Sustainable business practices should go without saying, especially given the urgent need to transform economies worldwide to meet climate goals. Yet in many study programmes, sustainability is only an elective subject at most. The Vrije Universiteit Brussel (VUB) is now the first university to launch a sustainability curriculum in its economics courses. This should provide the next generation of entrepreneurs, managers and economists with the knowledge and skills they need to tackle existing and future sustainability challenges
The VUB programmes in applied economic sciences and commercial engineering and their English-language variants should prepare their students for the many sustainability challenges that will cross their paths. Students need to be ready and able to make a positive contribution. VUB professor Cathy Macharis has therefore developed a sustainability curriculum for these courses – a clear pathway of modules that, throughout the programme, lead to the desired outcome. The new Sustainability Economics module in the third bachelor year acts as a pivot. With Professor Tom Kuppens, and with the support of the Flemish government’s Duurzaam Educatiepunt expertise centre, a picture of the future to act as a compass for curricular adjustments was developed during the 2022-2023 academic year. The exercise outlined the characteristics of a forward-looking business economist.
“A business economist is someone with an academic bachelor or master degree in the field of business administration, economics, applied economics or the commercial sciences. A business economist plays an influential role in society,” explains Cathy Macharis. “As managers or executives in companies or government institutions, for example, they make important decisions about investment and policy. Those decisions are made now, while the results only become clear in the long term. A business economist must therefore be forward-looking. Moreover, responsible business economists lead organisations that are resilient enough to survive crises, of which the climate crisis is a major example. The profile describes the knowledge but also the competences and soft skills that the future business economist will need to be ready for the challenges of a rapidly changing world.”
Additionally, the curriculum demonstrates the importance of teaching students sustainability skills that go beyond reducing negative impacts on people and the environment. “Students must learn how to devise solutions to the sustainability challenges that will lie in their path in the near and distant future,” says Tom Kuppens of VUB MILO.
“For example, they need to learn to think regeneratively, in which entrepreneurship actually improves the living environment. This is the only way to properly equip them to face current and future sustainability challenges. That is why it’s important to integrate sustainable business into study courses.”
The full profile of the future-oriented business economist can be seen on the Duurzaam Educatiepunt website. Higher education institutions interested in cooperation can contact the centre via the website.
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