Education for Sustainable Development

I am very proud that today we are hosting the launch of the QAA and HEA guidance for higher education providers on Education for Sustainable Development.

Over the last 20 years UWE Bristol has developed policy, strategy and plans to address its environmental and sustainability impacts. We have of course covered the management of conventional impacts across our campuses – for example in relation to energy, waste and water etc… But clearly our biggest sustainability impact arises from the actions of our students, staff and graduates. 

As higher education providers we have a very important role in nurturing the leaders and citizens who will go on to shape the world around us. Our Strategy 2020 picks up this theme very clearly as we are working to ensure our ‘graduates are ready and able to realise their full potential, make a positive contribution to society and their chosen field of employment or further study, and play their full part in the development of a sustainable global society and knowledge economy.’

That is why we have really worked to embed Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) throughout the University. This is about the contribution that we can make to this agenda through our learning and teaching. 

A typical graduate has about 50 to 60 years of life expectancy post-graduation. The skills, knowledge and attributes that they develop at University will impact positively or negatively across their whole lifetime. 

A positive impact is much more likely if we can help our students to develop skills, knowledge, attributes and values, through their programmes of study, that really help them work and live in a way that safeguards environmental, social and economic wellbeing – both in the present and for future generations. That is what ESD is about at UWE Bristol and we are committed to providing opportunities for all our students to engage.

At our last review, 90% of our UK domiciled students engaged with the subject of sustainable development within the context of their discipline. In every Department of the University there are modules or programmes exposing students to some, or the entire context of, sustainable development.

Bristol’s year as European Green Capital in 2015 will also provide further opportunities for our students to put sustainability into practice.

It is not easy but we are on the journey and we are committed to pushing forward, thanks to the leadership of Professor Jim Longhurst and the work of the team and colleagues across the University.

Through ESD and our other university activities, we are shaping future generations and the impact they will go on to have on environmental, social and economic wellbeing across the globe.

Value of a degree

The value of a degree is once again in the spotlight, with a misleading focus on immediate outcomes (Half of recent UK graduates stuck in non-graduate jobs, says ONS, 19 November), and suggestions that degrees are superfluous to many jobs – in particular nursing (Vince Cable: university degrees ‘superfluous to many jobs’, 13 November).

I strongly disagree.

With regards to nursing, I have worked in health and academia for many years and I would highlight just how different healthcare delivery is now. We need practitioners who can problem solve, deal with the complex needs of patients, manage technologies and people, work quickly, safely and accurately under highly pressured scenarios and support effective team working. These are skills that are developed as part of higher education.

Our Deputy Vice-Chancellor Academic, Professor Paul Gough, was featured on Radio 4’s You and Yours programme yesterday challenging more broadly the very misleading assertions we have been hearing about the value of a degree today.

University is not just about preparing students for the immediate workplace. It is about ensuring that our students can engage and flourish in a rapidly changing world, where knowledge and understanding are at a premium, in what is an information rich environment.

Our economy in the UK is increasingly knowledge-based. As Libby Hackett, CEO of University Alliance recently commented, OECD data shows that we will need more, not fewer, highly skilled graduates to meet the future demands of our economy. Of new jobs created between now and 2025, 80% are predicted to be at graduate level.

There can be no doubt that change will continue at pace, based on technologies that are beyond our current imagination and creating jobs that we have not yet thought of. The adaptability and agility that our graduates develop through their university experience is highly sought after – and crucial to patterns of economic growth and social development in the UK. They need to be life-long learners, able to engage with and apply different types of knowledge as they need it throughout their lives.

At UWE Bristol, we focus on preparing our students for this environment through our real-world approach, and the many opportunities we offer for our students to apply ideas in the workplace and make contacts with employers. We focus not only on using cutting edge case studies to engage with complex theoretical concepts but also:

  • Using advanced simulations of real-life scenarios
  • Running one of the largest paid undergraduate internship schemes in the UK
  • Linking students into ‘live’ projects with communities and business
  • Professional one-to-one careers support
  • Innovative and high quality employer-engaged courses

Degrees are changing. Our new ‘Team Entrepreneurship’ is an excellent example of a new approach to studying and learning about business, where students set up and run their own team company that will earn money finding and completing real projects for real organisations.

And our approach pays off. At UWE Bristol we are very proud of the success of our students, being the 6th best university for employability and 2nd best for the value-added we bring to our students.

We need to bring these opportunities to more not fewer students. The premium for graduate skills will only continue to rise in the future, given the shape of our future workforce. We need to support more people to be the agile lifelong learners that our economy and society need for the future.