New research shows sector demand for mandatory sustainability action

Friday 12-04-2019 - 13:48

Today marks the release of the fourth annual ‘Sustainability in Education’ report from the National Union of Students (NUS), EAUC, University and College Union (UCU), Association of Colleges (AoC) and the College Development Network (CDN).

The research shows 91% of respondents felt that the Government needed to take action in UK universities and colleges, with 73% calling for mandatory action and 18% calling for voluntary action. It was felt that with increasingly urgent and competitive agendas for senior management in institutions, without external pressure to deliver sustainability, it would not be prioritised. This is supported by a drop in those that describe their institution’s approach to sustainability as a strategic priority, from 30% in 2017 to 22% in 2018.


The research is based on a sample of 566 staff members from universities, colleges and students’ unions in the UK, with 139 respondents identifying as having a formal remit or responsibility for environmental sustainability.

Key findings include:

  • 93% of respondents feel it is important that students leave their time in formal education with the knowledge and skills required to address sustainability challenges. Over two thirds (68%) said students are seen as placing the greatest importance on addressingsustainability, and a quarter (25%) recognise empowering students on sustainability as an important issue in 2018/2019.
  • When asked about the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), 83% of respondents agreed that post-16 education is important in achieving them by 2030. However, over a quarter of respondents (28%) did not know anything about their institutions commitmentto the SDGs.
  • Respondents that worked in Further Education or Further Higher Education were most likely to have an interest in sustainability but were not involved in delivery (45%) – this is likely because Further Education has far fewer sustainability roles available due to their tight budgets. Further Education respondents were also most likely to rank their institution as not doing enough on sustainability despite Further Education respondents being the most likely to say sustainability was an opportunity to save money. This highlights the requirement for better sustainability drivers in Further Education from regulatory bodies such as Ofsted.
  • The main barriers preventing institutions from doing more on sustainability were perceived to be; 1) Lack of staff resources/capacity (40%); 2) Institution prioritising other issues (37%); 3) Lack of financial resources’ (32%).
  • In response, to address sustainability within institutions, respondents highlighted a number of solutions. The top rated of which were; 1) Encourage behavioural change for sustainability on campus (39%); 2) Make a strategic priority (33%); and 3) Increase dedicated financial resources (29%).

Read the full research report here.

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