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Sustainability – is HE failing to deliver?

New research shows university leaders recognise sustainability as a priority but that they may be failing to hit environmental targets

The annual Sustainability in Education report has revealed that just 1% of respondents felt their institution was doing all it could to progress environmental and social responsibility. 

However, the research shows 1 in 3 respondents reported sustainability as a strategic priority for the institution they work at, up 7% from 2016.

These findings are reflective of the broader societal shift in understanding of the importance of sustainable development and the role everybody has in delivering this. However, they also show sustainability in higher and further education is prevented from meeting its full potential by the lack of resources dedicated to the effort in many institutions. 

The average budget dedicated to sustainability has reduced, with 71% of respondents expecting the 2017/18 budget to stay the same or decrease further. There is a clear disconnect between strategic and financial priorities in FE and HE.  

The report found that 71% of respondents expect the 2017/18 budget to stay the same or decrease further. It also showed that a large divide in resource capacity between HE and FE. While half of the lead sustainability staff in FE spend 10% of their time focused on sustainability, two thirds that work in HE spend 100% of their time focused on sustainability.

Despite the UK-wide focus on carbon reduction and its necessity, 13% of HE institutions reported they do not have a carbon reduction plan.

The biggest barriers facing institutions on this topic were; 1) Finances, budgets and budget cuts; 2) Lack of senior management commitment and strategic direction and 3) Lack of staff resources.

‘Educators have a responsibility to create a new and engaged generation that see sustainability as the norm and can balance people, planet and prosperity.”

Looking forward into 2017-2018 and beyond, the most important agenda within environmental sustainability and social responsibility to the respondents was climate change, CO2 reduction and carbon management.

The report is compiled by the National Union of Students (NUS), Environmental Association for Universities and Colleges (EAUC), University and College Union (UCU), Association of Colleges (AoC) and the College Development Network (CDN). 

“The research we have released shows a sector striving to lead the way in best practice for a sustainable society, but being held back by a lack of financial resource and executive level understanding,” said Iain Patton, CEO at the Environmental Association for Universities and Colleges (EAUC).

“We would urge those in executive level positions in the post-16 education sector to take the time to meet with their sustainability staff, get to grips with how sustainability can benefit their institution financially, socially and environmentally, and start to put their money where their mouth is. They must do this to deliver their own strategy, but they also have a responsibility as educators to create a new and engaged generation that see sustainability as the norm and can balance people, planet and prosperity.”

 

 

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