Keynote Arjen Wals

„Leaving the Titanic: Can higher education and the SDGs help humanity overcome global system dysfunction?“

It’s 5 years ago when the UN Decade for Education for Sustainable Development ended. Fifteen years of effort at the (inter)national policy-level have not yet resulted in a meaningful transition in education. Much like ‘business-as-usual’ it is also still ‘education-as-usual’. Given the urgency of current sustainability challenges this is highly problematic.

As the 2016 Global Education Report notices: more education and better access to education does not necessarily lead to a more sustainable world. In fact, it is rather the opposite: education focuses mainly on preparing people for the globalising economy by making them competent, flexible, life-long workers and consumers.

How can education serve people and planet, rather than the economy?

In this talk Arjen Wals will outline the educational potential of the UN Sustainable Development Goals, transition movements, and the emergence of different strands of citizen science, as catalysts for educational renewal towards a more systemic approach to sustainability.

About Arjen Wals

Arjen Wals is Professor of Transformative Learning for Socio-Ecological Sustainability at Wageningen University in The Netherlands. Furthermore he is the Carl Bennet Guest Professor in Education for Sustainable Development at IDPP, Gothenburg University and he holds the UNESCO Chair of Social Learning and Sustainable Development.

His teaching and research focus on designing learning processes and learning spaces that enable people to contribute meaningfully sustainability. A central question in his work is: how to create conditions that support (new) forms of learning which take full advantage of the diversity, creativity and resourcefulness that is all around us, but so far remain largely untapped in our search for a world that is more sustainable than the one currently in prospect?

Current research focusses on:

  1. T-learning in times of climate change,
  2. The development of whole school approaches to sustainability.

He maintains a popular blog at


In 2014 he was the lead author of an article published in Science on the role of citizen science in bridging science education, environmental education and sustainability.

He is editor and co-editor of a number of popular books including: ‘Higher Education and the Challenge of Sustainability’ (Kluwer Academic, 2004), ‘Creating Sustainable Environments in our Schools’ (Trentham, 2006), ‘Social Learning towards a Sustainable World’ (Wageningen Academic, 2007), ‘Learning for Sustainability in Times of Accelerating Change’ (2012), Routledge’s International Handbook on Environmental Education Research (2013) and Envisioning Futures for Environmental and Sustainability Education (Wageningen Academic, 2017).

He has (co)authored over 300 publications of which more than 70 are in international peer reviewed journals.

Recently he contributed as a senior policy advisor to UNESCO’s Global Education Monitor 2016 Report ‘Education for People and Planet’ on the role of education in helping realize the UN’s Sustainable development Goals.