UCT student attends the International Sustainable Campus Network Conference

22 Aug 2018 - 15:45
Students from IARU universities who attended the conference. From left to right: Mikayla Tran, University of California, Berkeley; Rupert Stuart-Smith, University of Oxford; Elsie Moore, Yale University; Whitney Pailman, University of Cape Town.


As part of the International Alliance for Research Universities’ (IARU) ongoing student education initiatives and exchanges, four students from member universities, including Whitney Pailman from UCT, had the opportunity to attend the International Sustainable Campus Network (ISCN) conference in Stockholm, Sweden, from 11 to 13 June 2018. The students participated in the three-day conference and helped to facilitate the joint IARU/ISCN special event on the role of academia in advancing the Sustainable Development Goals. What follows is Pailman’s experience of the conference.

The 2018 ISCN conference was a dynamic showcase of the integration of the sustainable development goals in teaching, research and campus practices. It brought together innovative case studies from universities across the globe, through robust dialogue, enthusiasm and commitment to advancing solutions to pressing global challenges.

Being hosted at the KTH Royal Institute of Technology provided an amazing opportunity to experience the campus and culture, also – reflected in its architecture – a rich blend of history and modernity. An example of a recently completed green building with a modern touch and an intriguing brick facade in the shape of a beaver’s tail is the Undervisningshuset, or Teaching House, where the conference lunches, poster presentations and break-away sessions were held. This building, designed by Christensen & Co Architects in collaboration with the KTH Building Department, students and teaching staff, is a demonstration of a flexible and functional work and teaching space which optimises natural light. It illustrates how teaching and learning environments interface with the built environment and the importance of incorporating functionality, practicality and purpose into green- and sustainable-building design.

Looking beyond the walls of university campuses, the various conference sessions highlighted that universities are indeed microcosms of society and are thus poised to be at the forefront of solutions to sustainable development challenges. From the many insightful presentations, Professor Khatharya Um’s plenary address titled “Global Refugees: Critical Issues and Relevance to Sustainable Development Goals” really caught my attention. She highlighted the role universities can play in serving society and the need to incorporate community service into a university’s core curriculum. She also acknowledged the importance of addressing the systemic issues that lie at the root of many sustainable development challenges, including a lack of access to opportunities, inequality and poverty. This was also echoed in the closing address of Professor Sigbritt Karlsson, President of KTH.

I also found the Next Generation Innovation breakout session, during the IARU/ISCN event, particularly interesting, as it illustrated how universities can harness innovation and entrepreneurial thinking to develop solutions that are context-relevant and responsive to societal challenges. By creating environments that stimulate innovation and collaboration among students and researchers, universities can incubate world-changing ideas and invest in the next generation of innovators and entrepreneurs who can take forward this year’s conference theme of “acting with a purpose”.

Whitney Pailman is a PhD candidate in energy and development based at the Energy Research Centre at UCT. Her research explores business and regulatory models for energy transitions in sub-Saharan Africa.