Former CAS project leader and professor of China studies at the University of Oslo, Mette Halskov Hansen, has this autumn been appointed Vice-Rector for Climate, the Environment and Interdisciplinarity at the University of Oslo (UiO).
As a Vice-Rector for Climate, the Environment and Interdisciplinarity at the University of Oslo (UiO), Halskov Hansen will work to promote interdisciplinary research and strengthen UiO’s work related to climate and the environment, for instance by launching new courses for students and reducing the University’s own emissions.
We spoke with Halskov Hansen about her thoughts on how universities can take their share of the responsibility in the climate crisis we are facing and her time as a project leader at CAS back in 2016/2017.
Congratulations on being appointed Vice-Rector for Climate, the Environment and Interdisciplinarity at the University of Oslo! What will this position entail?
Thank you! I am very excited to hold this new position. It shows that the university takes its responsibility for strengthening teaching, research and its own practices related to climate and environment seriously. The position also opens up more possibilities for working toward closer collaborations across academic disciplines and faculties. It is obviously very important for a university like ours to maintain and develop strong disciplinary and basic research. At the same time, many of the university’s best researchers and research groups are interested in working together across disciplines to help address the critical issues of our time, such as the interconnected physical, social and health-related aspects of the climate and environmental crisis, and the challenges of achieving a just transition towards a more sustainable world. The University of Oslo already has a large number of excellent research centres, ERC grant holders and smaller projects that are working across disciplines, but many scholars have called for better structures to support such initiatives.
I am very excited to hold this new position. It shows that the university takes its responsibility for strengthening teaching, research and its own practices related to climate and environment seriously.
How can universities take their share of the responsibility in the climate crisis we are facing?
I look forward to see the announced UNESCO report with recommendations about precisely this. The European University Association recently published a survey, Greening in European higher education institutions, of nearly 400 universities which shows that a majority of us are already taking action to address the crisis. More than 90 percent of these universities consider ‘greening’ when establishing new electoral courses for students, and 70 percent promote ‘greening measures and activities’ in research and innovation.
Universities are key institutions in a society, and since we educate the coming generation, I do think we have a special responsibility for also continuously considering the need for renewal of our studies. The climate crisis, for instance, forces us to take seriously students’ calls for courses that allow them to build competence in the UN’s sustainability goals, or give them a basic knowledge of the Anthropocene and its many facets. Such competence is also increasingly important for employers in both the private and public sectors. At the University of Oslo, we are now in the process of developing a coherent strategy for our work related to climate and the environment, and we will follow up with concrete measures to bring new elements into our studies, support research and reduce our own climate footprint while greening our campus. You can see the draft for UiO’s strategy for climate and environment here.
Universities are key institutions in a society, and since we educate the coming generation, I do think we have a special responsibility for also continuously considering the need for renewal of our studies.
In 2016/2017, you led the CAS project Airborne: Pollution, Climate Change, and New Visions of Sustainability in China, which brought together Norwegian and Chinese scholars to conduct interdisciplinary research. What do you remember best from your time at CAS?
For my research project Airborne, the time at CAS was of immense importance. We were a group of scholars based in China, US and Norway who had started to work together on a project about the human dimensions of air pollution in China. Suddenly we got this fantastic opportunity to spend a year together at CAS to discuss and develop results from our fieldwork and investigations, and to publish in smaller teams, sometimes across academic disciplines as diverse as chemistry, anthropology and political science.
The stay at CAS had implications far beyond our research project. At the end of our period at CAS, inspired by our interdisciplinary collaboration, some of us initiated the Oslo School of Environmental Humanities which eventually received generous support from UiO’s Faculty of Humanities and has since developed into a strong research and teaching environment. We also ended our period at CAS by developing a new research project application, Transcendence and Sustainability: Asian Visions with Global Promise, which finally received support from the Research Council of Norway starting in 2020.
CAS offered the ideal professional and friendly environment for all of us who came as visiting researchers, and for me CAS is an important source of inspiration when thinking about how to best improve the possibilities for interdisciplinary research at UiO.
The stay at CAS had implications far beyond our research project.
What advice would you give to future CAS project leaders?
Enjoy the time at CAS! As so many project leaders at CAS have said before, it is a unique chance to physically spend time together as a team and to connect with scholars you have always wanted to invite and meet. I also recommend to plan in advance what you want to do academically during your stay at CAS, and then be open for whatever comes up. Time flies.
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