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University and college leaders must wake up to the demands of students on climate action

Monday 15 April 2019

The Further and Higher Education sector is calling on sector leaders and governments across the UK to wake up to the rally cries of students and staff on sustainability issues like Climate Change.

The increasingly urgent call for climate action by students and staff in the form of Youth Strikes is reinforced by new research that shows a clear demand from the sector for mandatory action on sustainability in UK and Ireland universities and colleges. Institutional leaders are being pushed to act now on the calls of their students by making drastic sustainability actions, while Governments are urged to legislate to force change on the worsening climate agenda.

 

Iain Patton, CEO at the EAUC said: “World leading climate scientists published the landmark IPCC report last year. It outlined the non-negotiable need for urgent and unprecedented change over the next decade to prevent reaching a tipping point for the world that will see the human race on an irreversible path of extreme warming. Young people heard this and took heed, and they are now calling on everyone else to wake up to this dire situation before it is too late. Chief among these, is their education system – they want to see institutions setting an example and committing themselves to fighting climate change. This needs to come from the top, leaders of institutions must show young people they are willing to fight to ensure their future is not marred by the inaction of older generations.”

 

Today marks the release of the fourth annual ‘Sustainability in Education’ report from the National Union of Students (NUS), EAUC, University and College Union (UCU), Association of Colleges (AoC) and the College Development Network (CDN).

The research shows 91% of respondents felt that the Government needed to take action in UK universities and colleges, with 73% calling for mandatory action and 18% calling for voluntary action. It was felt that with increasingly urgent and competitive agendas for senior management in institutions, without external pressure to deliver sustainability, it would not be prioritised. This is supported by a drop in those that describe their institution’s approach to sustainability as a strategic priority, from 30% in 2017 to 22% in 2018.

The research is based on a sample of 566 staff members from universities, colleges and students’ unions in the UK, with 139 respondents identifying as having a formal remit or responsibility for environmental sustainability.

Key findings:

• 93% of respondents feel it is important that students leave their time in formal education with the knowledge and skills required to address sustainability challenges. Over two thirds (68%) said students are seen as placing the greatest importance on addressing sustainability, and a quarter (25%) recognise empowering students on sustainability as an important issue in 2018/2019.

• When asked about the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), 83% of respondents agreed that post-16 education is important in achieving them by 2030. However, over a quarter of respondents (28%) did not know anything about their institutions commitment to the SDGs.

• Respondents that worked in Further Education or Further Higher Education were most likely to have an interest in sustainability but were not involved in delivery (45%) – this is likely because Further Education has far fewer sustainability roles available due to their tight budgets. Further Education respondents were also most likely to rank their institution as not doing enough on sustainability despite Further Education respondents being the most likely to say sustainability was an opportunity to save money. This highlights the requirement for better sustainability drivers in Further Education from regulatory bodies such as Ofsted.

• The main barriers preventing institutions from doing more on sustainability were perceived to be; 1) Lack of staff resources/capacity (40%); 2) Institution prioritising other issues (37%); 3) Lack of financial resources’ (32%). In response, to address sustainability within institutions, respondents highlighted a number of solutions. The top rated of which were; 1) Encourage behavioural change for sustainability on campus (39%); 2) Make a strategic priority (33%); and 3) Increase dedicated financial resources (29%).

Iain continued: “The research we have released today makes a very clear call to sector leaders and the UK and Ireland Governments for mandatory sustainability action in Higher and Further Education. This is a pioneering sector that is leading the way in its sustainability commitment, but to push further, there needs to be a recognition at a Governmental level that sustainability is not a ‘nice to have’ – it is a necessity, and that means it is mandatory. This will help drive sustainability up the packed agenda that institutions of all sizes face, and ensure it gains the prioritisation that is so desperately needed. Institutions have a responsibility to ensure their graduates have the skills they need to succeed in a tumultuous world; they need the skills to be resilient and adaptable. We would urge Vice-Chancellors and Principals to equip their students with these skills by integrating Education for Sustainable Development into their curriculums.”

 

Zamzam Ibrahim, Vice President Society and Citizenship (NUS), said: “This report by NUS and our partners shows that staff across the tertiary education sector are in agreement with the calls that have been made by students over the years for their universities and colleges to be leading and driving action on sustainability. For example, while almost half of UK universities have committed to divest from fossil fuels, our research here shows that there is still further to go in terms of making university investments transparent and sustainable. The Youth Strikes for Climate have shown students and young people to have a crucial part to play in redefining and reforming our society in order to avoid the impending climate crisis, and our institutions have a vital role in empowering and equipping students with the knowledge, attributes and competencies required to be part of the solution to these challenges. We urge those at the top of FE and HE institutions, as well as those in government, to listen to students, students' unions and staff, and prioritise and invest in the future."