Information on promoting sustainable development goals included in course descriptions

Themes related to promoting sustainable development goals discussed on more than one-third of courses
Three happy students. Photo: Unto Rautio
Photo: Aalto University/Unto Rautio

Since spring 2020, teachers in charge of courses at Aalto University have analysed the content of their courses from the perspective of the UN’s sustainable development goals (SDGs) and identified the most important SDGs for their course content. In practice, teachers add the SDGs central to the content of their courses to the course descriptions. This makes it easier for students to find courses addressing sustainable development themes that are of particular interest to them.

During the academic year 2023–2024, the School of Business offers a total of 562 courses. Of these, 203 courses (36.1%) address themes related to the UN’s SDGs. For comparison, a total of 471 courses were offered in the academic year 2020–21, of which 214 courses (45.44%) discussed SDGs. 

Of the 17 sustainable development goals defined by the UN, the School of Business offers the largest number of courses on themes related to the goal of Decent Work and Economic Growth (SDG number 8). This academic year, there are 123 of such courses, which is 21.8% of the total number of courses offered (146 or 29.2% in spring 2020). The second highest number of courses was offered on themes related to the goal that promotes the building of resilient infrastructure, sustainable industrialization and fosters innovation (SDG number 9). There are 59 of such courses, which is 10.5% of the total number of courses offered (90 or 18% in spring 2020). Other sustainability-related themes were discussed less often.

As can be seen from the comparisons above, the SDGs are not mentioned as often in the course descriptions of this academic year as they were three years ago in the academic year 2020–21. This is partly explained by the fact that Aalto University has specified the guidelines for including SDGs in course descriptions. In order for SDG themes to be central to the content of the course, they need to be visible in the course’s learning outcomes or the course description. A mere mention of a sustainability perspective or a cursory glance at a theme is not enough for a course to receive the SDG symbol. 

Integrating sustainability into teaching is a process of continuous development

At Aalto University, sustainable development is integrated into teaching so that themes related to the promotion of sustainable development are included in the content of all degree programmes. 

The integration of sustainable development goals into the content of teaching is a key aspect of teaching development. Discussing SDGs on courses belonging to different areas of business studies is also in line with the strategy of Aalto University. This is why it is important that sustainability-related themes are given visibility in course descriptions, too.

‘Even by international comparison, we are pioneers here. Despite this, we still have plenty to do in terms of incorporating sustainable development thinking into more and more courses in the future. We also need to increase the in-depth understanding of SDGs on courses where they are currently only mentioned,’ says Professor Minna Halme.

Aalto University is committed to the comprehensive promotion of the UN goals for sustainable development. In addition to teaching, they are an essential part of research, innovation activities and campus development. Aalto University is also the first Finnish university to sign the international SDG Accord. It is a shared response by institutions of higher education to the UN goals for sustainable development, and its objective is to strengthen the role of universities in achieving of the goals of Agenda 2030. More than 150 higher education institutions around the world have signed the commitment so far.

Further information:

strategy workshop Image: Mikko Raskinen

SDGs at Aalto University

Aalto University is the first Finnish university to sign universities' global Sustainable Development Goals Accord.

SDG accord

Aalto is committed to UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDG)

Aalto is the first Finnish university to sign universities' global Sustainable Development Goals Accord.

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