NTNU’s new rector must have a clear plan for sustainability progress

It is remarkable that the job advertisement for a new rector at NTNU  overlooks engagement with sustainability, members of the organization Scientist Rebellion write.

The organization Scientist Rebellion during one of their demonstrations.
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NTNU is currently recruiting a new rector. At a time when universities are increasingly called to up their engagement with sustainability in all their activities, it is remarkable that the job advertisement for the leadership of Norway’s largest university overlooks this dimension of the position. 

Advancing sustainability has become a crucial task of the university leadership. Yet, NTNU is currently falling behind other Norwegian research and education institutions on many aspects of sustainability. We argue that the appointment of a new rector is an opportunity to put NTNU back on track to spearhead sustainability in the Norwegian Higher Education sector. 

Read more about Scientist Rebellion.

There will be a debate between the rector candidates at Storsalen on Tuesday 12. March. 

The previous rector, Anne Borg, put sustainability at the top of the agenda when appointed in 2020. Research-based sustainability should be a permanent priority for future NTNU rectors in line with our mission to “use our knowledge to benefit society” and “commit ourselves to solving global challenges”. At the same time, NTNUs sustainability goals for the term 2018-2025 are far from reached and the last NTNU Miljøutviklingsplan (2020-2023) remains unknown to most staff and students. 

A clear orientation and coordination from the rectorate on how to implement sustainability is required to support the myriad of existing initiatives at departmental, faculty or NTNUs strategic research area (TSO), with initiatives in both research, education, and operations. In this regard, discontinuing the TSO Sustainability seems to have left a vacuum. As long as it lacks concrete strategic anchoring at NTNU, it will be difficult to translate sustainability into action. Therefore, we suggest that a plan for how to develop sustainability in NTNU’s activities should be included in the evaluation process for recruiting the next rector. 

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To achieve this, NTNU could look elsewhere for inspiration, in the Norwegian Higher Education sector and beyond. Other universities have adopted different organisational forms that could cater for sustainability-oriented action. NMBU, UiO and UiT have each appointed a vice-Rector with sustainability as a special responsibility. UiO also mapped out a concrete, detailed and updated “action plan for climate and environmental work” in June 2022. SINTEF has integrated a practice of systematic sustainability reporting in their annual report. Additionally, to support bottom-up engagement by individuals, in proposing and implementing sustainable solutions, UiO opened a Green Office open to all students and employees “who have ideas about how UiO as both a place of study and work can become more sustainable”. 

It is crucial that the strong commitment of the rectorate to sustainability is reiterated with the appointment of the next rector and asserted with a clear sustainability strategy for university-level initiatives. Additionally, we need a system to support existing and future bottom-up initiatives. NTNU must have an overarching plan that includes timelines, guidelines, and tools for the different levels of the organisation to be able to concretise the sustainability transition. Establishing yearly reporting on sustainability progress would support continuity in action, raise awareness in the university, and hold the university leadership accountable for the progress made. 

A firm ambition from the rectorate for the university’s sustainability progress is necessary to build a constructive environment of engagement and collaboration between employees, students, and leadership.