Sustainability Dialogue: The University of the Future - Imagining transitions at Utrecht and Beyond


Universities are not only the engine of thought and solutions for sustainable development - their activities shape current and future societal approaches to social and environmental sustainability - but are also arenas to experiment in complex social transitions.

The polycrises of our time demand that we transition the complex structure of higher education towards future-proof education, practice, operation and societal inclusion. This transition poses many questions, such as: 

  • What decisions will allow us to steer away from ‘unsustainability lock-in’?  
  • What could the sustainability university of the future look like? 
  • How can existing examples and visions of sustainable, visionary and future-proof universities guide prefiguration, planning and realization of a future-proof university? 
  • How do we coalesce the many ambitions within UU and create momentum for an (or many) ambitious and transformative sustainability approach(es)? 

These questions have a multitude of answers, and decisions made in the present and coming years have the power to make-or-break how future-proof the university will become. Prefiguring (imagining) a radically innovative and sustainable university of 2050 is one method of back-casting from where we would like to be to the changes and actions needed in the present. Guided by case study examples and speakers with bold ideas concerning the future of the university and the society of which we are a part, participants will engage in a prefiguration exercise around a sustainable future UU of 2050. 


Adele Tufford from the Urban Futures Studio will spark our imaginations by discussing existing visions of Sustainability Universities. Ozan Alakavuklar from the Utrecht School of Governance will then discuss Utrecht’s role as an anchor institution for social change as a part of sustainability transformations. Karin Rebel, Professor in the Faculty of Geosciences and Director of Education at the Copernicus Institute of Sustainable Development, and Sebastiaan Steenman, Professor and Director of the undergraduate school at the Utrecht School of Governance, both from the Sustainability Education and Engagement Community, will explore how sustainability can be embedded in all education programmes; and the roles that inter- and transdisciplinarity, such as community engaged learning, could play in that development. Lysanne van der Lem, director of the Sustainability Office, will discuss sustainability strategy, vision and ambitions at the level of UU governance. 

Guided by the speakers, participants will then engage in a prefiguration exercise where a sustainable future UU of 2050 is imagined. We are looking forward to explore these questions with you and discuss possible perspectives. Join us for an interdisciplinary discussion and drinks!

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Café Minnaert (Leuvenlaan 4), Utrecht Science Park

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