Education for Sustainable Development
Bristol SU and the University of Bristol Students are working in partnership to embed Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) in the university experience. The University has based its understanding on the UNESCO definition which covers four main areas: social and economic justice; cultural diversity; human rights of future generations; and the protection and restoration of the Earth’s ecosystems.

ESD allows everyone at Bristol University to acquire the knowledge, skills, attitudes and values necessary to shape a sustainable future. It means including key sustainable development issues into teaching and learning; for example, climate change, disaster risk reduction, biodiversity and poverty reduction. It also requires participatory teaching and learning methods that motivate and empower learners to change their behaviour and take action for sustainable development.

Education for Sustainable Development consequently promotes competencies like critical thinking, imagining future scenarios and making decisions in a collaborative way. A survey of Bristol students conducted by Bristol SU in partnership with the University ESD team found that: 90% of respondents stated that sustainability is important to them. Student appetite for ESD as part of their university experience is demonstrated through the following projects outlined below.

For more information on Education for Sustainable Development, contact Robiu Salisu

How do we get students engaged with sustainability?

In 2015, the Green Curriculum Team (GCT) was set up by students with primary focus on raising awareness and better the understanding of the University’s student body around anything and everything to do with sustainability.

The team’s core objectives was to increase the sustainability agenda as part of the curriculum, organise and host a sustainability speaker series which culminates with a student-led conference titled ‘A Student’s Guide to sustainability’.

The team works closely with Bristol SU in helping to deliver its objectives; much of the work is greatly facilitated by the SU, ranging from room bookings and catering, contacting potential speakers for invite. However, the GCT lead and decide the best way to engage the student body.

How do we showcase students own research on sustainability?

Organised by students from the Green Curriculum Team, 'A Student’s Guide to Sustainability' annual conference aims to showcase students that are conducting a wide variety of interesting sustainability related research as part of their courses.

Undergraduate and postgraduates alike gather to review posters and talks presented by fellow students. In 2016, topics included research on smokeless cook stoves, human rights and population growth, CF4 emissions and their risks, the benefits of veganism, biomass willows and their potential to help the bee population, and what you can do to become sustainable.

In the run up to the sell-out student-led research conference, the Green Curriculum Team hosted a series of exciting speakers who are challenging their field to make a more positive impact on the World. The series challenged students to think about how their courses equip them with the skills to change the world, and see how their skills could be used for good in the community.

How do we support student led initiative to make learning more relevant to the real world challenges?

Engineering Without Borders (EWB) are a student society at the University of Bristol. It was formed in 2004 in partnership with Bristol SU with the believe that people everywhere should have equal access to the benefits of engineering. The aim to inspire and enable its members to use their engineering skills to tackle global issue such as poverty, climate change, urbanisation and world population growth.

The society has brought together hundreds of like-minded students at exciting events, trips, projects and outreach workshops. An example of this the commitment to inspire the next generation of children to take up engineering through workshops in secondary schools across Bristol and recently inspired hundreds of girls to take up STEM subjects at a stall in the Ada Lovelace Outreach Fair. Additionally, EWB also conducts a number of successful student-led projects which enable the members to use their technical skills to research, develop and construct appropriate and sustainable technologies. The project groups meets weekly, working on mapping of water poverty indicators across India and Nepal for FRANK Water, clean cookstoves, wind turbines and rainwater harvesting

Key benefits to the student

Involvement with the Education for Sustainable Development supports personal and professional development: Involvement in communities of practice, with students and staff working in collaboration to take action for sustainable development.

Encouraging and facilitating student engagement in a wide range of both curricular and extra-curricular placement and volunteering activities.

Acquire new knowledge, skills, attitudes and values necessary to shape a sustainable future.

Undertaking and presenting student-led research to a multitude of audiences about issues and how to bring about change.

Employability skills and experience for a CV (The Changemaker Award); engaging with change processes and something different to talk about at interview.

Key benefits to the University

Responsible Futures certification is awarded to a whole institution in recognition of fostering an environment where sustainability learning can thrive.

The Responsible Futures accreditation mark provides a framework that helps cultivate top-down institutional change and develop social norms around sustainability education in both the formal and informal curriculum.

66% of students agree that being a student at the University of Bristol encourages them to think and act to help the environment, and other people.

The University, in partnership with Bristol SU, was one of 13 UK institutions to take part in the recent Responsible Futures pilot, coming out with full accreditation at the end of a two-day audit that assessed how well the partnership embeds social and environmental responsibility in all its activities. The auditors praised Bristol for its strategic approach to embedding educational sustainable development (ESD) across the institution, stating that levels of knowledge and understanding of ESD were ‘well developed and robust.

For academic staff, the Best of Bristol lectures offer a chance to have their teaching skills publicly recognised and celebrated. The series also allows the University to identify good practice in this area and gather indirect feedback from students about the popularity of their lecturers.

Finally, the Richmond Lectures attract high-profile and sector-leading individuals that give the University an opportunity to enhance its reputation within the city.

Key benefits to the sector

‘Incorporating ESD into the curriculum and outside is not about changing what institutions currently do, it is about doing what they do, differently.’

Students want more on sustainable development from their higher education careers. The latest report from the Higher Education Academy (HEA) highlights that over eight in every ten students consistently believe that Sustainable Development should be actively incorporated and promoted by universities, and this increases as respondents progress through their studies.

Furthermore, over two thirds consistently believe that SD should be covered by their university courses.