Universities need to prepare for the next generation

The youths mobilizing in the streets of Europe is the next cohort of university students. They will not only demand action and change from governments, but also from us.

Young people across Europe are demanding climate action.Photo: Jörg Farys, Fridays for Future in Berlin


There is a grand social mobilization going on – and it is global, it is moving, and run by the youth, who are tired of being sidelined. 

Inspired and motivated by the Swedish 16-year-old climate activist Greta Thunberg, who since last year has skipped school every Friday in protest against lack of measures to cut greenhouse gas emissions, youngsters walk in rallies across Europe demanding action.

YouthStrike4Climate in London. Photo: Socialist Appeal / Flickr

Last Friday, school strikes FridaysforFuture and YouthStrike4Climate gathered 70.000 schoolchildren across Europe with banners that read: Dinosaurs thought they had time to, Think or Swim, and There is no planet B. Thunberg herself bluntly told the Economic forum in Davos earlier this month that

Greta Thunberg. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Adults keep saying we owe it to the young people, to give them hope, but I don't want your hope. I don't want you to be hopeful. I want you to panic. I want you to feel the fear I feel every day. I want you to act. I want you to act as you would in a crisis. I want you to act as if the house is on fire, because it is.


Young thirst for knowledge

At a Tuesday in January, in one of Oslo’s most famous music clubs, the two UiO professors Thomas Hylland Eriksen and Arne Johan Vetlesen was on stage to talk about excessive globalization and climate change. From outside, it looked like a large rock concert was on, as long queues of young people waited to enter the already packed club.

The youth came to see a scholarly conversation quietly insisting on the urgency of the situation – an urgency made by our inability to take action. I believe this is only the beginning of what we can expect. 

How should we prepare to meet the demand of the next generation? Photo: Socialist Appeal / Flickr

One month into the New Year, we are witnessing a phenomenon that few would have thought to be possible. A completely new political mass movement has seen the light of day. Precisely the generation of young people so far written off as Generation Nice, now sets clear demands to governments, to people in power, and to the ordinary consumer.

They require action so that the environmental collapse we are already witnessing can be limited.

These youths mobilizing in the streets of Europe is the next cohort of university students. They will demand action also from us. Are we as institutions and educators prepared for that? Or rather, how should we prepare for that?

This blog post is based on a panel speech given by Sidsel Roalkvam at the SDG Conference 2019 i Bergen. Photo: Eivind Senneset, UiB

Students study to change, not only to learn

When entering the University of Oslo, students tell us that they seek an education that enables them so do something positive for the world. They want to make a difference. Students will not only study to learn, they will study to change.

Students at our master’s programme at SUM tell us that they came to us wanting to learn more about complex connections and processes, and that an interdisciplinary research centre is the right place for that. They seek knowledge on how to make positive changes and solve complex challenges that our society face. 

A sustainable future

Our universities welcome and will continue to welcome students aware of the wider world, and that have a sense of their own role in it. To use my colleague Anne Kveim Lie’s term, we should not unlearn the qualities these students already do have when they come to us. Nor should we unlearn their respect and interest in diversity, when introducing them to the rigorous disciplines and our academic silos.

We should also not unlearn or, even worse, put down these students willingness to act to make the world a more equitable and sustainable place. We should appreciate their moves and the challenges that accompany them. And we should try to accommodate what is indeed urgent needs. The world and our future needs it!


Research and education on sustainable development

Read more about research and education at the Centre for Development and the Environment (SUM).

SUM host the Oslo SDG Initiative,  promoting cross-sectorial partnerships, collaboration and dialogue between various stakeholders on the Sustainable Development Goals and the 2030 Agenda.

By Sidsel Roalkvam
Published Feb. 20, 2019 8:29 AM - Last modified July 9, 2019 5:12 PM

The SUM Blog

A blog about development, aid, global health, energy, governance, environmental issues, consumption and sustainability. Here, researchers and students at the Centre for Development and the Environment, UiO, write about research findings and areas we believe need to be given greater priority.