The headline to a Guardian HE Network blog, published last week, says: Why have academics been so slow to work with students on sustainability?
It's always a newspaper temptation to identify a culprit or two. The blog post itself, by Soton's commendable Simon Kemp, considered why it is that, historically speaking, academics, estates staff and students have not worked together very much on sustainability-related activities and developments in universities. Although things are certainly changing, this remains a good question, as there is much evidence that, in times past, there have been parallel developmental tracks rather than shared interests and, hence, activities.
The Guardian headline is a problem, however, and had I been writing it, I'd have wanted to say something like: Why have students and staff in universities been so slow to work together on sustainability? This would have had the merit of being both accurate, and even-handed.
Indeed, Simon himself asks this in the blog post. He writes: The question is, why have academics and students been so slow to engage in meaningful sustainability partnerships? and goes on: Is it because academics have been wary of a lack of perceived credibility in working with students rather than with other academics? Is it because the financial rewards from traditional funded research collaborations are clearer, an issue that might be partially redressed through the Students' Green Fund?
I'd say that the problem may well (historically) have been quite different in that academics, estates teams and students (unions) have not taken much note of each other, even when there were overlapping interests.
Simon ends with: The future of sustainability in our sector depends upon collaboration. Not in the traditional sense of academics collaborating with other academics, but academics collaborating with students. But is the academic community really ready for this shift?
I don't much like these false choices. Why cannot we all collaborate?