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3.5 million euros for Islands and Sustainability (ISLANDS)

10 January 2022

Islands and Sustainability (ISLANDS) is a two-year Erasmus Mundus Joint Master’s Degree Programme that starts in September 2022

The Erasmus Mundus Joint Masters International Programme ‘Islands and Sustainability (Islands)’ starts in September 2022. This is facilitated by the award of a subsidy of 3.5 million euros by the European Union’s Erasmus Mundus Joint Masters. Dimitris Ballas and his scientific partners have spent six years on the preparations:

‘It goes without saying that we are delighted to get started. For two years, some 15 to 25 master’s students from all over the world will be trained in researching sustainability issues of islands as part of a special international cooperation.’

The Islands and Sustainability (ISLANDS) programme is a cooperation between four universities: the University of the Aegean in Lesbos, the University of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, the University of Iceland and Groningen University. It is the first time such a cooperation has been achieved. Ballas: ‘There is a clear need for a Master's programme in the area of islands and sustainable development that can produce usable knowledge.’


The idea for a cooperation programme started when Dimitris Ballas(Professor Economic Geography, Groningen University) and his colleague Thanasis Kizos worked together on Lesbos. Ballas: ‘In terms of qualities, there are many similarities between islands across the world and they often struggle with similar issues. However, they often have small universities or no universities at all and have limited options to develop knowledge. When I started working at the RUG with Frans J. Sijtsma (Associate Professor at the Faculty of Spatial Sciences RUG and coordinator of the Research Master’s course), we started to detail the programme.’

Within the RUG, Sijtsma and Ballas are linked to Sustainable Society , the strategic university-wide spearhead focused on sustainable social development. As a large and broad-based university, the RUG continues to build on its research infrastructure and its experience with interdisciplinary work and sustainability.

Similarities between islands

Islands are often isolated and are in danger of economic marginalisation. Societies have close social bonds but are relatively vulnerable due to their size. Economically, islands are often highly specialised, particularly in tourism and fisheries. That also makes them susceptible to climate change for example. In short, islands struggle with the same types of issues in terms of sustainability, but have limited capacity to conduct research themselves. In the Erasmus Mundus ISLANDS course they join forces and can find shared solutions. Sijtsma: ‘For example studies of the ecological footprint, energy, landscape and nature preservation and ecotourism.’

Two-year course

The ISLANDS programme provides solid training in scientific research focused on islands and sustainability. The first year, the students largely study in Groningen, and some part of the year at a partner university on an island.

In the second year, they study partly in Groningen, and then write their master’s thesis on the island where they studied the first year. They receive a combined degree from the RUG and the University of the island where they studied. Ballas: ‘For example, in the first year you spend three months in Iceland and in the second year again.’ ISLANDS combines a thorough education in scientific research with a thematic specialisation. It also provides solid and versatile training in research skills for social scientific and environmental research, including individual research training.

Summer school in May 2022

In May, the programme also offers an online Summer school , ‘Islands as laboratories for Sustainable Development’, where interested people are introduced to the study field. The Summer school is open to anyone. For the two-year study programme, only students with a major interest in research will be selected.

Last modified:02 June 2023 2.30 p.m.
View this page in: Nederlands

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