New research: sustainability in education 2016

Thursday 10-11-2016 - 11:24

We’re proud to have published a new report on the state of sustainability across further and higher education. 

This is the second annual report produced in partnership with the Environmental Association of Universities and Colleges (EAUC), Universities and Colleges Union (UCU), Association of Colleges (AoC) and the College Development Network, and shows how institutions are responding to environmental sustainability and social responsibility challenges. By repeating the research we can start to track perceptions and trends across tertiary education.

Our research, completed by 512 staff in universities, colleges and students’ unions, found that:

  • Still only a quarter of respondents overall report that sustainability is a strategic priority.
  • Senior leaders such as Vice Chancellors and Principals are seen as having the biggest potential to help address sustainability, yet lack of senior management commitment is seen as the second biggest barrier, after finances.
  • University staff are becoming more positive in the likelihood of achieving carbon reduction targets at their institutions, with a third saying they are unlikely or very unlikely to meet targets, compared with two fifths in 2015.
  • Just 16 per cent of overall respondents rate performance on ethical investments as ‘very good’ or ‘good’ – this is the same as 2015.
  • Only 1 per cent believe that their institution is achieving 10 out of 10 in terms of their action on sustainability
  • Just over half of HE sustainability staff respondents report that their institution’s graduate attributes include sustainability related attributes.
  • A lack of financial and staff resources are seen as the biggest barriers to acting for sustainability with support from the highest levels seen as the most important way of overcoming these barriers. Half of respondents from FE, while working in a formal/lead sustainability role, spend just 10 per cent of their time working on sustainability.
  • Concerns over availability of financial resources for the 2016-17 academic year remain with respondents more commonly reporting an expected decrease than increase in budget.

Robbie Young, NUS Vice President Society and Citizenship, said: “It is a real concern to see that a third of environment managers think they will miss their carbon targets. Politicians and vice chancellors urgently need to come up with a plan, and resources, or else there is no way our universities and colleges will deliver on the Paris climate agreement.

"This report also reinforces our concerns on ethical investments, which is something we should all be ashamed of. Our students’ money is being invested into fossil fuels against their wishes, and this new data hardens our resolve to make our Emissions Impossible campaign a success.”

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