Government's new sustainability strategy for education

22 April 2022      Martin Higgs, Communications Officer

Publication of new government sustainability and climate change strategy for education – AUDE response

The eye-catching announcement from the Department for Education of a new GCSE qualification in Natural History is just one element of yesterday’s publication of a new sustainability and climate change strategy for the education and children’s services systems. Universities will welcome students with this qualification onto their campuses from the latter part of this decade, and AUDE (the Association of University Directors of Estates) welcomes this initiative to put academic structure around an interest that comes easily to many children, and to make the new qualification equivalent in rigour and status to other GCSE qualifications.

Andrew Nolan, Director of Sustainability at the University of Nottingham and AUDE’s sustainability lead, said: “When in due course those children enrol for university courses they will find a Higher Education sector keen to do its part in the global effort on climate change, just as it has for many years. University estates teams have been at the forefront of their institutions’ drive to commit to and then achieve ambitious net zero carbon targets. They are heavily involved in the academic study, piloting and implementation of alternative energy supply systems. As across the rest of the public sector, universities are thinking hard about embodied carbon, and shifting towards refurbishment of campus buildings – often a better option than new-build in terms of environmental impact. Whether on recycling, student involvement and engagement, energy supply or any other aspect of the huge task we face, UK universities are fully engaged communities on the sustainability and climate change agenda.”

Jane White, AUDE’s Executive Director, said: “In a new government strategy that is focused heavily towards schools, the part of the discussion that has so far been missing is the question of cost, and how to pay for the upgrades that are needed to make our campuses net zero carbon. Our universities want to act as beacons of good practice, they want to develop, test and share ideas across the public and private spheres, and they want to match the expectations of their students for fast and effective action. But many have some degree of fear as to the price tag attached to their work. The University of Birmingham has recently costed the work needed on their campus alone at £300m. It's clear that the overall cost to the university estate of achieving net zero will run into many billions of pounds, and there isn’t yet the acknowledgement of that never mind the funding needed to achieve it. One very positive step forward is that by the end of this year and in collaboration with the EAUC, UUK and BUFDG, and with part-funding from the DfE, and delivery from Energise, we’ll be launching a tool to help universities calculate their projected costs for getting to net zero. Perhaps when we have a scientifically calculated total price tag for this work we’ll be able to focus more on paying for it?”

Roddy Yarr, Executive Lead for Sustainability at the University of Strathclyde points to the existing AUDE tool, the Sustainability Leadership Scorecard (SLS), which is used in an increasing number of universities to co-ordinate activity on this agenda across the institution, as invaluable in helping us prioritise. “The SLS is easy to use. It is structured round the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, and this provides an easy ready-made structure for us all to use in applying our own thinking, and when prioritising our plans and actions. The SLS helps university teams by guiding them straight to the areas that are successes and straight to the areas that need more work. Priorities for improvement emerge naturally and easily. The SLS opens up collaborative possibilities across the whole institution. It covers all areas of sustainability and so enables good quality conversations with people in teams that may not typically be directly involved. The ability to benchmark against similar institutions is an enormously useful feature of the SLS. The tool provides a structure for reaching out to other universities or to third parties, to ask for ideas and input. It’s the best structure we have in HE and FE for thinking about these issues. Together with our delivery partners the EAUC we publish an SLS annual report which acts as a kind of ‘state of the nation’ snapshot of where we collectively stand on this endeavour.”

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