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Sustainability still not a priority for HE

Annual report finds only a quarter of tertiary education views sustainability is a strategic priority

Posted by Rebecca Paddick | November 09, 2016 | Sustainability

The second annual report on sustainability in tertiary education has been released by the Environmental Association for Universities and Colleges (EAUC), National Union of Students (NUS), University and College Union (UCU), Association of Colleges (AoC) and the College Development Network.

The report is based on survey responses from 512 staff involved in sustainability in universities and colleges. The survey set out to identify how further and higher education institutions are responding to environmental sustainability and social responsibility challenges, as well as how staff perceive their institution’s efforts. As the second year for the report we can track perceptions and trends across tertiary education. 

Still only a quarter of respondents overall report that sustainability is a strategic priority. Senior leaders such as Vice Chancellors and Principals are seen as the biggest potential for to help address sustainability yet lack of senior management commitment is seen as the second biggest barrier, after finances.

University staff are becoming more positive in the likelihood of achieving carbon reduction targets at their institutions, with a third saying they are unlikely or very unlikely to meet targets, compared with two fifths in 2015.

Just 16% of overall respondents rate performance on ethical investments as ‘very good’ or ‘good’ – this is the same as 2015. Only 1% believe that their institution is achieving 10 out of 10 in terms of their action on sustainability. Just over half of HE sustainability staff respondents report that their institution’s graduate attributes include sustainability related attributes.

It is a real concern to see that a third of environment managers think they will miss their carbon targets. Politicians and vice chancellors urgently need to come up with a plan, and resources, or else there is no way our universities and colleges will deliver on the Paris climate agreement

A lack of financial and staff resources are seen as the biggest barriers to acting for sustainability with support from the highest levels seen as the most important way of overcoming these barriers. With half of respondents from FE, working in a formal/lead sustainability role, spend just 10% of their time working on sustainability.

Concerns over availability of financial resources for the 2016-17 academic year remain with respondents more commonly reporting an expected decrease than increase in budget.

Iain Patton, CEO, EAUC, said, “With the Sustainable Development Goals in place and the COP21 Climate Agreement globally ratified, the sustainability odds have got much higher since last year’s survey. This report suggests that sector progress is mixed, so it falls on all of us to find the language and means to make sustainability a leadership and governance matter.” 

Robbie Young, Vice President Society and Citizenship, NUS, said: “It is a real concern to see that a third of environment managers think they will miss their carbon targets. Politicians and vice chancellors urgently need to come up with a plan, and resources, or else there is no way our universities and colleges will deliver on the Paris climate agreement. This report also reinforces our concerns on ethical investments, which is something we should all be ashamed of. Our students’ money is being invested into fossil fuels against their wishes, and this new data hardens our resolve to make our Emissions Impossible campaign a success.” 

The EAUC, UCU, AoC and NUS are amongst the collective voice of the world’s universities, colleges and students that are part of the Global Alliance. The Global Alliance brings a collective voice of tertiary and higher education sustainability and student networks and associations representing over 10,000 universities and colleges worldwide.

To view the full report on Sustainability in Education, please visit www.eauc.org.uk 

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