Exploring climate change and education with UCU

Friday 20-05-2016 - 09:09

Last week we co-hosted a conference on climate change and education with UCU, at the University of Manchester. Bringing together students, academics and other stakeholders, we asked what education can do to address the urgent challenges of climate change.

Climate change and curriculums

The first of our sessions looked at how we can embed sustainability into the curriculums of all students – whatever their discipline.

Professor Julia King – vice chancellor of Aston University – told us how a conservatism among staff led to her radical approach of embedding sustainability into the curriculum, resulting in their reading week for all second year students being reconfigured as Carbon Week, with transformative results.

Throughout the session, it was stressed that education for sustainable development must always be relevant to a student’s discipline and future career. “The transferability of skills for engineers is enormous”, said Dr Ken Thompson, principal of Forth Valley College, giving one example, particularly relevant to his students.

“We need to teach students how to ask the right questions, and to recognise what companies should and shouldn’t be doing.”

Climate change and research

Our education sector isn’t only influential for shaping future leaders. It also generates a huge volume of research and knowledge, helping us to understand and respond to climate change.

“I don’t think that as a sector we are always good at using the research we actually have”, said Dr. Carly McLachlan from the Tyndall Centre, exploring the impact of REF, and universities’ ability to facilitate interdisciplinary research.

She encouraged delegates to go out and actually make things happen with their research – whether working with NGOs, or helping to shape policy.

Professor Kate Rigby went on to explore how the humanities have to relate to scientific disciplines; how human history relates to natural history, and how research can be used to challenge notions of human chauvinism – inviting us to “think quite fundamentally about what it means to be human”.

Climate change and finance

Universities and colleges also manage a great deal of finance, and this has to play a part in our education sector’s response to climate change. 

John Robinson – finance director of Brunel University – suggested that the financial agenda and the green agenda have quite a strong overlap. “Both are against waste, and are in favour of resource effectiveness”, he argued, outlining his approach to embedding sustainability across his buildings and procurement decisions.

“It’s not just a climate issue, it’s actually a financial issue”, he said.

Of course, however much we divest from certain companies, it doesn’t get us to where we need to be. If we invest in low carbon technologies, that’s where we see a really positive impact. That’s what Evette Prout, development officer at Sheffield Students’ Union and Andy Kerr of Edinburgh's Fossil Free Working Group explained their approach to divestment and reinvestment – echoing our national campaign to move £100 million from fossil fuels into renewables.

Lisa Nandy on climate change, energy and jobs

The conference closed with a keynote address from shadow secretary for energy and climate change Lisa Nandy MP.

Lisa explored both the opportunities and the challenges associated with our transition from fossil fuels to renewables, and how we can develop skills in the workforce to meet the challenges of the climate crisis.

Related Tags:

More Sustainability Articles

More Articles...