Guide to Quality and Education for Sustainability in Higher Education

Part 2 - Pathfinder

Entry Points for EfS in QA and QE

Taking perspective on the Higher Education ‘quality system’ as a whole shows the different levels at which EfS can have bearing to inform curriculum change: sectoral, institutional and subject. Looking at the existing points of development provided some critical orientation points in the landscape around this project.

The enhancement issues can be considered at each separate level, in relation to the platforms provided by developmental work in EfS to date. This shows how different aspects of the enhancement challenge need to be factored in, to inform the development of an institutional approach:


EfS is being foregrounded by the QAA and HEA as well as key education and skills agencies across the tertiary sector. This positions EfS as an important strategic education theme that can be addressed at both institutional and subject or programme levels.

The sector cues are very important but introducing themes at institution level means the need to reconcile tensions between central education agendas and subject level autonomy – and at the ‘optional’ QE and ‘compulsory’ QA interface.


There is evidence of an increase in the drivers for responding to sustainability corporately and as an education priority. However there is little experience of addressing this across institutions as a curriculum development issue that straddles academic and corporate plans.

Corporate attention to EfS requires negotiation of academic boundaries and identification of appropriate pathways to support innovation (QE) and to protect autonomy, but at the same time to demonstrate clear and shared institutional practices and standards (QA).


EfS innovation has been incentivized at subject level and examples of leading practice are now evident in familiar and new subject areas. The drivers for innovation have increased from academic and industry triggers, as well as professional practice and regulatory requirements.

The subject and professional level drivers are important, but if EfS does not also translate into strategic level engagement in Higher Education, it will not make the important contribution to education change envisaged by the sector agencies and by leading proponents and initiatives in EfS.

Changing education systems is a complex undertaking and while sector level cues and frameworks are critical in pointing out the strategic alignments, in raising awareness and incentivising EfS, work to change the curriculum happens primarily within individual institutions and through their academic departments.

Understanding different aspects of the challenge is important in identifying entry points to address EfS strategically within a specific institution. To find approaches that can be adopted across an institution means engaging with QA and QE dynamics in both practical and strategic ways:

Q: How do you find suitable mechanisms for EfS?

To implement cross-cutting education themes, institutions need practical mechanisms to translate large scale ideas into reality across different courses and subjects. Such mechanisms could include:

Finding suitable ways to introduce EfS into aspects of QA and QE may include the use of more than one approach. This project took the broad view that many potential QA and QE mechanisms might be valuable, depending on the existing institutional systems as well as opportunities arising for change in those systems (see Project Design, institutional pilots)

Q: How do you identify appropriate agendas for EfS?

To generate ‘buy-in’ for themes like EfS, they must be aligned with current institutional thinking and planning, as reflected in corporate identity, priorities and missions. These entry points need to be identified by considering:

For some institutions, sustainability is already foregrounded to the extent that its approach to EfS will be an important consideration in future institutional quality reviews. Other institutions will have existing profiles that mean EfS is not an explicit priority but aligns well with other priority agendas and can flourish by adding value and direction to those areas.

Finding the entry points within HE institutions requires understanding of the specific quality system in place, as well as the agendas and priorities influencing that system. To bring EfS firmly into institutional thinking about quality means creating pathways with suitable and timely implementation mechanisms, as well as clear connectivity with current corporate discourses geared to the student learning experience.

The Project Director considers the place of EfS in relation to institutional narratives and the five pilot project leads summarise the institutional starting points for their pilot projects:

Daniella Tilbury (Project Director, University of Gloucestershire) discusses the importance of identifying the institutional position on EfS as part of its broader mission and how this helps to create a pathway for EfS.

Harriet Sjerps-Jones (Exeter University) describes the need to approach EfS through the institutional research focus.

Martin Haigh (Oxford Brookes University) describes the need to access and influence QA via an existing strategic QE platform.

John Blewitt (Aston University) describes how the initial starting point on EfS was reframed in response to changing institutional priorities.

Alex Ryan (University of Gloucestershire) describes the need to establish an integrated institutional position to scale up isolated efforts on EfS.

Pauline Ridley (University of Brighton) describes the need for a usable approach to EfS aligned to other education policy priorities.