they tend to have no further questions because they expect a long, complex explanation”, Sofia (Spanish and German) says laughing.
Fellow student Rosanne Wahl (Dutch) recognises this.
I always add to the confusion by explaining that after every semester we’d move to another country and that some classmates would go with me while others would go to different universities, but that we’d still all be following the same classes (online).
OK, it’s complex. But to give it a go anyway: CHARM-EU stands for Challenge-driven, Accessible, Research-Based and Mobile European University. It is an alliance formed by Utrecht University, the University of Barcelona, Trinity College Dublin, the University of Montpellier and Eötvös Loránd University Budapest. Since 2023 complemented by Åbo Akademi University, Julius-Maximilians-University Würzburg and the Ruhr West University of Applied Sciences.
CHARM-EU offers the Master’s programme Global Challenges for Sustainability; the first degree ever accredited, taught and awarded jointly by different European partners. The programme provides international, transdisciplinary education by teachers from various academic fields and from all the partner universities, in co-creation with external stakeholders such as companies and social organisations.
Students with diverse educational backgrounds and nationalities collaborate with each other and the stakeholders, working on real societal sustainability challenges. They attend lectures at one of the universities and connect to the other campuses online, switching campuses from one phase to the other. The first group of students has now finished the programme.
One of CHARM-EU’s aims for the future is to expand by also implementing programmes for bachelor’s students, PhDs, postdocs and professionals.
A different level
A unique learning experience, is how former student Lena Bettin (German) describes Global Challenges for Sustainability.
A key reason for me to choose this master’s was the focus on current sustainability issues. I had studied Sustainability and Environmental Sciences in my bachelor’s, so I already had good knowledge on the topic, but what I missed was applying scientific knowledge to real-world challenges.
An aspect that makes the programme very educational as well is that students don’t only have different cultural backgrounds, but also diverse academic backgrounds. In group projects one team member would, for example, focus more on the technical side of things, while someone else would prioritise the business aspects, and a third person would concentrate on the design. This diversity of perspectives allowed us to learn a lot from each other and to bring the group work to a different level.
The diversity of perspectives allowed us to learn a lot from each other and to bring the group work to a different level.
I don’t think we would have developed the ability to adjust to new situations and surroundings as much elsewhere. Moving around Europe puts you outside of your comfort zone on a regular basis which really stimulates your learning. It certainly made the programme an adventure.
Practical output product
For the final phase of the master’s programme - the Capstone - students were divided over thirteen teams, each taking on a challenge somewhere in the world and developing a practical output product together with their stakeholder. Rosanne’s team was matched with stakeholder Utrecht Natuurlijk, which manages several community gardens and farms.
The Capstone stood out to me, because you use the results of your research to create something tangible. I don’t think this is very common in other master’s programmes, but it taught me a lot. My team focused its research on reviving the connection between humans and nature. We created a sustainability game that people can play during their visits to the community gardens and farms. It was nice to see how our stakeholder took our work very seriously, sharing our deliverables on their intranet and really intending to implement the product we created.
Sofia’s challenge was based in Barcelona.
We developed a set of guidelines for restaurants to help them act more sustainably, for instance by purchasing certain certified products and by looking for specific sustainable materials. Most restaurants still suffer from the effects of the pandemic, so have limited means at the moment, but we hope that smaller steps (our guidelines) now, will promote larger investments at a later stage (like obtaining an official ecolabel). So hopefully our work will make a difference.
We developed a set of guidelines for restaurants to help them act more sustainably, for instance by purchasing certain certified products and by looking for specific sustainable materials.
And Lena’s team focused on the potential of green hydrogen with the Dutch municipality of Land van Cuijk as a stakeholder. Lowering greenhouse gas emissions, less dependence on gas import and building a more resilient energy network, just to name a few of the opportunities they looked into.
It has been a valuable experience to work with such a diverse group of stakeholders, says Lena.
Due to this, we were able to get insights into political, technical, social and agricultural topics.
After combining all these aspects we provided our stakeholders with a policy recommendation on what strategy could be most feasible for the region. Since it is such a complex topic it was impossible to cover it all within one semester. Our work was just a start and I am excited to see how the project will continue.
Innovating along the way
It basically sounds like the perfect Master’s programme... Marjanneke Vijge:
No, of course nothing is perfect. Although I am very proud of what we’ve done so far, I also see plenty of room for improvement, for instance the programmatic assessment we implemented. This is a holistic approach in which student’s whole professional and personal development is being looked at. It is a new method in this kind of setting, so it means innovating along the way.
The students also have suggestions for further improvement. Sofia:
A friend of mine is now following the programme. Through her I can see how CHARM-EU is adjusting to the feedback we have given. During the programme they were also very open to our concerns and comments. They clearly want to improve and want to adjust to students’ needs wherever possible. This results in staff and students really forming and developing the programme together.