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Students want their place of study to be sustainable

Recent surveys funded by the Higher Education Academy and carried out by the National Union of Students, found that eight in every ten students consistently believe that sustainable development should be actively incorporated and promoted by universities, and this increases as respondents progress through their studies. International students are significantly more likely to agree that action should be taken by universities in this way. (See Student attitudes towards and skills for sustainable development)

The role of universities

Universities and colleges are well positioned to make a key contribution to the challenges and opportunities via:

  • teaching and research
  • influencing students, staff and communities
  • their own operations.

The higher education sector has demonstrated strong commitment to a carbon reduction strategy. And each higher education institution has produced a carbon management plan which moves the sector substantially towards government carbon reduction targets.

Research published in 2010 showed that for 45 universities with data for both 1990 and 2005, emissions per full-time equivalent student were on average 39 per cent lower over this period. 

Why does sustainability matter?

The national context

In 2005 the UK sustainable development strategy, Securing the Future, set out the Government’s goal of sustainable development:

'The goal of sustainable development is to enable all people throughout the world to satisfy their basic needs and enjoy a better quality of life, without compromising the quality of life of future generations.'

Securing the future: Delivering UK sustainable development strategy

The international context

Rio+20, in June 2012, was the biggest United Nations conference ever. The outcome document recognises the significance of ‘education at all levels’. It encourages institutions to adopt good practice, to teach sustainable development as an integrated component across disciplines, and to undertake research in this area.

HEFCE’s performance was commended in UNESCO’s 2014 Decade of Education for Sustainable Development (DESD) report, Shaping the Future We Want:

'[HEFCE] has provided leadership, resources and targets for whole-institutional change towards sustainability during the DESD… it can be argued that HEFCE has influenced higher education bodies to identify ESD as a key priority, resulting in investment and activity across the sector. More recently, HEFCE has partnered with the National Union of Students and funded £5 million to support student engagement and learning in education for sustainability across 25 institutions in England. HEFCE’s influence has been far-reaching and can explain the depth and quality of progress in this area in England but also indirectly across Wales and Scotland.'

And it's personal

In a recent blog post Dom Anderson, the previous NUS Vice President (Society and Citizenship), wrote about why he believes that:

‘It is our education system’s duty to embed learners and students with knowledge of sustainability.’

My daughter's future depends on sustainability