Guide to Quality and Education for Sustainability in Higher Education

Part 2 - Pathfinder

Bridging Gaps and Meeting Needs

The inclusion of EfS into quality systems requires that connections are made with mechanisms for supporting innovation, promoting continual improvement and managing risk. Experiences during this project showed that although sector attention to cross-cutting education themes is increasing, bringing these themes into institutional practice reveals certain tensions and issues that must be addressed.

Q: Where are the most obvious areas of difficulty?

The complexity of Higher Education institutions means that tensions are inevitable at several levels in the management and development of the curriculum:

As EfS encounters these tensions, it provides a classic ‘issue’ or ‘agenda’ that connects and intersects them, due to its central concern with informing the overall direction and ethos of Higher Education.

PILOT WORK FINDINGS – Resolving Pressures

The pilot projects revealed common threads in the ways that institutions needed to navigate the issues associated with embedding EfS in their approach to the quality of learning and teaching:

Q: Where are the most common areas of misunderstanding?

One of the important needs revealed during the project was for more effective communication around EfS, due to its strategic and therefore pervasive nature. The fact that the relationship between EfS and quality can be understood at all these intersections underlines the complexity of change in both areas.

In addition, perception barriers have persisted around EfS as an environmental agenda with relevance mainly to certain subjects. Improving understanding of its strategic breadth and its social and economic aspects is still important in addressing confusions around its value as a cross-cutting educational concern.

These communication and perception issues recurred throughout the activities, meetings and workshops for this project, which is indicative of the need for greater dialogue and understanding.

PILOT WORK FINDINGS – Strategic Communications

The pilot projects identified perception ‘black holes’ around EfS as a strategic education issue and associated communication needs to be met in order to achieve deeper embedding:

EfS – Guidance Frameworks for Institutions

Exploring the communications and strategic issues that arise for EfS in Higher Education, the project team recognised the need for guidance to help staff to work with EfS as an education quality priority across different programmes within an institution.

The kitbag contains a range of these materials from the pilot institutions and elsewhere in the UK, including a curriculum development framework commissioned by the Higher Education Academy.

The five pilot project leads consider some of the challenges encountered in working on EfS as an educational quality agenda:

Harriet Sjerps-Jones (Exeter University) comments on the need to enable dialogue around the academic and values base for EfS.

Alex Ryan (University of Gloucestershire) reflects on processes of dialogue in making EfS more explicit as an education issue and some of the pros and cons involved.

Martin Haigh (Oxford Brookes University) discusses the importance of finding enhancement approaches that translate high level missions into practice.

Pauline Ridley (University of Brighton) reflects on the value of systemic approaches that help to resolve the pressures created by competing education priorities.

John Blewitt (Aston University) comments on the fact that institutional culture and practice around EfS will emerge only in relation to real demand.