Bill Scott's blog

Thoughts on learning, sustainability and the link between them

Monthly Archives: February 2012

iTunes for ESD

📥  Comment, New Publications, News and Updates

It's wonderful what you can find on iTunes these days, but to come across a whole lot of stuff on ESD some may think rather unexpected.  Not so, however, just click here to find 81 (at today's count) outputs from Education Scotland – and they don't even cost 79p.  Bargain.

They seem a varied mixture, though, with none of the first 17 being more than 10 seconds long and seem just to be videos of weather and landscape; i.e., mountain and flood.  These are all labeled Climate change: xxxx.  For example, Climate change: wet roads. This is a 4 second video of what looks suspiciously like a loch, so I wondered what's going on – and what it has to do with climate change.  It hardly seems to be about climate, let along change.  Of course, everything's to do with climate change these days.

I've only looked at one of the longer ones in detail so far – it was experiments about water evaporation / condensation (i.e., the weather) – and the fact that I watched it all the way through says something.  More on all this later, and thanks to Alan Reid's eagle eye for spotting these all the way from Melbourne.


Sustainability megaforces – but not quite the usual suspects

📥  Comment, New Publications

KPMG have published a report on the sustainability megaforces will “impact each and every business over the next 20 years" – and the rest of us, no doubt.  Ten are cited:

  • Climate Change
  • Energy & fuel
  • Material resource scarcity
  • Water scarcity
  • Population growth
  • Wealth
  • Urbanization
  • Food security
  • Ecosystem decline
  • Deforestation

The report argues that these all interact with each other and so it's essential to use systems thinking to address them, and says that the external environmental costs of business operations are doubling every 14 years.  Whilst such costs don't usually appear on financial statements, KPMG says that the idea that they should is growing.

There's little on the list to surprise environmental educators as most of the 10 have been seen as problems for a long time now.  The exception , perhaps, is wealth in relation to the growing global middle class – a point I made a while back in a post about a resent McKinsey report for the Ellen MacArthur Foundation.

Here are KPMG's summary notes on the 10:

Climate Change

This may be the one global megaforce that directly impacts all others. Predictions of annual output losses from climate change range between 1 percent per year, if strong and early action is taken, to as much as 5 percent a year—if policymakers fail to act.

Energy & Fuel

Fossil fuel markets are likely to become more volatile and unpredictable because of higher global energy demand; changes in the geographical pattern of consumption; supply and production uncertainties and increasing regulatory interventions related to climate change.

Material Resource Scarcity

As developing countries industrialize rapidly, global demand for material resources is predicted to increase dramatically. Business is likely to face increasing trade restrictions and intense global competition for a wide range of material resources that become less easily available. Scarcity also creates opportunities to develop substitute materials or to recover materials from waste.

Water Scarcity

It is predicted that by 2030, the global demand for freshwater will exceed supply by 40 percent. Businesses may be vulnerable to water shortages, declines in water quality, water price volatility, and to reputational challenges.

Population Growth

The world population is expected to grow to 8.4 billion by 2032. This will place intense pressures on ecosystems and the supply of natural resources such as food, water, energy and materials. While this is a threat for business, there are also opportunities to grow commerce and create jobs, and to innovate to address the needs of growing populations for agriculture, sanitation, education, technology, finance, and healthcare.


The global middle class (defined by the OECD as individuals with disposable income of between US$10 and US$100 per capita per day) is predicted to grow 172 percent between 2010 and 2030. The challenge for businesses is to serve this new middle class market at a time when resources are likely to be scarcer and more price volatile. The advantages many companies experienced in the last two decades from “cheap labor” in developing nations are likely to be eroded by the growth and power of the global middle class.


In 2009, for the first time ever, more people lived in cities than in the countryside. By 2030 all developing regions including Asia and Africa are expected to have the majority of their inhabitants living in urban areas; virtually all Population Growth over the next 30 years will be in cities. These cities will require extensive improvements in infrastructure including construction, water and sanitation, electricity, waste, transport, health, public safety and internet and cell phone connectivity.

Food Security

In the next two decades the global food production system will come under increasing pressure from megaforces including Population Growth, Water Scarcity and Deforestation. Global food prices are predicted to rise 70 to 90 percent by 2030. In water-scarce regions, agricultural producers are likely to have to compete for supplies with other water-intensive industries such as electric utilities and mining, and with consumers. Intervention will be required to reverse growing localized food shortages (the number of chronically under-nourished people rose from 842 million during the late 1990s to over one billion in 2009).

Ecosystem Decline

Historically, the main business risk of declining biodiversity and ecosystem services has been to corporate reputations. However, as global ecosystems show increasing signs of breakdown and stress, more companies are realizing how dependent their operations are on the critical services these ecosystems provide. The decline in ecosystems is making natural resources scarcer, more expensive and less diverse; increasing the costs of water and escalating the damage caused by invasive species to sectors including agriculture, fishing, food and beverages, pharmaceuticals and tourism.


Forests are big business – wood products contributed US$100 billion per year to the global economy from 2003 to 2007and the value of non-wood forest products, mostly food, was estimated at about US$18.5 billion in 2005. Yet the OECD projects that forest areas will decline globally by 13 percent from 2005 to 2030, mostly in South Asia and Africa. The timber industry and downstream industries such as pulp and paper are vulnerable to potential regulation to slow or reverse deforestation. Companies may also find themselves under increasing pressure from customers to prove that their products are sustainable through the use of certification standards. Business opportunities may arise through the development of market mechanisms and economic incentives to reduce the rate of deforestation.


Keele watch

📥  Comment, New Publications, News and Updates

The University of Keele has appointed Jonathon Porritt as its new Chancellor – brave, or what?

I ask this as JP remains an activist to his core as completely befits someone who a founder of Forum for the Future, and chair of the Sustainable Development Commission.  It's just that English universities don't usually appoint such splendidly awkward folk to these supposedly ceremonial roles, and it will be compelling to watch how this dynamic plays out, especially amongst some of Keele's no-doubt, equally-awkward academics.

In a recent article for the Guardian, JP writes:

"Through my years at Forum for the Future we have always emphasised the critical role that the higher education sector can play in helping to bring sustainable activities into mainstream society.  This encompasses how those institutions are managed, how they engage with their local communities and what is taught in higher education.  In short, they are uniquely placed to effect change in terms of the campus, the community and the curriculum."

So far, so mainstream, but in a sharper line, he argues that:

"we should be preparing students for the work of the world, not just the world of work"

Whilst it's hard to gainsay such a global citizenly focus (and I certainly don't), there's plenty to talk and disagree about when we get down to the what and the how of it all, and distinctions between could and ought.  Fun days out in Stoke, it seems.

The full article is here.


The idea of the graduate attribute

📥  News and Updates, Talks and Presentations

I am recently returned from an HEA policy think tank on Graduate attributes and the green economy. This is the two-page stimulus paper I drafted for the event:

The idea of the graduate attribute

This is appealing, seductive almost, and inevitably contested. Put simply, graduate attributes comprise an aspirational list of knowledge, skills and values that an institution (most usually a university) puts forward as a statement of intent: that at the end of their studies, all its graduates, irrespective of background, interests, and degree taken, will possess and be able to live out in the wider world these knowledge, skills and values through their work, and also through their lives. In this way, universities attempt to show that, despite the necessary narrowness of a formal tertiary programme of study, there is also breadth to the experience of the university itself. Thus, it is a promise made to society more widely, to employers more narrowly, and to the student in particular, and can look like an aspect of institutional corporate social responsibility.  See, for example, Bowden et al. (2000) Generic capabilities of Australian Technology Network (ATN) university graduates.

Purposes and implications

In addition to the aspirational purpose set out above, there are at least three other reasons why an institution might go down the graduate attribute route: to …

  1. market the institution’s qualities, distinctiveness and value to students and society;
  2. comply with government or regulator demands; and/or
  3. steer curriculum design and teaching, and other learning experience, in particular ways.

The first of these seems inevitable, and is not necessary an ignoble quest, unless it is the only reason for action. The second is controversial wherever it exists in a free society. The third may be controversial or very appealing, or both, depending on your perspective. Clearly, for internal or external pressure groups, it may well be seen as potentially a powerful tool for change, offering, as it does, some guarantee that all students will have exposure to particular ideas and values, whether as part of their formal studies or through complementary experience. For anyone interested in promoting Education for Sustainable Development [ESD], for example, this third purpose would seem to be of the essence.

Similarly, for the institution itself, it also offers a means of significant change, for example, by requiring interdisciplinary study or a focus on global social justice issues. Further, the act of establishing a student entitlement at the whole institution level, enshrining it into statute, not only acts to ensure that senior leaders own the idea, but means that it is the institution itself which exerts the downward pressure on faculties, departments and degrees to comply and change. Inevitably, if an institution is to go down such a curriculum-focused attribute route in order to affect significant (and perhaps even systemic) change, this will require investment if it going to be a development whose values are widely shared across the institution.

Melbourne, for example

Although there are now many examples of universities adopting graduate attributes, those associated with the University of Melbourne remain prominent, and are associated with what the university calls the ‘Melbourne model’, which is an example of the kind of curriculum-focused attribute described above, and which has now evolved into ‘Growing Esteem’ with its triple helix of research, learning and teaching, and external engagement.  The Melbourne Experience enables graduates to become:

Academically excellent:

  • have a strong sense of intellectual integrity and the ethics of scholarship
  • have in-depth knowledge of their specialist discipline(s)
  • reach a high level of achievement in writing, generic research activities, problem-solving and communication
  • be critical and creative thinkers, with an aptitude for continued self-directed learning
  • be adept at learning in a range of ways, including through information and communication technologies

Knowledgeable across disciplines:

  • examine critically, synthesise and evaluate knowledge across a broad range of disciplines
  • expand their analytical and cognitive skills through learning experiences in diverse subjects
  • have the capacity to participate fully in collaborative learning and to confront unfamiliar problems
  • have a set of flexible and transferable skills for different types of employment

Leaders in communities:

  • initiate and implement constructive change in their communities, including professions and workplaces
  • have excellent interpersonal and decision-making skills, including an awareness of personal strengths and limitations
  • mentor future generations of learners
  • engage in meaningful public discourse, with a profound awareness of community needs

Attuned to cultural diversity:

  • value different cultures
  • be well-informed citizens able to contribute to their communities wherever they choose to live and work
  • have an understanding of the social and cultural diversity in our community
  • respect indigenous knowledge, cultures and values

Active global citizens:

  • accept social and civic responsibilities
  • be advocates for improving the sustainability of the environment
  • have a broad global understanding, with a high regard for human rights, equity and ethics

The strength of this approach would seem to lie in …

  1. its grounding within the graduate’s own discipline that requires them to “expand … analytical and cognitive skills”, and to develop “skills for different types of employment”.
  2. the focus on both culture and community, and their necessary interconnection.
  3. an explicit identification of global issues which require being “advocates for improving the sustainability of the environment”, and having “a broad global understanding, with a high regard for human rights, equity and ethics”.

Attributes and the economy – some questions

1. Are the Melbourne attributes appropriate for supporting the green economy, or is a sharper and more explicit focus needed? Put another way: will such nurturing result from this kind of approach despite its breadth? Or will it only come about because of its breadth?

2. Will graduate attribute-informed curriculum reform likely result in better university-business partnerships, more effective accreditation outcomes, and improved graduate employment?

3. To what extent do university curricula have to be reforming before broadly-based graduate attributes can be adopted? Or will graduate attributes need to be taken seriously before curricula can be reformed effectively? And do all such attributes need formal assessment?

4. Are graduate attributes a good way of gaining university-wide acceptance of curriculum reform? If so, how might the HEA support a sector-wide exploration of graduate attributes?


Examples of UK universities going down the attribute include: Aberdeen Edinburgh Southampton Aberdeen Keele Leeds Queen Mary London Metropolitan and Sheffield ... and then there's Sydney.


Watts up with Chris Huhne?

📥  Comment, News and Updates

In the spirit of balance and fair-mindedness, I have been struggling for a week or so to find anyone with a good word to say about the lately departed Chris Huhne, but the web is full of direct and/or oblique abuse about either his appeal as a human being (limited, it seems), or his policies around energy and climate change (which many, of course do find admirable).

Newspapers tended to focus on both aspects.  A Matt cartoon in the Telegraph showed all the wind farms in the country coming to a standstill on Huhne's resignation – no more of that hot air, you see.  Sadly, I had to have that explained to me.

Climate change blogs, of course, just deal with the policy issues and many view Huhne in the negative.   Wattsupwiththat is a case in point, and is instructive if you're interested in what to teach about all this: wind farm policy and effectivenesss / keeping the lights on / bankruptcy / carbon taxes / ...  and the notion of balance.


To comment, would be to condone

📥  News and Updates

I'm grateful to Alan Reid for the following:

A team from the University of Minnesota is traveling across all seven continents to understand how education and sustainability coincide.  Aaron Doering, a learning technologies associate professor, and his co-explorer Charlie Miller, plan to travel to climate hotspots on all seven continents over the next four years to study how the changing climate has impacted people’s lives — the first study of its kind.  It’s called Earthducation, an adventure-learning project inspired by the United Nations’ Decade of Education for Sustainable Development.

Doering said

“There is a gap between how students are being educated and what they need to sustain their lives in their regions”

The mission of the project is to discover how the changing world is impacting people and how education will allow them to adjust to these changes.  The two researchers started their voyage in March 2010 in Nunavut, Northern Canada.  They’ve since traveled to Africa and Norway.  During these trips, they traveled 1,000 to 1,500 miles.  The explorers speak with ordinary people, students and leaders to hear their takes on how education is shifting as a result of the climate change.

They ask the same three questions:

  • Define what education means to you.
  • Define what sustainability means to you.
  • How do you believe the two can intersect?

Doering said

“The people are extremely welcoming because they want their voice to be heard because no one else is listening”

The team reports their findings daily on the website  They post pictures, video and audio of their experiences, and they have a link on their website, Environnetwork, which allows anyone to share their perspective on education and sustainability.  Doering and Miller have conducted about 80 formal interviews, and there have been more than 100 posts from teachers, students and the general public.  They will soon leave for their next destination: Australia, and will travel to different parts of the country, including the Great Barrier Reef, and spend time with the Aborigine people.

Doering and Miller say this project is unique to the University because it is the first study to span over the course of three or more years and explore all seven continents.  Their journey will end in Antarctica in 2014.


Plagiarism – the 10% solution

📥  Comment

There's ...

  • plagiarism when you copy chunks of somebody else's already-published text and 'forget' to cite it accurately (or at all)
  • plagiarism of a more subtle sort when you use part of something you've already published yourself elsewhere without making that clear

and then there's

  • what you do when you write something and cite your own work extensively as part of it.

Not everyone would regard the second example as plagiarism at all, though many now seem to.  Either way, such 'self-plagiarism' has to be unwelcome practice when done extensively, though it can be difficult to avoid completely when building an argument over several papers.  Openness about what's being done is the key.

Many would see the third as a form of self-regard, immaturity or insecurity, though few seem to see it as plagiarism in the clear-cut way that the first is, or the less obvious way embodied by the second.

However, all three practices seem both avoidable, and to be avoided.  I was reminded of all this as I read a UNESCO report last week where one of the papers provided a clear example of the third issue.  Perhaps we all need to sign up to a self-denying ordinance: no more than 10% of papers cited should in something you write should ever be your own.  Just think of all the ink and paper we'd save – and the moral high ground we'd all occupy.


Capturing key developments – a response to UNESCO

📥  Comment, News and Updates

As I noted the other day, a request came from UNESCO to capture key developments and responses to ESD ahead of a meeting in Bonn later this month to discuss the "adoption of the UN Decade" and "vision building for ESD beyond 2014".  Here is my response:

In general terms ...

Not everything that takes place in educational settings (viewed broadly) that focuses on sustainability / sustainable development is referenced as ESD

Not all developments that are classed as ESD are either congruent with UNESCO's vision or coherent amongst themselves

There is no consensus as to what is to count as an education focusing on sustainability, and divergent views as to whether this is a problem

In policy terms ...

It is difficult to say anything coherent at the UK level because of the confused (ie, only partly-devolved) constitutional position.  That said, we might say that whilst the rhetoric remains reasonably strong, there are a number of indicators that suggest a diminution of enthusiasm – or conviction, perhaps

In England, the government has retreated from its previous positive encouragement of educational institutions to have a sustainability focus to a position where that is seen as something for institutions themselves to decide

In Wales, whilst the ESDGC brand is retained, it seems marginal to resolving the well-publicised problems facing Welsh education

Scotland remains the most consistent in its espousal of ESD-like initiatives and is that part of the UK which does best in PISA-type evaluations.  Whether these are linked, however, is anyone's guess

What happens in Northern Ireland is a mystery

The UK National Commission for UNESCO seem to be hibernating

In sector terms ...

HE seems the sector with the keenest developments 'on the ground'.  There seems a lot of informed enthusiasm from individuals, encouraged and supported by institutions such as NUS, EAUC and the HEA.  Funding councils have provided research and development funding (though not much in comparative terms).  Whilst there is evidence of institutional leadership in terms of ESD, there are no convincing examples of a university taking a successful whole-institution approach (let alone a transformative one).  There is no shared view as to how ESD in universities should / does contribute to graduate attributes

Despite some effort prominent practice, FE remains the cinderella with poor leadership and unconvincing sector-wide initiatives.

Schools seem far too reliant on outside help from organisations (Eco-schools, mostly, but other NGOs as well) that have an unconvincing take on sustainability / ESD (and all of which are pursuing their own agendas and interests).  There are horourable exceptions to this rule; for example, SEEd, TIDE~, NAEE, ... .  There is no shared view as to how ESD can contribute progressively across key stages / stages.   It's hard to see how secondary schools will ever take ESD to heart whilst examinations at 16 capture attention, constrict curriculum and stifle imagination.

In comparative terms ...

Looking back across 20 years or so, I'd say that the number of individuals and groups that are interested and active has grown considerably both in numbers and scope.  Despite their efforts, however, and the increasingly favourable national and international context (that is to say the greater prominence of the problems we all face), their effect on institutions, and on the students within them, remains marginal.

All the more reason, of course, to keep going.  I remain agnostic on the question of whether ESD and the Decade has made much difference where it actually matters.


UNESCO takes stock – though not through research

📥  Comment, News and Updates

This arrived the other day, care of the SHED SHARE mail server:

Dear Colleagues,

I would appreciate your advice and input regarding a brief ESD sheet I have been asked to complete.  UNESCO is hosting meeting in Bonn later this month to discuss the adoption of the UN Decade in Education for Sustainable Development and to discuss vision building for ESD beyond 2014.  Selected participants have been asked to submit an informal 'national report sheet' to capture developments and responses to ESD in their countries. This is not meant to be informed by research or an exhaustive report but instead should provide some pointers to inform discussions at Bonn.

If you have time over the next few days, I would appreciate your thoughts regarding key developments and initiatives. Given that this elist brings together ESD experts and practitioners from across the UK, I would also value your advice particularly regarding the status of ESD and related questions.

For you information, my response will also be informed by existing reports and consultation documents  (not just from HE!) and a recent ESD report compiled by xxxxx. My intention with this rather limited exercise is to be as inclusive as time permits.  If you have any questions, pls email me personally or call xxxxx.  Responses received before  4.00pm Sunday 12th will inform this 'national report'.

Whilst I was pondering my response, Chet Bowers offered his incisive perspective:

I would like to suggest changes that would not lead to reproducing the misconceptions and silences that were part of the education of the last decades of the last century that characterized the graduate education of most the participants at your upcoming conference, but so far you seem to be representative of the problem of being locked into the taken for granted world of late 20th century thinking.  xxxxx is aware of the misconceptions I have identified, as well as the changes in how to promote ecological intelligence, as awareness of how language carries forward the misconceptions of earlier eras when there was no awareness of environmental limits, the nature and importance of the cultural commons as alternatives to an individualistic and consumer-dependent lifestyle, and how print (including computer-mediated thinking) reinforces abstract thinking while undermining the exercise of ecological intelligence.  I suspect your educational background will lead you to see these comments as just more rubbish.

Ouch!  Just like reading John Clare, there's nothing useful to add.


Les and Vince at the music hall

📥  Comment, News and Updates

That's Les (VC & Prof) Ebdon, who might yet not be the new director of OFFA, and Vince (the once and future sage of Twickenham) Cable who might yet appoint him as such – or will he?

OFFA is the office for fair access: "promoting and safeguarding fair access to higher education", or so it says.  It is looking for a new director.

I've been following this twisting tale since Les appeared before the House of Commons Business Select Committee as Vince's (and hence, HMG's) preferred candidate for the job.  He did not impress.  Whether you read Simon Carr's Independent blog last week, Nadhim Zahawi in Friday's Times, or Charles Moore in today's Telegraph,  the message is much the same: Les has made an offer that might yet be refused.  It seems he stands for the wrong sort of standards in too many people's eyes.

Nadhim Zahawi asks: Do we want to level down in the pursuit of access – or to maintain excellence?  Les, it seems, "gave the wrong answers".   I suspected ("feared" would be going too far) as much when I read the Carr blog last week.  It began in classic style:

The plan to keep the working class in their place is going along very nicely. The education system is producing 20 per cent illiteracy – but only among the lower socio groups.  Very helpful for us who need to keep the competition away.  So the appointment of a new head of access might have been a problem.  Someone who might get more children well-schooled.  That would be quite a threat to our way of life.

But Carr was reassured ...

... I think we're going to be all right.  The candidate spoke at length about his qualifications and as he spoke, we became aware how dusty the windows of the committee room were in the early afternoon sun.  In the background, we heard the drowsy hum of an education bureaucrat in later middle-age as he murmured the words that are expected at hearings like this.  ...

Moore is less sanguine about Les and his qualifications for the job, and goes on about Jude the obscure at some length to make the point.  He does, however, think that coalition politics may well mean that Les will get the job, even though the business select committee said he shouldn't (he might frighten the Russell group, it seems, and excuse schools all their failings).   Moore comments:

The most Machiavellian way to handle it would be to let Professor Ebdon take on the post and fail, as he surely will.

Quite so.  The way things are going, not even Les will be happy about his appointment.

Update Tuesday 14th February

The Guardian weighed in today with a report that it was probably too late for any show-stopper from Dave (and Michael Gove), even though the Conservative Fair Access to University group is also critical of Les's ability to do the job.   We'll know soon.

Update Thursday 23rd February

This story won't die, now that Vince has got his way, Les has been appointed, and Dave (Willetts, that is) is shaking his brains, and wringing his hands.  Both Simon Carr and Alison Pearson remain on the case.