Guide to Quality and Education for Sustainability in Higher Education

Part 3 - Destinations

Significance of the Project

The project that informed this resource - Leading Curriculum Change for Sustainability: Strategic Approaches to Quality Enhancement – was ambitious in its aims. The intention was to scale up the discussion, shift practice and achieve some tangible outcomes at both institutional and sector level, in the relationship between EfS and Quality. A brief review and reflection on the achievements serves as a reminder of its systemic approach and the legacy from this initiative.

Platforms and Outcomes in the Pilot Institutions

The pilot institutions were chosen to reflect different starting points in EfS and in thinking about its place in quality assurance and enhancement. Some key outcomes included:

This has been a realistic level of progression over the one year pilot process, given that large scale curriculum change is neither quick nor simple to achieve. Taking steps on a new area such as EfS at a time of significant upheaval in the sector has been instructive for all the institutions and has underlined the value of localized projects, showing that there are many ways to develop approaches in this area.

Reflections from the pilot project leads confirmed that the support and attention for the project from key sector agencies provided important legitimization and context for their work. The other vital ingredients have been the ability to respond in timely ways to opportunities for engagement with EfS institutionally through assurance mechanisms and enhancement initiatives.

For some institutions, it has been important to:

Brokering Strategic Engagement at Sector Level

One of the most exciting dimensions of this project has been the way in which it seemed to strike a chord with key stakeholders across the sector, indicating the timeliness and relevance of this exploration.

In the context of fundamental change to the resourcing of Higher Education, with the consequent effects for management and leadership, the project has provided one avenue for thinking about educational responses in this new landscape, to protect the core ethos and purpose of learning and teaching.

The sector outcomes from this project have been important in:

Creating an Arena for Dialogue:

The Project Conference provided a new forum for dialogue and resulted in welcome plans for inter-agency collaboration on EfS, with the intent to hold a national event in 2013. Discussions and workshops through its Expert Advisory Board and additional dissemination activities have engaged new audiences with the project terrain, for example at the QAA Annual Conference and the Leadership Foundation for Higher Education.

Providing New Guidance - from QAA and for Institutions:

Through the development of this online Guide to EfS and Quality, the project has generated practical insights from the institutional perspective and across a representative sample of universities in the diverse UK Higher Education sector. The prospect of new QAA guidance on EfS, connected with key aspects of the project agenda, will go some way to addressing the needs of those who will need to tackle this area in the future as part of a strategic approach to curriculum quality.

Assessing the Leadership Challenge:

Perhaps the most striking aspect of the project, when drawing together the outcomes and lessons at both the institutional and sector levels, has been the insight gained into the challenges of leadership and change. The project took the view that a wide-ranging, systemic and porous education theme such as EfS could not be embedded in quality systems without a staged process of experimentation and engagement. Following that process has been very instructive, both in pointing out various needs and tensions, and in building bridges and forging new pathways.

Some of the key insights from this initiative have revolved around the experience of trying to introduce change in the complex ‘communities’ that intersect in Higher Education. It has been very important to understand ‘resistance to change’ in the context of a particularly turbulent sector climate.

At the same time, these sector changes have also illuminated the most intriguing aspect of this project, in the light that has been shed on the way that education will continue to bind together student learning needs and the focus on the ‘student experience’ that is moving more rapidly to centre stage.

Anthony McClaran (CEO, QAA) reflects on the importance of the project in tackling issues of senior leadership and in working with five different institutions to identify the potential and the range of possible pathways for EfS in HE.

Simon Kemp (Academic Lead in ESD, HEA) considers the significance of the project in supporting change and brokering engagement in EfS:
- The work of QAA and how this strengthens the overall response of sector agencies to EfS
- How the pilot projects have bridged EfS into institutional practice at several levels

Andrew Smith (Head of Estates and Sustainable Development, HEFCE) reflects on the significance of the project in supporting the QAA’s work on EfS and greater sector recognition of the role of EfS in HE.

Daniella Tilbury (Project Director, University of Gloucestershire) discusses the legacy of the project at three main levels:
- The important shifts in the five pilot institutions to help embed EfS as a quality concern
- The inter-agency collaboration that has resulted from the project and plans for future in this area
- How the online guide could support further change for student and professional groups

Jane Davidson (Director, INSPIRE, University of Wales Trinity St David) discusses the significance of the project in terms of:
- Drivers and prospects for the sustainability agenda in HE
- The roles of the QAA and of individual institutions
- The contribution of the project in brokering these connections

Alice Owen (Associate Director, ARUP) comments on the way the project has helped to strengthen the potential responses of institutions to student needs around EfS both practically and strategically.

Virginia Isaac (Director, Sustainable Direction) notes the impact of the project in forging greater confidence and connectivity among key agencies around EfS and in its focus on leadership and change management.

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.