Guide to Quality and Education for Sustainability in Higher Education

Part 2 - Pathfinder

Institutional Pathways for EfS

The five institutions in this project began from the assessment of viable entry points linked to their internal quality systems, to establish enhancement pathways for EfS. To make this strategic education theme a workable reality, these pathways would need to support changes of culture and practice at several levels. They would also need to be tailored to the specific institutional mechanisms, academic profile and education priorities of the organisation.

Each institution brought these factors together, identifying ways to connect EfS into their own QA and QE systems. The pathways followed by each institution are outlined below and were established through consultation with key members of staff to gain approval and ‘buy-in’ to progress the pilot work:

Aston University

ASTON UNIVERSITY                                                                           

The strategic aim was to influence quality considerations by connecting sustainability education and the University’s strategic focus on low carbon delivery and skills for the ‘green economy’, linking the technological solutions with the pedagogic aspects to extend understanding of what sustainability can mean in the educational context.

Internal restructuring necessitated some repositioning of project activities linked to external, local and industry engagement, although its fundamental trajectory remained in working with staff supporting innovation, professional practice and sustainability and producing guidance for academics, managers and external partners.

University of Brighton


The pilot work was focused at the heart of course development processes, to build on an existing platform of enhancement work in EfS in certain areas. The intention was to create effective alignment with other corporate priorities so that EfS could become more firmly embedded in QA through review and validation processes.

The project used a cross-departmental team and consulted with course leaders to identify needs and issues, whilst working with senior committees to ensure strategic alignments and formal commitments. Support materials were produced to follow key steps in the cycle of curriculum development that are usable for academic staff.

Aston University


The University’s ambition to progress EfS was taken forward using a ‘case study’ approach which reflected the new College structure put in place at the institution. The intention was to produce guidance that could be used in other departments, in line with an overarching EfS strategy. The institutional focus on inter-disciplinary sustainability research provided an additional level of engagement with academics.

The chosen department included a flagship course with strong EfS credentials as well as newcomers teaching in mainstream provision. The pilot engaged staff at all levels in discussions around good practice and indicators for EfS, produced guidance materials, actions and recommendations to create an institution-wide approach.

University of Gloucestershire


The pilot work aim was to move beyond grass-roots innovation in EfS and scale up the QA approach in line with the strong institutional credentials in sustainability. The pilot work took place during changes of leadership and the focus was to clarify corporate positioning and create enabling structures to support curriculum innovation.

Activities were focused on the place of EfS in formal policies and strategies for QA and QE, engagement with central and faculty QA staff, and producing guidance on EfS in the quality process and in specific subjects as well as new innovation funds.

Oxford Brookes University


Thematic alignment was critical to the pilot approach, which sought to position EfS in relation to the existing institutional commitment to global citizenship. The pilot was dedicated to ensuring that these alignments would be understood and effectively put into practice through existing enhancement mechanisms.

The project influenced QA through the institutional graduate attributes scheme, which requires attributes to be reflected in the learning outcomes of all courses. The outcomes of this work included collaboration with educational development staff and the production of a teaching and learning guide to support ongoing innovation.

In the pilot work processes, many institutions worked in connection with several parts of the quality system, covering both QA and QE aspects. They also sought alignment with a range of corporate priorities, including sector-wide themes as well as areas of particular concern to individual institutions. An overview of the chosen mechanisms and agendas that were combined to forge these institutional pathways for EfS indicates how diverse the approaches can be for individual institutions:

  Aston Brighton Exeter Gloucestershire Oxford Brookes
Corporate Strategies
Learning & Teaching Policy    
Course Validation/Review      
Graduate Attributes      
PG Certificate in HE    
Staff Development  
Digital Literacy        
Research-led Teaching      
Citizenship Education      
Collaborative Provision      
Public Engagement      

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.

Alice Owen (Associate Director, ARUP) discusses the importance of identifying individual pathways for EfS in each pilot institution, in response to the external drivers for sustainability.