Guide to Quality and Education for Sustainability in Higher Education

Part 1 - Orientation

Connecting EfS and Quality

Why connect these areas?

The sustainability agenda has steadily been making its mark in Higher Education at many levels:

These are important sector contributions that recognise the need to respond to sustainability through the core operations of universities. The appearance of university performance rankings on sustainability, the emergence of sector-wide funding incentives, national awards and networking platforms, all underline the increasing level of attention to sustainability across the sector.

However, responding to sustainability through the fundamental educational purpose of universities has been a more complex challenge. Research among students and employers has pointed to the growing need for innovation in the curriculum to improve future sustainability skills, as shown by a selection of recent reports. Innovation in the curriculum has gathered pace through EfS, but developments have often been piecemeal and isolated, in individual modules or specialist courses, involving certain professional bodies or selected sectors of industry.

The literature in EfS sets out the desire and potential for wider change, so that EfS principles infuse teaching and learning practice across the Higher Education curriculum. EfS seeks fundamental changes of direction within education systems, drawing on theories of learning and recognising the change management issues at stake.

This vision of influencing the educational ‘core business’ involves system-wide curriculum change, which is neither easily nor quickly achieved. However, leading education and skills agencies are giving attention to this area through the publication of frameworks and guidance, as well as funding incentives, to support innovation and to signal the importance of the agenda for the sector.

Framing EfS in UK HE – Cues from Education and Skills Agencies

Higher Education Academy 2005 – ongoing

Education for Sustainable Development

The HEA funded projects, commissioned research and supported the sector through its ESD Project group between 2005-2010, working across its Subject Centre network. It positioned ESD as a priority theme in its Strategic Plan 2008-2013 and in 2012 appointed an Academic Lead post in ESD to develop this work.

National Institute for Adult and Continuing Education 2010

Implementing Education for Sustainable Development: Messages for providers of adult learning and skills, and the agencies that work with them

Positions EfS in the context of lifelong learning and its ‘important role to play in equipping society with the skills, knowledge and understanding to meet these challenges with intelligence, creativity and resilience’. 

Learning and Skills Information Service 2011

Sustaining our Future: A framework for moving towards a sustainable learning and skills sector

Provides a framework for embedding EfS in the learning and skills sector with an approach that ‘maximises and mainstreams environmental, economic and social sustainability’ through learning that can ‘equip us to respond to the challenges of creating a sustainable society for our current needs and for the future’.

Ofsted 2012

Sustainable Development in Learning and skills Inspections: Guidance for Inspectors
Guidance linked to the Common Inspection Framework, showing how inspections will take account of sustainability, with explicit expectations and actions to embed ESD in the curriculum.

Laura Bellingham (Assistant Director, QAA) comments on the relationship between EfS and quality in terms of the development of transferable skills for graduates.

Jane Davidson (Director, INSPIRE, University of Wales Trinity St David) considers the importance of connecting EfS and Quality from a strategic and governance perspective.

Stephen Marston (Vice Chancellor, University of Gloucestershire) explains the leadership perspective on EfS as part of the University’s strategic approach to quality and organisational development.

Virginia Isaac (Director, Sustainable Direction) notes that EfS can contribute to quality by in the way it addresses the skills and attributes that employers are looking for in relation to sustainability.