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Undergraduate course

Facing Grand Challenges: a European Research Programme

  • ECTS credits10
  • Teaching semesterSpring
  • Course codeARQUS220
  • Number of semesters1
  • LanguageEnglish
  • Resources

Main content

ECTS Credits


Level of Study




Teaching semester

Spring 2021

Place of Instruction

Bergen, online

Objectives and Content

In this course, you will work together with motivated students from across Europe to take on the transformative and disruptive challenges of our time. In the coming decades, Europe will need to rapidly respond to a number of converging challenges such as migration, climate change, inequality and the erosion of democratic institutions. At the same time, the youth climate movement, yellow vests and rise of populism all signal dissatisfaction with the status quo - but from disparate vantage points. Common to these challenges are that they are characterised by complexity, uncertainty, ethical dilemmas and urgency, and they force us to rethink how we should act as European citizens. Conceiving how citizenship takes shape when facing crises calls for integrated responses, ethical reflection, partnerships and interdisciplinary collaboration. The course combines theory and practice and provides practical tools to engage with complex and urgent social, economic, environmental and political challenges.

This course is part of the ARQUS European Universities alliance (https://www.arqus-alliance.eu). It brings together groups of students from seven European universities, with a common task to investigate and develop integrated responses to a complex and urgent societal challenge such as climate change risks, inequality or diversity. Participants will work in interdisciplinary teams in close collaboration with local societal partners and stakeholders to complete a research project that assesses the particular ways the challenge takes shape in their communities. They will learn to innovate at the nexus of social, environmental, economic and political challenges to create holistic and contextualised sustainability solutions. Through active engagement with transformative and disruptive challenges, students will reflect on notions of European citizenship in dialogue with other participants from across Europe. The challenge focused on changes each year, so each course assembles a unique network of leading experts from across the seven universities.

The Arqus Challenge-based program centres on providing interdisciplinary groups of motivated students with the resources and opportunity to conceptualise, conduct and complete research projects on a theme that matters to their local communities. It provides both general tools to engage with complexity, uncertainty and urgency in research and practice, and a thematic introduction to a particular challenge from a European perspective including what the EU has done until now on these topics. It combines theory with practice:

  • Theoretical part: This part provides a thematic introduction to the year's challenge from different disciplinary vantage points. It also provides general theoretical approaches related to complex challenges, risk appraisal, ethical assessment, interdisciplinary research and sustainable development.
  • Practical part: Students will work in interdisciplinary teams where the methods from the theory parts are applied in work with practical cases. These groups will engage in a series of lectures, seminars and challenge-based activities, culminating in a project which will be assessed at the end of the programme term. The cases are developed in collaboration with local public and private partners.

Learning Outcomes

After completion of the interdisciplinary challenge-based learning programme, the student has/can:


  • Detailed knowledge of the specific challenge facing European societies as designated as the focus of each year¿s course, from the relevant disciplines;
  • General understanding of complexities involved as different social, environmental, political and economic trends converge and interact, as well as the political and ethical dilemmas involved;
  • Understanding how European citizenship galvanises around particular societal challenges, and focuses public discontent;
  • Theory and methods of interdisciplinary science and science co-production.


  • Select and apply practical methods for problem solving, risk appraisal and ethical assessment;
  • Design and conduct a collaborative, challenge-based scientific study in interdisciplinary research teams;
  • Facilitate co-production of knowledge with societal groups and institutions towards collaboratively designing and conducting research for and with them.

General competencies

  • Apply scientific concepts and methods to interpret and study phenomena characterised by high uncertainties and high stakes;
  • Conceptualise, carry out and complete an interdisciplinary scientific study on a contentious and complex challenge facing a local community;
  • Reflect on the role of engaged citizenship and ethical dilemmas in relation to complex societal challenges.

Required Previous Knowledge

At least 60 ECTS completed higher education courses

Recommended Previous Knowledge

Ex.phil, ex.fac or equivalent introduction courses.

Credit Reduction due to Course Overlap


Access to the Course

Open for all students with the right to study at the University of Bergen with minimum 60 ECT.

This course has a limited number of places (25 places). Students apply for the course when they register for class in Studentweb with the deadline 15 January, and they will need to submit a short 200-word statement of motivation. Where there are more applicants than places, students will be chosen based on their statement of motivation and the aim to create an interdisciplinary group.

Teaching and learning methods

This course is based on mixed learning methods:

  • The course will begin with a week-long intensive workshop for hands-on use and discussion of concepts and methods for studying contentious and uncertain societal challenges, in groups with teaching staff.
  • Over the semester, the course will convene shorter workshops relevant to the challenge-based projects, structured by on-line learning modules to stimulate individual reflection and reading.
  • Interdisciplinary group work on challenge-based research projects, guided by a supervisor
  • Structured sharing and critical peer review of other student groups¿ research projects at universities across Europe
  • The course finishes with a two-day event for presenting research projects and finding common lessons to be communicated to European decision-makers.

Compulsory Assignments and Attendance

Compulsory attendance of at least 80 % of workshops.

Students will be split into interdisciplinary teams. It is compulsory for all members of the teams to be present at the workshop sessions over the semester, and to complete the on-line modules. In between modules and workshops, students are expected to work together on their research projects in their groups

Forms of Assessment

Students will be holistically assessed (via `mappe-eksamen¿) in the following way:

  • Individual journal reflecting on lessons learned in the workshops and in the on-line learning modules, and from implementing the challenge-based research project (40 %)
  • Peer review of one other research project (10 %)
  • Challenge-based research project report (50 %)

Students are split into interdisciplinary groups to complete a project on a given challenge facing European citizens, and Bergen specifically (50 %). To complete this research, students will be required to attend (at least 80 % of) a series of workshops and on-line modules. This begins with a one-week intensive workshop to provide concepts, methods and resources for completing this project, and ends with groups presenting their project results at a student forum event. Over the semester, the groups will be supported in their project work by seven on-line modules. As part of these modules, groups will be asked to peer review the progress of one other group¿s research project (10 %). Together with the research project report, all students will hand in a journal that reflects on the lessons they individual learned about designing and conducting transdisciplinary research projects.

Examination Support Material


Grading Scale


Assessment Semester

Spring 2021

Reading List

The reading list will be available by December 1st for the Spring semester

Course Evaluation

The course will be evaluated in the end of the semester.

Programme Committee

Centre for the Study of the Sciences (SVT) and the Humanities and Centre for Climate and Energy Transformation (CET).

Course Coordinator

Scott Bremer, SVT

Course Administrator

Sigrid Sandal

Idunn Bjørlo Tandstad