Level: Undergraduate (Bachelor of Science)
University: Utrecht University
Length: 3 years (full-time)
Location: Utrecht, the Netherlands
Sustainability has become a hot topic in business, government, and society, and its role on the global agenda will not decline any time soon. Interdisciplinary thinkers are needed to navigate the inevitable large-scale changes that will take place over the coming decades, to understand problems before they arise, and to streamline solutions to address current and future challenges. The three-year BSc Global Sustainability at Utrecht University allows students to explore sustainability from different perspectives and develop insights into the complex systems that are at the base of social and environmental change.
First-year students follow a mostly fixed curriculum, including the courses Sustainability Challenges, Mathematics & Systems Analysis, Natural Processes, Socio-economic Processes, and Research Skills. In the second semester they choose one or two of the following tracks, each of which has three core courses and five electives from which students choose at least two:
- Water, Climate & Ecosystems
- Energy & Resources
- Governance & Societal Transformation
- Business & Innovation
In the second and third year, students have space to design their curriculum with track courses and electives, while the last period of year 3 is dedicated to writing a Bachelor’s thesis.
- What did you like most about the course?
I particularly enjoyed the variety of courses that the program has to offer. Doing two very different tracks — Governance & Societal Transformation and Water, Climate & Ecosystems — introduced me to a host of different fields such as ecology, water and soil management, environmental law, politics, and policy design. In addition to that, I used some of my electives to enrol in courses from the Business & Innovation track, as well as some extra-departmental courses such as Finance & Accounting.
- What did you do before this course? Are there any specific requirements for being able to apply to and take this curse?
Before enrolling in this course, I obtained a Dutch high school diploma in pre-university education with the subjects Physics, Chemistry, Biology, and several foreign languages. For international students, enrolment requires an international equivalent diploma, including at least two of the subjects Physics, Chemistry, Biology, and Economics, a sufficient level of mathematics, and proof of English proficiency. The full requirements are listed on the university’s website.
- What sort of work are you doing (e.g. more group work/more individual work; more project-based work/more essay writing etc.)?
Most courses include group paper assignments, with some exceptions such as Mathematics and Statistics, although students do work in pairs during part of those courses. The mandatory core curriculum includes two integration projects at the end of the first and second year, in which students from different tracks conduct fieldwork and write up a report on a real-world sustainability challenge. In the third year, students participate in a consultancy project, in which they advise a real-world client about a challenge their business is facing.
- Is there anything you would change about the course?
I regularly felt that the information density of some courses was relatively low and that we kind of stayed at the surface of topics. For me, a faster pace and more in-depth analysis would have been a welcome improvement at times. I think that if you have already made up your mind about a specific subject you want to pursue, this may not be the right course for you due to its broad nature. However, if you wish to explore a variety of sustainability topics to see which ones fit you best, this course provides you with a diversely oriented springboard that can help you develop your interests and skillset while you work towards a more specialised MSc program.
- Why did you choose this course over other courses you may have been considering?
Before I had heard about this course, I was considering a BSc program in Plant Sciences. However, after participating in a ‘Student for a Day’ session, I realised this program was too specific to cater to my wide interests and was too narrowly focused on natural science. My passion for sustainability made the choice for Global Sustainability Science, with its multidisciplinary study program, an easy one.
- What is life at this university like?
Utrecht’s historical city centre is beautiful and vibrant, with impressive architecture and a lot of cafés and restaurants along the picturesque canals. Practically all courses in this bachelor’s degree are taught at the Utrecht Science Park, though, which is a ten-minute bike ride from the centre and which is situated at the city’s edge. This campus covers about two square kilometres and is home to educational buildings, some high-rise student residences, restaurants, sports fields, a supermarket, a gym. Both the city centre and the Science Park have plenty of clubs and organisations to join, such as sports clubs and the Green Office, a student-employee platform that drives sustainable development on the campus.
- What are you planning on doing after you’ve graduated/what are you currently doing if you have graduated?
I expect to graduate in July of this year and will pursue the European MSc in Agroecology, a two-year double degree course that is taught in Wageningen (the Netherlands) and Lyon (France). This program studies the design and management of sustainable food systems from a socio-ecological perspective.
- What are typical jobs graduates do after completing the course?
The interdisciplinary nature of the program can provide the foundations to work as a bridge-builder between different sectors. For that reason, graduates are likely to pursue a career as a consultant for private or public organisations such as multinationals and governments. However, some stay in the academic sphere as teaching assistants or researchers. Also, I know that several of my fellow students have enrolled in various MSc degrees such as water management, marine ecology, food systems, and industrial ecology.
Sander van Holsteijn is a third-year BSc student studying Global Sustainability Science at Utrecht University, the Netherlands. In his studies, he focuses on governance and ecosystems. He is especially interested in sustainable agriculture and writes about sustainability, business, and innovation on GlobalGarland.com.