I’ve been reading my way through the material produced by the QAA and a clutch of universities in the online Guide to Quality and Education for Sustainability in HE.
I began with the various video talking heads, and I was struck by Anthony McClaran’s comments on the importance of the project in locating education for sustainability as a quality assurance issue. This is part of what he said:
"What we are seeing, is an increasing awareness of ways in which, in order to embed sustainability, it needs to be thought though in terms of quality assurance."
It is unsurprising that McClaran (and QAA) think like that, given that everything that’s taught in universities now has to be thought though in terms of quality assurance. Clearly, many academics and HE managers see it that way as well, and this seems to be the premise behind the HEFCE-funded LMF project: Leading Curriculum Change for Sustainability: Strategic Approaches to Quality Enhancement, which gave rise to the Guide.
Certainly, there is something in this. But there is (at least) one other way of thinking about it all. For example, McClaran (or someone) might have said:
"In order to make quality systems fit for purpose in the world we now inhabit, they need to be thought though in terms of sustainability.”
It seems to me that how quality systems are currently operationalised within institutions fits pretty well with the educational status quo; indeed, institutions manage 'Quality' in order to do this. But, given that what goes on at the moment is much more education for unsustainability, than EfS, it has to be a problem that our current emphasis on quality doesn't push universities towards being more sustainability-focused in terms of vision, purposes and operation.
And so I do wonder what the point is in changing EfS / ESD to fit with how we see quality, when quality itself hasn't changed at all to fit with the sustainability imperative.
No doubt someone will be able to enlighten me about why this view is wrong. Meanwhile, I'm keeping Stephen Sterling in mind ...
"... the effect of patterns of unsustainability on our current and future prospects is so pressing that the response of higher education should not be predicated only on the integration of sustainability into higher education, because this invites a limited, adaptive, response. Rather, ... we need to see the relationship the other way round – that is, the necessary transformation of higher education towards the integrative and more whole state implied by a systemic view of sustainability in education and society, however difficult this may be to realise."
Sterling SR (2004) Higher Education, Sustainability and the Role of Systemic Learning. In PB Corcoran & AEJ Walls (Eds) Higher Education and the Challenge of Sustainability: problematics, promise and practice. Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic Press