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The State of Sustainability in Tertiary Education

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A report on sustainability in tertiary education has been released today (12th October 2015) by the Environmental Association for Universities and Colleges (EAUC), National Union of Students (NUS), University and College Union (UCU), Association of Colleges (AoC) and the College Development Network.

The report is based on survey responses from 548 staff involved in sustainability in universities and colleges. The survey set out to identify how further and higher education institutions are responding to environmental sustainability and social responsibility challenges, as well as how staff perceive their institution’s efforts. The intention is to rerun the survey annually, producing an annual report that tracks perceptions and trends across tertiary education.

Key findings:
• A quarter of respondents overall report that sustainability is a strategic priority.
• University staff indicate doubts regarding the likelihood of achieving carbon reduction targets at their institutions, with two fifths saying they are unlikely or very unlikely to meet targets.
• Action on teaching and learning for sustainability is varied, with a quarter of Higher Education sustainability staff indicating that they do not have any plans, projects or campaigns in this area at their institution.
• Just 16% of overall respondents rate performance on ethical investments as ‘very good’ or ‘good’.
• A lack of financial and staff resources are seen as the biggest barriers to acting for sustainability with support from the highest levels seen as the most important way of overcoming these barriers.
• There are concerns over reductions in budget for sustainability, with a third of college sustainability staff respondents and a fifth of university sustainability staff respondents expecting a decrease in budget.

Iain Patton, CEO, EAUC, said, “Already this pioneering collaborative survey is flagging warnings that colleges in particular are struggling with sustainability. We won’t be waiting for next year’s survey to act and we will be supporting our Members across the UK to ensure sustainability is a critical agenda item at senior level.”

Piers Telemacque, Vice President Society and Citizenship, NUS, said, “This important survey gives us a benchmark from which we can see how things change over the years ahead. I’m really worried about the effects of the anti-renewables and sustainability slashing rhetoric from the Government of late, which goes against the hopes and aspirations of our students. This data is a rallying call to our member unions to call on their institutions to do more on campus sustainability, ethical investments and education for sustainable development.”

Graham Petersen, Environment Coordinator at UCU, said, “The evidence in the report is timely. The UN Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris climate talks will put a renewed emphasis on the Further and Higher Education sector to embed sustainability. Some institutions are performing well but the overall picture is not encouraging. Education funding cuts must be reversed and a strategic framework put in place to ensure institutions deliver for students, staff and their communities.”

Ian Munro, Regional Director, AoC, said, “The results of this survey provide a better understanding of the perceptions of staff in colleges and universities regarding sustainability, its focus within the organisation and how this is being delivered. It is clear that colleges and their staff continue to promote and champion this work whilst facing a continued lack of investment and annual funding cuts by the Government. Despite these pressures, college leaders continue to improve the estate and the student learning environment.”

Colin Buchanan, Manager, Workforce Development at College Development Network (CDN), said, “It is clear that colleges in Scotland have made great strides in addressing carbon footprint through new builds. While there are pockets of excellent practice around sustainability within the delivery of the curriculum, there remains work to be done before sustainability can be recognised as being fully embedded in all aspects of learning and teaching. CDN looks forward to supporting colleges as they continue to make progress in this area.”

Read the full report here.

The EAUC, UCU, AoC and NUS are amongst the collective voice of the world’s universities, colleges and students that will be addressing COP21 Ministers and Governments. The Open Letter is urging them to partner with universities and colleges in addressing climate change. More details are available here


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