Guide to Quality and Education for Sustainability in Higher Education

Part 3 - Destinations

Continuing Journeys

Where next for our students?

The impulse of this project has been to prepare the ground for more effective ways to support students in responding to sustainability challenges in their future professional and personal lives. Recent research has shown growing educational interest in sustainability among students and employers. This need to provide graduates with more holistic, action-oriented and globally relevant capabilities for a complex, changing world, is also evident in high profile curriculum reform initiatives in several universities worldwide.

The influence of students in framing curriculum quality agendas is gathering pace, with pioneering work in Scotland and similar developments taking root across the UK. The student-led People and Planet Green League isjoining the new Learning in Future Environments performance ranking in turning its attention to the evaluation of learning opportunities and curriculum strategies for sustainability, bringing new pressures for institution-wide curriculum innovation in EfS. 

In the UK, the new Higher Education Achievement Report points to sector recognition of the value of a rounded learning experience, reflected in graduate profiles. This mirrors the aim of EfS to connect with the experience of university, so that quality learning experiences embrace ‘informal learning’ and seeing sustainability in practice on campus and as part of core university business.

The directions our students seek for the EfS agenda will no doubt be influential in shaping its future and the task for the sector will be to carve the pathways that will best support their learning and development in this area.

Where next for the sector?

At the start of the project, the Higher Education sector was not positioned to respond to EfS coherently across the curriculum, but important groundwork has now been carried out. The next steps in this journey now look clearer, with the momentum being taken up:

At institutional level:

The five pilot projects have begun to take EfS further into their learning and teaching processes, discussions and strategic directions. Each one will take the agenda forward in ways that make sense for their own institutions and in line with existing quality arrangements, to encourage continual improvement and innovation. For other institutions looking to carve their own pathways, the lessons and insights in this Guide are available to assist thinking and planning, offering a compass to help with orientation in this new terrain.

In sector frameworks:

Ongoing work at the QAA will be particularly important in providing the framing needed by staff at all levels, to considering their responses to EfS as an educational concern. The QAA’s planned guidance document on EfS will offer balanced and inclusive perspective on how EfS can be located and applied as part of routine practice in learning and teaching. Its use by future subject benchmarking committees will be a vital step in this process, as is its potential for bringing EfS into dialogue with Higher Education managers and partners, community organisations, professional associations and employers.

Through professional networks:

Further platforms for dialogue have emerged from agencies and groups associated with QAA, for example the UK Inter-Professional Group and future liaison with the Professional, Statutory and Regulatory Bodies (PSRBs). Opportunities for engagement with senior institutional leads in learning and teaching, via both the QAA and HEA, will also provide important channels for future development.

Across the globe:

This project has placed EfS in the spotlight at a time of substantial change in Higher Education, aiming to show how EfS can contribute to educational innovation in the UK university experience. As the lessons from this project are shared across the UK and internationally, it is hoped that this unique initiative will be translated in different country contexts and continue to spark further changes.

Daniella Tilbury (Project Director, University of Gloucestershire) identifies the important capacity-building outcomes for institutions and across the sector, to support further work on EfS as a strategic priority.

Andrew Smith (Head of Estates and Sustainable Development, HEFCE) reflects on the contribution of the project both in the immediate term and as a longer term catalyst for change.

Anthony McClaran (CEO, QAA) considers how the HE sector will continue to engage with EfS in terms of:
- The role of QAA and prospects for EfS to be more deeply embedded in assurance processes
- How institutions are responding and where their focus is likely to be in the future

Laura Bellingham (Assistant Director, QAA) discusses how the project has contributed to thinking and to continuing work at the QAA on EfS, commenting on:
- The increasingly strategic place of EfS in the HE landscape
- The articulation of EfS within the UK Quality Code
- QAA’s work to develop new guidance on EfS for the sector

Tim Burton (Assistant Director, QAA) reflects on the legacy of the project in terms of the QAA’s approach to EfS as a strategic issue for future learning and teaching.

Stephen Marston (Vice Chancellor, University of Gloucestershire) explains the significance of the sector level involvement in the project and the likely growth of public and student interest in EfS.