Dear Sir Alan
We write to you following the publication of the latest grant letter dated the 11th January, from the Department of Business Innovation and Skills, in which the government, as they have done in all consecutive letters since 2008, stressed the importance of sustainable development to the country, and emphasized higher education’s substantial role in contributing to its implementation. We write as active higher education participants in the objective of furthering sustainable development in the sector.
We are pleased to note that the grant letter for 2013 has a very different emphasis from all of the preceding letters:
We thank the Council for its activity which has contributed to the HE sector’s good progress in sustainable development. … We look forward to the development of a new sustainable development framework that should seek to build on the achievements of universities and colleges and the enthusiasm of students and continue to support institutions in their efforts to improve their sustainability. (para 28)
The phrase, “the enthusiasm of students” we believe is a reference to the cumulative evidence from consecutive student surveys commissioned by the Higher Education Academy and conducted by the NUS and Change Agents-UK, in 2010, 2011 and 2012. These rigorous and extensive surveys of nearly 15,000 students have shown that students believe that employers value sustainability skills. Almost 80% of second year students surveyed view universities as key facilitators of these by bringing environmental, social and economic issues together.
This is the first time that a grant letter has made reference to students, implicitly acknowledging the importance of learning to students and their prospective employers and to all our sustainable futures. We welcome this new emphasis. Indeed the HEFCE’s own web site refers to it; albeit in a rather dated reference to its 2005 Sustainable Development Strategy:
“Our vision is that, within the next 10 years, the HE sector in England will be recognised as a major contributor to society's efforts to achieve sustainability – through the skills and knowledge that its graduates learn and put into practice, its research and exchange of knowledge through business, community and public policy engagement, and through its own strategies and operations.” http://www.hefce.ac.uk/whatwedo/lgm/sd/
Further, the 2010 grant letter referred to the following expectation:
“I hope universities and colleges will show leadership in this area, both in reducing their own emissions, and in seeking to include sustainability in their teaching and research.”
We hope that the Council’s new sustainable development framework will embrace this mandate for “leadership” (to which we would add, “and vision”) to support greater environmental sustainability in campus facilities as well as to seek ways to scale up the sector’s capacity to advance the much needed “educational gain” that accrues to students from the integration of learning for sustainability into and across the higher education curriculum.
Further, as the international evidence seems clear that student learning is most effective when it is complemented and reinforced by what institutions do in relation to sustainability through their research, campus management, and engagement with external stakeholders, we hope this whole institutional approach might be encouraged within the new framework.
Finally, we also hope that the Council will repeat its 2008 benchmark survey of institutional practice in relation to sustainability, in order to gauge institutional and sector progress over the last 5 years.
Professor Stephen Martin, President of the Charity-Change Agents UK
and signed on behalf of the following:
Professor Dame Julia King, CBE, Vice-Chancellor, Aston University
Sir Jonathon Porritt, CBE, Founder Director Forum for the Future, Chancellor, University of Keele
Professor Wendy Purcell, Vice-Chancellor and Chief Executive, Plymouth University
Professor Nick Foskett, Vice-Chancellor, University of Keele
Professor David Green, Vice-Chancellor and CEO, University of Worcester
Professor Steven West, DL, Vice-Chancellor and CEO, University of the West of England
Professor Ray Ison, Professor in Systems, the Open University
Professor James Longhurst, Vice President, the Institution of Environmental Sciences
Professor Stephen Sterling, Professor in Sustainability, Plymouth University
Professor Brian Chalkley, Emeritus Professor, Plymouth University
Dr John Blewitt, Aston University Business School
Professor William Scott, Emeritus Professor, University of Bath