Embed climate change education into all degrees, academics urge

Paper released ahead of COP26 says lecturers need more support to integrate environmental issues into their teaching

October 14, 2021
 Students stage climate change demonstration around the Houses of Parliament in central London, to illustrate embed climate change education into all degrees, academics urge
Source: Getty

All degrees should ideally carry some element of education on tackling climate change to help prepare graduates for the challenges of coming decades, according to a new paper.

Senior leaders also need to fully support staff in achieving this goal as research has suggested that many have not felt “sufficiently equipped, confident or supported to integrate climate-related content into their teaching”.

The calls come from the authors of a paper from the COP26 Universities Network – a group of more than 80 UK institutions working together ahead of this autumn’s COP26 United Nations summit on climate change in Glasgow – on how to make climate change education (CCE) a “mainstream” activity.

CCE is defined in the paper, published on 14 October, as any course material that ensures students “are aware of, and able to respond to, the risk, uncertainty and rapid environmental and social changes that a changing climate brings”.

A lack of CCE provision could lead to a “growing reputational, financial and human resource risk to institutions” given the increasing demand from students and employers for such skills as economies attempt to become greener.

“If students – and staff – are not learning how their subjects are being changed by the climate crisis, they are not learning the knowledge to equip them for the world in which they already live,” the paper says.

“Such knowledge will require input from all disciplines, the ability to act with others to address the challenges that are emerging, and the personal skills and capabilities to confront those challenges.”

The paper says that offering university-wide credit-bearing modules on climate change to students was one route to take, but they created a “high bar” in terms of something that worked for all students and departments.

Therefore, a better solution for bringing CCE into the mainstream might “require all degree programmes to integrate climate change into their ‘disciplinary’ course provision to some extent, even where institution-wide climate change courses are available”.

This would require support from senior leadership such as by boosting staff training on weaving climate change issues into teaching and regulatory support from sector bodies and government.

It refers to previous research that suggests that “despite growing demand from students to learn about climate change, and the relevance of CCE to all disciplines, many staff do not feel sufficiently equipped, confident or supported to integrate climate-related content into their teaching”.

One of the authors of the paper, Dave Reay, professor of carbon management at the University of Edinburgh and executive director of the Edinburgh Climate Change Institute, said a number of universities, including his own, had tried offering general modules on climate change that could be taken by any student.

However, although these seemed “great in principle because it is open to everyone”, in reality it was difficult to attract students beyond those with a keen interest in the topic.

“It is much more effort to take the approach where you truly embed it” but this would carry more rewards, he said, adding there should also be a major motivation for universities, given the employability benefits.

“The self-interest for our universities is going to be employability for our graduates because of the number of jobs around the net-zero transition and employers wanting those skills even if it is not what you would call a ‘green job’,” Professor Reay said.


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Reader's comments (1)

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