Teaching a green standard

January 29, 2015

A glaring omission from the People & Planet University League 2015 tables is any meaningful measure of teaching quality and how the programmes that universities offer contribute to the life chances of their graduates. If, as is commonly supposed, green league tables (or indeed any other form of differentiated assessment of a university’s performance) are used by prospective students to determine which university will be best for them, then an important factor is whether the teaching on offer is fit for purpose in meeting the future needs of a graduate. And there is good empirical evidence from recent student surveys (commissioned by the Higher Education Academy) that of the 15,000 students canvassed, 80 per cent wanted more emphasis on sustainability in their courses.

No one can predict with any certainty how the world will change in the future, but it is likely to be in many significant ways. An expanding population, increasing globalisation and advances in technology will bring colossal societal and ecological changes, particularly if our unsustainable practices and lifestyles prevail. Without significant policy interventions, more people will be consuming more resources; climate change will cause global temperatures to increase; demand for food will double globally; and more than 4 million people in the UK will have diabetes.

Preparing our graduates for such a complex and uncertain future by integrating sustainability into the teaching of all courses is an essential element of a quality student experience that is fit for the 21st century. The challenge for the People & Planet team, helped perhaps by many of the universities that did not participate in this year’s assessment, is to design a credible system for measuring the impact of the student experience and students’ engagement with sustainability.

Stephen Martin
Former chair, Education for Sustainable Development Advisory Group
Higher Education Academy

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