EESD – a revisionist view of UBC

Posted in: Comment, News and Updates, Talks and Presentations

I've long had the view that it was the University of British Columbia [UBC] that you should look to in order to see the intersection of higher education and sustainability at its best; that is, for an integration across research, teaching and estates, to put it in conventional terms.  Having listened to John Robinson, UBC's vice provost for sustainability, and its internal and external champion, I'm now not so sure.  This may sound odd given UBC's amazing development in terms of sustainability and its campus, which looks world-leading and a model to emulate, even to a serially jaundiced eye.

No, it's not that, and Robinson gave chapter and verse on what UBC has done, and is doing, with their vision to 2050.  Rather, it's what he said about teaching and learning that gives pause for thought.  Actually, he didn't say all that much, devoting some 6 hurried minutes out of a rather compelling 50 minute talk to this – odd in itself, given that this was an engineering education conference.

But what he did say did not present a picture of an academic community eager to focus on sustainability, nor of an academic leadership all that keen on suggesting they do that.  It all looked rather neglected: a B movie alongside that Hollywood blockbuster of a campus.  Whilst there are now some 480 sustainability-related courses (I'm not sure what this means), and voluntary pathways on sustainability learning (or that), none of it looked exceptional.  Of course, Robinson hasn't an academic role, so someone else might have painted a more positive picture of teaching and learning than his sketch of the academic as a bit of a problem having to be pushed by students, and nudged (pulled would be going too far) ever so very gingerly by the institution.

Well, I guess I'll have to look elsewhere for integrated excellence.  A pity; I was thinking of visiting.  Maybe Gloucestershire ...

Posted in: Comment, News and Updates, Talks and Presentations


  • (we won't publish this)

Write a response

  • Anecdotally, this is similar to what I'm seeing at both my own university and the surrounding colleges in our area. There's a nod to sustainability, but nothing transformative really, despite the fact that students are demanding more courses and programs, and the local community is bustling with vision and projects of all kinds. I wonder if the zeitgeist around sustainability is dying down (at least among those with power) and priorities are now shifting to other discourses (resiliency, entrepreneurship, others?).

    Sterling's work on types of institutional transformation seems appropriate here. I've been banging my head against the bureaucracy of my own university for so long that I've largely started looking elsewhere for inspiration. So it goes.