The world is at a tipping point when it comes to climate change and sustainability, and as a result students are more and more vocal about how universities should be stepping up to do their part in creating tangible change.
In August, the THE consultancy team ran a series of five focus groups with 30 university students from around the world in order to determine what students thought were the most crucial action points for universities to achieve net zero and reverse the damaging impacts of climate change.
Following on from the focus groups, a list of more than 40 statements were sent out to over 1,000 current and prospective students, who voted on which statements were the most important to them.
The following 10 statements were voted as the most important and are suggested to be taken forward by universities as a manifesto for sustainability. They have been organised into four categories.
Climate action and sustainable development: what students can do
How to choose a sustainable university: tips for students
The student guide to sustainability
Sustainable six: tips to becoming a greener student
Universities as beacons for change
- Think globally, act locally: universities must think globally and locally. This is a global challenge requiring global solutions as well as, simultaneously, actions closer to home.
- Green beacons: universities must influence organisations around them, harness existing partnerships and forge new ones that promote positive change in order to act as a beacon in their communities.
Calls to immediate action
- Harness the power of the student community: universities should offer free, green transport for students volunteering for re-wilding projects or engaging in tree-planting initiatives. Universities should expand the range of opportunities in similar initiatives for students to engage in.
- Community outreach: universities should offer assistance to local communities to enable them to understand energy efficiency and help them to generate energy sustainably.
- No time to waste: universities must ensure that their research addresses the immediate consequences of climate change in their localities, including drought and flooding.
Creating green universities
- Green campuses: universities must provide adequate resources to enable students to recycle and live on campus in a sustainable way.
- Physical spaces of the future: universities should install solar panels in all viable university campus spaces and incorporate green, open spaces in innovative ways to demonstrate to the world the physical spaces of the future.
- Zero single-use plastic by 2030: universities must commit to eliminating the use of single-use plastic by 2030 and ensuring that any waste plastic is reused or recycled properly.
- Clean-energy research: universities should commit substantial proportions of research budgets into researching clean energy sources.
10. Influence funding bodies: universities should encourage research funding bodies to invest more heavily in research into solutions for climate-change-related problems.
The report found that 66 per cent of students agreed with the statement: “If I were thinking about applying to study at a university, I would be more likely to apply to one that had signed up to these pledges.”
THE Student plans to work with the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) to take this manifesto forward.
One way in which this will happen is using the manifesto as a barometer each year to see how well universities are doing in relation to climate change. It will be used ahead of the launch of the THE Impact Rankings each year to determine whether students think universities are rising to the challenges that these statements encompass.
As well as this student manifesto, Times Higher Education has put together a report that uses THE Impact Rankings data to set out a range of recommendations for the higher education sector to tackle climate change.
The Race to Net Zero: How global universities are performing found that universities in Australia and New Zealand are the furthest ahead in the commitment to net zero, and that universities with a large proportion of international staff and students tend to have ambitious targets for achieving net zero.