Improve sustainability teaching and cut emissions, UCU and NUS tell universities

Staff and students’ unions today launch a campaign calling for sustainability action from universities

The University and College Union (UCU) and the National Union of Students (NUS) will, later today, call for universities to “embed” the United Nations Education for Sustainable Development Goals (ESDGs) and decarbonise by 2030.

In an event later today, the unions will be joined by co-campaign organisers Teach the Future and SOS-UK to call for the higher education sector to “do more” to cut carbon emissions and increase sustainability education in curricula.

The campaign seeks to link to the 2021 UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) in Glasgow this November. The organisers want universities to adopt the ESDGs, formulated by UNESCO, by the start of the next decade. UNESCO want schools, colleges and universities to give students the skills, knowledge and understanding needed to help society tackle each of the 17 ESDGs, be those in science, humanities or PSHE.

UCU says students “need to be equipped with the knowledge and skills to question our carbon-intense economic system and explore radical solutions which are also rooted in social justice”. Universities should consider how these principles apply to research, library and IT services, the campaign says.

UCU general secretary Jo Grady asked branches across the country to build support within the staff body “with the view to submitting bargaining claims to seek far reaching change by 2030”.

NUS president Larissa Kennedy said universities had “co-opted” decolonisation. Universities must commit to the “boring work of structural change at several level”, she said.

We need all students to be furnished with the knowledge, skills and values to be able to act with the best interest of both people and planet
– Jo Grady, UCU

The unions say sustainability education links to decolonisation – and want universities to agree to “time-limited” commissions to tackle these challenges in partnership with trade unions, student unions and local communities. These commissions should work in tandem with “a systematic review of representation” of black and minoritised ethnic communities in the student and staff bodies and the governance structures.

UCU general secretary Jo Grady said: “We need all students to be furnished with the knowledge, skills and values to be able to act with the best interest of both people and planet. Institutions need to be acting with much greater urgency in pursuit of a fairer, zero-carbon future.

“As this campaign recognises, our colonial past has directly contributed to the climate emergency we currently face. That’s why it’s crucial that work to decarbonise our institutions goes hand in hand with decolonisation. As we approach COP26, it’s time for our colleges and universities to step up to the plate and ensure that sustainability and social justice are embedded in every single discipline and activity within our institutions.”

Read more: Teaching to transform the world

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