Sustainability: University driving change through rethink of curriculum
By Sarah Wood
The University of Gloucestershire is pioneering an innovative approach that will create a new generation of professionals equipped to tackle sustainability.
Working with over 75 universities worldwide, its new Education for Sustainability (EfS) research is driving change within the sector. The university features as a best practice case study in new guidance launched this week on Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) in higher education, jointly published by the Quality Assurance Agency (QAA) and Advance HE.
Education for Sustainability (EfS) focuses on how professionals in different industries need to apply sustainability in practice, including the education profession. It has seen the university redesign course experiences right across its portfolio, from architecture and constructed environments to events management and music business, aimed at equipping graduates to become leaders and pioneers in sustainability, particularly in a world changed forever by the coronavirus pandemic.
They are already applying the skills and values they have learned to make a difference. Luke Lutman and Kieran Scott built sustainability thinking into their start-up business Sustainability in Design and won a contract to design a creative hub in the centre of Gloucester using reclaimed materials.
The university has also led a major initiative with EfS experts in 33 European countries, identifying and creating new training and staff development practices that education providers within and beyond the university sector can adapt and use to help create the educators we will need in the future.
The University of Gloucestershire's Radical Sustainability project put this principle into action by hosting a masterclass with renowned sustainability pioneer Interface, an innovative manufacturer of carbon negative flooring products. The masterclass saw students bring forward sustainability solutions from coursework assignments in different subjects to compete for professional prizes and join expert workshops with Interface and local business leaders in sustainability.
Dr Alex Ryan, director of sustainability, said: "Sustainability carries the aim of improving prospects for people across the globe, whilst protecting the natural systems that life depends upon. The idea of sustainability (or sustainable development) recognises that our health, cultural, financial, security and environmental issues are not separate, competing and hierarchical, but systemic and interdependent.
"Students increasingly tell us they want to be equipped to make a positive difference to an ever-changing world. At the University of Gloucestershire, our whole sustainability programme is guided by one simple response: that we need to change how we think and learn if we want to influence future generations.
"Sustainability requires more than technical and scientific innovation. It involves changing our industries and lifestyles. That means it is a challenge of learning and professional practice - which makes it a priority for education. This is the key idea behind Education for Sustainability.
"It is why the University of Gloucestershire has committed to this relevant and real-world focused education. It helps to futureproof the courses we provide, gives our students an edge in a changing labour market, and creates benefit to society without neglecting the planet, to get us beyond a focus on meeting immediate needs at the cost of the future."
The university's original research with QAA explored how sustainability could be a quality improvement focus for all future university courses. This led to the creation of national guidelines for academic teams and curriculum developers, which have just been revised and released.
The university's graduates are applying their sustainability insights and leadership skills to create change in a growing range of professions and industries.
Lauren Ford (BSc Hons psychology graduate 2019) as books account manager at Severn Print in Gloucester, project managed the printing and production of children's book Greta and the Giants, inspired by youth climate activist Greta Thunberg.
The University of Gloucestershire punches well above its weight in sustainability and is proud of its contribution towards the UN global Sustainable Development Goals. The university is the number 1 Most Sustainable UK University (People & Planet University League 2019).
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