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Why URGENT

An IPCC 1.5° SR (2018) identifies urbanisation as a key GHG emission driver, while also recognising a broad variety of mitigation options yet underexplored, in particular in the Global South. Development of green & blue infrastructure (GBI) as well as promotion of ecosystem services and biodiversity in urban areas through nature-based-solutions (NBS) is seen as a way to develop climate-proof cities (IPCC, 2018) as well as to increase livability through the provision of affordable recreation, sanitation & storm water drainage (SDG 11, UN GA/RES/70/1). Urban sprawl takes particularly challenging scale in Asia: attracted by the promise of economic opportunities associate with cities or fleeing from hardships associated with conflicts & environmental degradation, most of new city dwellers are facing socio-economic segregation entailing limited access to sanitation & water supply, urban recreation, as well as higher exposure to weather extremes. NBS, although universally recognised as an opportunity for the development of resilient & liveable cities, are still in limited use as an urban planning & management tool. To overcome this, especially as regards cross-sectoral integration, policy relevance and timely uptake of the freshest practices and solutions, Asian countries urgently need to boost their national expertise. This can be achieved through integration of academic communities with praxis stakeholder groups, fast & efficient internationalisation of research & education, but also through a closer cooperation within a region, where knowledge exchange is still suboptimal, even between neighbouring countries (IPBES, 2018).

To achieve an in-depth understanding of enabling conditions for GBI&NBS and related capacity gaps, in particular as regards educational provision & labour market expectations, URGENT initiative groups ran surveys in 4 locations across India (IN) and 2 in Mongolia (MN). In September-December 2019, survey outcomes were discussed on joint stakeholder-academia workshops sessions. Based on survey results, the 5 URGENT cross-cutting themes were offered to experts as a basis of a discussion on needs and capacities: Urban forestry, Landscape architecture and phytodesign, Urban permaculture, Integrative smart green & blue urban planning, Observation, information and communication.

INDIA’s cities are projected to be home to over 800 million by 2050 that calls for an urgent action for creating liveable and climate change resilient habitats. Atal Mission for Rejuvenation & Urban Transformation (AMRUT) and Heritage City Development & Augmentation Yojana (HRIDAY) schemes have been launched for improving the infrastructure aspects, while independent initiatives, such as Green Rating for Integrated Habitat Assessment (GRIHA) are evolving as planning frameworks promoting sustainable habitats in the Indian context. Yet all these developments as well as capacity of HEIs appear to be beyond the scale and the pace of urbanisation in IN, as participants of the IN national workshop agreed. The consensus was that although potentially the labour market receives enough graduates, and while the basic technical knowledge base is robust, there are shortcomings related to some key competences required by employers, especially emerging ones, such as: integrating of data & knowledge from across disciplinary fields, thinking beyond the current rulebook, critical assessment of international best practices, use of emerging ICT tools & concepts planning in multi-stakeholder environments, adaptive learning; the latest international science & policy developments needed more attention as well. As a result, the adaptation period at the first workplace is excessively long and often unsuccessful that results in losses and mistrust towards HEIs.

The meeting endorsed the 5 URGENT themes, and brought forward a new one – Management & planning of resilient urban seascapes & coasts. Based on them, meeting participants came up with specific proposals for each partner HEI, appreciating their profiles & capacity as well as commitment of non-HEI partners; a high role of quality PhD training was recognised, with international & policy relevance of PhD theses agreed as an important objective yet to achieve; cooperation with stakeholders needs to be properly institutionalised to create stable exchange of knowledge and insights between the academia & workplace. The meeting agreed that more interactive and self-reflective modes of teaching & learning to the classroom are needed to develop missing competences. All the partners need major ICT upgrade to build capacity for virtual mobility and to support blended learning.

P11 is the India’s best ranked comprehensive university that is, however, currently struggling with developing policy-relevant educational contents & blended learning environments, as brought forward in its revised strategy. P11’s School of Environmental Sciences is revising its curricula with liveable & resilient cities identified as a focus area. The revision will address MSc programs in Environmental Sci. and Disaster Studies within all the 6 URGENT topics; total 26 ECTS suggested to develop or update with 9 staff needed to get (re-)trained, also in order to develop e-learning capacity, as this is only starting at P11.

P12 is a new private university that just started to add applied science & arts to its curriculum offer, including the Institute of Architecture & Planning established in 2017. Its survival strategy is to become competitive on the tough HE market, most of all through innovative contents & learning environments, as well as institutionalised links to the labour market. P12 needs a major capacity input to develop & update 34ECTS of LLL, BSc, MSs & PhD subjects within 5 URGENT topics, set-up e-learning system and link to employers. This will require retraining of 10 staff, and teaching & networking equipment.

P13 is a classical university striving to maintain its visibility in southern IN and extend it to the national level; it will develop or update 23 ECTS of its MSc programs in Ecology and in Environmental Sciences within 4 URGENT topics, launch e-learning system and link to stakeholders concerned with the quality of urban environments; 7 staff need to re-trained, and research training & networking equipment installed.

P14 is the leading in Kashmir centre of excellence in agriculture & forestry. Due to its peripheral location, it is struggling to maintain high quality student body, and therefore needs to excel in innovation and relevance to the state and broader labour markets; its BSc, MSc & PhD programs in forestry will receive 15ECTS of innovative GBI-related contents, e-learning will be launched and links to employers set up; 9 staff need to re-trained, and research training & networking equipment installed.

MONGOLIA’s capital, Ulaanbaatar, concentrated 47.2% of the country’s population in 2019, and grew by 4% annually since 2001, as nomad population was forced to move in, mostly by catastrophic cold spells and droughts. The city was not prepared for rapid growth neither in term of physical nor governance infrastructure, and the outcomes are poor access to utilities, extreme levels of air pollution & aquifer contamination. Mongolia Sustainable Development Vision 2030 (State Great Hural, Res.19/5.02.2016) puts development of healthy and climate resilient capital area, as well as converting of other MN cities to attractive and comfortable habitats (in order to halt mass migration to Ulaanbaatar) among key priorities, and tasks HEIs with creating relevant national expertise and feeding current & foreseeable labour market demands. To discuss these demands as regards the development of GBI for healthy & climate-smart cities, possible responses & missing capacities at HEIs, the URGENT initiative group arranged workshops in Khovd & Ulaanbaatar in September 2019. Stakeholders agreed with high urgency of all the URGENT cross-cutting themes (except the coastal one suggested by IN colleagues), agreed their MN-specific contents (consistent with IN suggestions). Structurally, the situation at the MN labour market is similar to IN: while the inflow of graduates is sufficient to meet current demands, the emerging competencies need to be significantly enhanced, in particular where cross-disciplinary aspects are involved, and the solutions & support actions are deemed the same. This cannot be achieved through the subsidies of the state and own income, which are too low & irregular to create any significant capacity.

P5 has the national status and is tasked with the mission of being a centre of excellence in any research or praxis field prioritised by the government or foreseen as an important one by the society. In addition, government wants P5 to become an important player in a broader region and to develop cutting edge learning environments. URGENT supports this with 15 ECTS updated within 5 URGENT themes, equipment needed to enhance learning, and 10 of staff to (re-)train.

P6 is a classical university in western MN; not being a “national” university, it is seriously underfunded and need external support to develop its focus on nomadic resilience (including urban) and retain talents in the region; under URGENT it will update its B/MSc programs in Ecology, Geography, Land Management with 12 ECTS of GBI&NBS-related disciplines and enhance its e-learning; this requires 8 staff to (re-train) and equipment upgrade.

P7 is the MN only HEI focusing on forestry & agriculture; while its niche is to furnish environmental knowledge to the graduates directly taken up by the sector, it struggles to develop teaching and research profiles in GBI&NBS, as this, although increasingly demanded, was not within the sectoral mainstream. URGENT is essential in updating P7’s BSc & MSc landscape architecture programs with 26 ECTS adhering to 4 URGENT themes; this will require (re-) training of 6 staff and research training equipment upgrade.

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