Guide to Quality and Education for Sustainability in Higher Education

Part 2 - Pathfinder

Scenarios for Embedding EfS

Drawing together the experiences from this project, several key lessons have emerged about the necessary steps and considerations for institutions seeking to develop systemic approaches to embed EfS. These principles underpin the change process and should apply to any given institutional scenario.

Q: Where should we start?

Initial thinking and planning to develop an institutional approach to EfS and Quality should pay attention to certain vital strategic aspects:

  1. Make strategic links with corporate agendas and education themes:
    EfS should always be understood in alignment with institutional strategic commitments rather than as a separate matter. Its integrative agenda should be explicitly connected, for example, to internationalisation and the move to include global perspectives in the curriculum, to employability and the need to broaden graduate capabilities, or to public engagement and the institutional contribution to civic life.
  2. Be sensitive to context and to the institutional starting point on EfS:
    EfS is only effective when it goes ‘with the grain’, taking context into account and building as appropriate on existing expertise and connections with the institutional narrative and its academic profile. It is vital to remain conscious of potential changes in orientation that may be needed and to find the right level or approach for different constituencies in institutions.

Q: What should we anticipate?

As with any strategic change initiative, plans and activities should be flexible enough to adapt to possible challenges and tensions that emerge during the process:

  1. Recognise and respect the pressures on the institution:
    Given the inevitability of changing priorities, planned pathways for change may cease to be viable, meaning that new possibilities have to be explored and fundamental changes of approach may be necessary. Taking incremental steps, prioritising what is important, and never assuming that the process will be linear, are all key ingredients for progression.
  2. Deal with issues emerging at the interface of QA and QE:
    Interventions at the boundaries of assurance and enhancement invariably raise challenges and uncertainties about the appropriate approach for the institution. As expectations increase for quality-based responses to EfS, any process of embedding will require that these issues are met with preparation and support, to navigate obstacles and improve leadership for the process.

Q: How can we formalise changes?

In order to safeguard innovation and to demonstrate an institutional approach to quality improvement, there is a need for assessment and transparency:

  1. Improve understanding and broaden engagement:
    Creating a wider platform of involvement in developing the culture and practice around EfS is critical to securing its place as an ongoing education priority. Initiatives that bring together different constituencies, giving examples of how it can be done, and sharing ownership to distribute and minimise risks, all help to build an institutional approach, whereby EfS can become more secure as part of routine curriculum development.
  2. Develop ways to scale up and manage EfS:
    Finding ways to move into activity on a larger scale requires navigation of the quality system as well as the identification and testing of ways to improve and oversee the development of EfS. Different institutions will need to follow existing structures, as well as to consider innovative steps, to find the appropriate ways to secure EfS within routine processes, checks and audits.

The five pilot project leads reflect on tactical and strategic considerations in the process of bringing EfS into quality assurance and enhancement:

Pauline Ridley (University of Brighton) discusses the importance of bringing EfS into strategic development processes across the institution.

John Blewitt (Aston University) considers ways to understanding the inter-relationship between changes of institutional culture and quality systems.

Alex Ryan (University of Gloucestershire) notes the necessity of responding to institutional timing and opportunities for enhancement agendas.

Harriet Sjerps-Jones (Exeter University) comments on the value of positioning in relation to the existing institutional identity.

Martin Haigh (Oxford Brookes University) explains the need to evolve approaches to EfS in line with the realities of the institutional system.