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University of Groningen to found Institute for Sustainable Society

17 April 2013

The Board of the University of Groningen has decided to found an Institute for Sustainable Society. Sustainable Society is the University’s third focus area, alongside Healthy Ageing and Energy. The Institute for Sustainable Society will consolidate research within this area and broaden the scope of the focus area.

The University hopes that by developing research in the field of Sustainable Society, it will be contributing to a range of social challenges facing both the Netherlands and other countries. Research will centre on the question of how to make societies more sustainable from a social/societal, legal, spatial-economic and ecological perspective. The University of Groningen’s role as the University of the North of the Netherlands was an important consideration when deciding to set up the institute.

Linking significant research from various disciplines within the University will help the University to generate its own vision of a sustainable society. The research programme will correspond with the ‘Grand Challenges’ formulated at European level.


The Board of the University has appointed professor of Law and Economics, Prof. Oscar Couwenberg as academic director with the task of devising the research programme for Sustainable Society. Couwenberg is already Director of Research in the Faculty of Law. Sharon Smit, appointed managing director of the Institute for Sustainable Society, is in charge of promoting the strategic position of Sustainable Society and of the operational management for the institute. Smit took up the post of director of the University Groningen’s Institute for Integration and Social Efficacy (ISW) in 2012.

Research themes

The institute’s development agenda includes six research themes, which will be used as the basis for compiling sub-programmes and setting up the relevant research groups. The Rector Magnificus has appointed representatives to play a major role in each of the six themes.

In addition to Couwenberg (Good Governance theme), they are Prof. Marcel Timmer (professor of Economic Growth and Development, Quality of Life theme), Prof. Han Olff (professor of Plant Ecology, Northern Sustainability theme), Prof. Rafael Wittek (professor of Theoretical Sociology, Sustainable Cooperation theme), Prof. Kocku von Stuckrad (professor of Science of Religion, Pluralism, Diversity & Inclusion theme) and Prof. Goffe Jensma (professor of Frisian Language and Literature, Sustainable Citizenship theme).

Furthermore, the University of Groningen intends to establish a chair in Sustainable Society. This endowed chair is expected to be filled in 2014.


The Board of the University has put the operational coordination of Sustainable Society into the hands of the current ISW. The ISW fulfils a connecting role between academia and society, and expanding this role will be essential to the University’s mission regarding society.

The ISW will undergo a transformation from an independent interdisciplinary research institute into a support organization responsible for furthering academic research between the faculties and increasing awareness of the Sustainable Society focus area outside the University. The transformation process and establishment of the new Institute for Sustainable Society are expected to be completed by the end of 2013, at which time the name of the new institute will be revealed.

More information:

Prof. Oscar Couwenberg

Sharon Smit

Website Sustainable Society

Last modified:09 May 2019 5.35 p.m.
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