Taking sustainability seriously

UK universities are set to embrace sustainability in the curriculum with new guidelines outlined this month

New guidelines developed for UK Higher Education institutions aim to create a framework for sustainability within the curricula of universities and bring together the considerable efforts establishments are already making.

Education for sustainable development: guidance for UK higher Education Providers was developed by the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education (QAA), working in partnership with the Higher Education Academy (HEA) through an expert advisory group chaired by Professor James Longhurst of UWE Bristol.

The guidelines were launched at an event on 17 October 2014 at the Exhibition and Conference Centre (ECC), Frenchay Campus, UWE Bristol.

Speaking about the guidelines and the context for them, Professor James Longhurst said, “Universities are in a unique positon – they are institutions with multi-million pound turnovers, collectively they have some of the best brains in the country and they also educate many of those who will become the professionals, leaders and innovators of the future.

“These guidelines will enable the next generation of graduates to become aware of the importance of sustainability in the context of their own subject. The education of our students is the biggest opportunity we have to encourage awareness and action for a more sustainable future.

“Thousands of graduates leave university each year, and whether they understand and are prepared to tackle the big issues is our real legacy.  The aim of this guidance is to enable universities to embed sustainability as an aspect in all subjects and to provide opportunities for students to experience sustainability in practice at their place of study.

“At UWE Bristol, co-curricular issues are an important component of our offer and many of our students have signed up to our ‘green leaders’ scheme. This is a scheme run by the Students’ Union (UWESU), challenging and inspiring staff and students at the University to make positive changes.  They are engaged in a range of sustainability projects from establishing bee hives on campus, to campaigning for the installation of green walls and exploring water conservation issues.  Other universities have similar schemes and we hope these guidelines encourage wider adoption and embedding of this type of initiative across all universities.”

Professor Phil Levy, the HEA’s Deputy Chief Executive, said, “I believe that this guidance has a really important part to play in helping institutions underpin student knowledge and understanding, as well as skills and attributes, that are needed to work and live and contribute in ways that safeguard environmental, social and economic wellbeing.  Embedding sustainability in subject curricula is a key route to achieving that goal.”

Anthony McClaran, Chief Executive of QAA, said, “There’s a strong appetite from both students and employers for knowledge and skills that go beyond the boundaries of a single discipline.’

“Universities and colleges have an opportunity to work with students across all subjects to equip them with a broader understanding of sustainability and how to apply that understanding in their life and work. Many have already taken up that challenge and we hope this guidance will support those who wish to do so.”

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