Education as the key to a successful transition into a bioeconomy
National and international policy papers emphasize the role of the education sector in the transition into a bioeconomy. On the practical level, various actors are working on programmes to prepare professionals for future challenges. The University of Hohenheim, for example, offers a bioeconomy master's programme, further education projects for skilled workers and is one of the universities that have laid the cornerstone for the “European Bioeconomy University” consortium.
The development of the bioeconomy is seen by government and scientists as a way to reconcile ecological, social and economic goals. The bioeconomy relies on biological resources being fully exploited to provide products and services in all sectors of society and the economy. This requires fundamental structural change, which in turn fundamentally changes what is required of specialists now and in the future.
The bioeconomy thrives on strong interlinking between different scientific and economic areas, which is why bioeconomic specialists will continue working together in interdisciplinary teams. It is therefore of huge benefit that these specialists have strong communication and moderation skills to contribute to the success of cooperative efforts. In addition, bioeconomy professionals should be able to identify new opportunities and developments in the bioeconomy and assess them in terms of their contribution to sustainable development.
Learned from scratch – transformation experts
Recommendations and strategy papers emphasise the importance of dedicated education and training courses (see, inter alia, EU20181 and BÖR2) that address the particular challenges associated with implementing a bioeconomy. Recommendations include the establishment of dedicated bioeconomy master’s courses for future bioeconomy professionals. For example, an international bioeconomy master’s programme was launched at the University of Hohenheim in 2014. It is an interdisciplinary programme supported by all three faculties (agricultural, natural, economic and social sciences) at the University of Hohenheim.
An important part of the curriculum on the programme is project and group work, which enables students from all over the world to combine their particular perspectives and skills. "The students use methods and approaches from different disciplines to analyse bioeconomic problems. This often results in very innovative approaches,” explains Prof. Iris Lewandowski, who coordinates the degree programme. The curriculum and teaching are based on the so-called T-profile. "Our goal is to educate students to become experts who view the bioeconomy holistically," says Lewandowski, an agricultural scientist. The master’s further develops the skills and knowledge obtained in the bachelor programme. The programme also provides content that covers a basic understanding of other fields relevant to the bioeconomy, and training courses in moderation skills that enable participants to catalyse collaborations in complex bioeconomic contexts. Similar study models are also being implemented at other universities including Bologna (Italy) and Wageningen (Holland), thus underlining the relevance of educating outstanding bioeconomy specialists.
Nonetheless, these specialists will also have to depend on the experience and knowledge of experts from traditional disciplines. The latter can also benefit from further education and training tailored to the requirements of the bioeconomy. An increasing number of online courses that are being developed in cooperation with various institutions and universities, target these groups.
Since September 2018, for example, a network of universities from Eastern Finland, Aarhus, Wageningen and Hohenheim has been working on developing an online learning platform (MOOC3) on the bioeconomy. The project entitled “Accelerating the Transition towards a BioBased Economy via Education” (ABBEE) aims to feature courses that impart a basic understanding of the bioeconomy and its challenges and opportunities, while other courses aim to develop innovation and entrepreneurship skills. The courses are intended to familiarise students interested in the bioeconomy, as well as people who already work in the bioeconomy, with the opportunities offered by biobased economies and the interdisciplinary and cross-sectoral skills that are required. The focus is on achieving a systemic understanding of the bioeconomy, enabling participants to establish new links between biobased value creation chains. The project partners work in collaboration with numerous industry-related companies (including BIOPRO Baden-Württemberg GmbH), thus ensuring the practical relevance of the content.
The European Bioeconomy University – a beacon project
ABBEE and the bioeconomy master's course are excellent examples of the practical and immediate implementation of educational activities in the context of the bioeconomy. These activities are also complemented by others with a stronger strategic focus. The establishment of the European Bioeconomy University was officially announced on 21st November 2018.4 The European Bioeconomy University is an alliance of European universities that are involved and excel in the bioeconomy field. The European Bioeconomy University involves the Universities of Wageningen, Bologna, Eastern Finland, Hohenheim as well as the University of Natural Resources and Applied Life Sciences in Vienna and AgroParisTech in France.
The university alliance is committed to promoting education and research that supports the transition towards a biobased economy, and is keen to play a key role in shaping the bioeconomy in Europe. The European Bioeconomy University’s objective is to strengthen scientific exchange between the universities involved and to exploit the universities’ potential in terms of educational content and methodology and promote student mobility in Europe. The project is thus in line with the vision set out by French president, Emmanuel Macron, when he called for the establishment of European universities to strengthen European thought and make European science more visible on a global scale. "With the foundation of the European Bioeconomy University, we can jointly contribute to reinforcing the leading global position of the European bioeconomy," says Lewandowski, who represents the University of Hohenheim in all aspects of the bioeconomy.
Obviously, the transition to a bioeconomy requires significant structural changes. This applies in particular to the field of education and training. However, the examples given above clearly show that this area is already undergoing change, thus paving the way for the European bioeconomy.
1 European Commission 2018. A sustainable bioeconomy for Europe: strengthening the connection between economy, society and the environment. Updated Bioeconomy Strategy
2 Bioeconomy Council 2018. "Thesen zur Gestaltung der Bioökonomiepolitik 2018"
3 Massive Open Online Course
4 https://www.uni-hohenheim.de/index.php?id=12&no_cache=1&tx_ttnews[tt_news]=42082 (as of 17th March 2019)