New master program educates students to become leaders for a just and sustainable future

Two persons standing on two sides of a desk with paper

It is official: From today onwards, students can enroll in the new transdisciplinary Master ‘Societal Transitions’ at Erasmus University Rotterdam (EUR). Designed by a diverse group of academics from different faculties, in collaboration with the Design Impact Transition (DIT) platform, the master programm introduces students to complex sustainability challenges and teaches them to facilitate transition processes towards just and sustainable futures.

In light of contemporary crises, this educational offer is now urgently needed: “The world as it is now cannot continue. We need young people to drive changes. That’s what we teach in this programme: to deal with the grand challenges our world is facing and give students the tools they need to make a difference,” says Prof. Dr. Dirk van Dierendonck, coordinator of the programme’s Leadership Track. The Accreditation Organisation of the Netherlands and Flanders (NVAO) has officially recognized the need for this program in November 2022. 

“Education focused on caring for the earth and all of its current and future inhabitants” 

Unlike conventional education, the new master ‘Societal Transitions’ is transdisciplinary: teachers come from various disciplines – including philosophy, economics, political science, ecology and psychology – and collaborations with societal stakeholders and citizens are central to the program. It deliberately moves beyond academic walls and invites students to engage in a real-world context. For example, students will not write a traditional thesis for their graduation yet work in teams to design an intervention for a real-world sustainability challenge. This transdisciplinary approach is in line with the EUR’s mission to create ‘positive societal impact’: “At EUR, we want to be in the middle of society. This requires transforming education focused on problems and individuals, to education focused on caring for the earth and all of its current and future inhabitants”, says Prof. Dr. Liesbeth Noordegraaf-Eelens, Professor Transformative Academic Education and Vice-Dean of Education at Erasmus School of Philosophy (ESPhil). 

Students from all backgrounds are welcome 

Despite its transdisciplinary nature, the master ‘Societal Transitions’ is housed at Noordegraaf-Eelens faculty, ESPhil. “That’s because EUR does not have an institutional infrastructure for transdisciplinary academic work yet", explains Prof. Dr. Derk Loorbach, academic lead at DIT and key lecturer in the new programme. He emphasizes that “the master is open to students from all backgrounds.” Students can pre-apply by sending an email to; the program kicks off in autumn 2023. 

Scaling transdisciplinarity

The DIT platform, a strategy initiative set up by the EUR, works to empower transdisciplinary research, education and engagement at the university. This is a response to concerns about persistent societal challenges and the lack of academic involvement in interventions. “With this Master programme we show that we can organize transdisciplinarity at scale”, says Prof. Dr. Loorbach. “It paves the way for the university of the future.” 

Ecological crises, social injustice, political polarization and other pressing challenges are all complex problems that don't fit into disciplinary boxes. They are better understood by engaging directly with citizens and societal stakeholders. Transdisciplinary research and education combine knowledge from different scientific disciplines with that of societal stakeholders and citizens to address these challenges. 

Any questions? Please reach out.

Neel van Roessel

Education Developer

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Learn more about the program here.

Are you interested in studying ‘Societal Transitions’? Meet us at the Master Open Day on November 26th to meet teachers, ask questions and get to know the DIT team. Register here.  

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