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University leads groundbreaking project to tackle Higher Education curriculum greenwash

University of Gloucestershire has won funding to lead a national project aimed at driving up standards in sustainability education in universities.

The project will create a blueprint for quality sustainability learning with an aim to ensure that students on all degree programmes are given the knowledge, skills and experience to be a driving force for sustainability practise and meet the grand challenge of sustainability – at university and in their careers beyond.

The University has secured funding from the Quality Assurance Agency (QAA) for Higher Education to collaborate on the project with King’s College London and University of the Arts London (UAL).

The project – ‘Students driving curriculum quality for sustainability – follows research by the National Union of Students’ sustainability charity, SOS-UK, indicating that 84% of students expect sustainable development to be actively incorporated into all courses.

Working with students in all three institutions, the project will draw on best practice and an assessment approach developed at the University. It will test and refine the principles in different university settings and courses, aiming to close gaps between current learning experiences and what students most value for their development and future lives and careers.

Dr Alex Ryan, Director of Sustainability at the University, said: “We are excited to be working on this critical issue with our students and partners at University of the Arts, London, and King’s College London, both known for their sustainability innovations.

“Our university has been a disruptor in pushing to mainstream transformational course experiences that can help to move the needle for sustainability in society.

“But our sector needs to do more than just experiment now – we need to grasp what matters most to students and what counts as powerful sustainability education – and to partner with our students to drive quality forward.”

The University will work with students and partners to develop and test a set of principles to assess the quality of Education for Sustainability (EfS) integration, and call out the growing potential for ‘curriculum greenwash’.

The collaborative project will also push the sector to move sustainability education out of the margins and beyond simply badging course content with ‘single-issue’ UN Global Sustainable Development Goals.

Student Nancy Harris showing how military clothing can be upcycled to reduce the amount of synthetic fibres in landfill at the University’s Radical Sustainability Masterclass; top image, Students are working with Festival Republic to improve sustainability at music festivals.

Kat Thorne, Director of Sustainability at King’s College London, said: “Education for Sustainability is important to our students, many of whom have been involved in projects to embed sustainability into the curriculum in recent years.

“I am thrilled King’s is taking the next step in this space by partnering with University of Gloucestershire and University of the Arts, London, on this project.”

Nina Stevenson, Head of Education (Sustainability), Centre for Sustainable Fashion, University of the Arts London, said: “Understanding the needs and experiences of students is fundamental in designing and delivering creative education that foregrounds human and planetary health.

“At UAL, we have committed to embed climate and social justice into every course by 2023, and through this collaborative project we will surface what is happening on the ground in our courses at London College of Fashion, UAL.

“Through co-learning with University of Gloucestershire and King’s College London we will challenge Higher Education to deliver high quality teaching and learning for sustainability across a range of disciplines.”

‘Students driving curriculum quality for sustainability’ is a Collaborative Enhancement Project supported and funded by QAA Membership. The project is led by University of Gloucestershire in partnership with King’s College London and University of the Arts, London. Find out more about Collaborative Enhancement Projects on the QAA website.