Our commitment to Education for Sustainable Development

Brendan Stone, Deputy Vice-President for Education and Harry Carling, Students’ Union Development Officer provide an update on Education for Sustainable Development.

On Friday 20 September 2019, staff and students across the University came together on campus to show support for school children striking for the climate. This was a powerful demonstration of the level of determination that all of us at the University have in facing up to the climate emergency.

At the rally outside the Students’ Union, our President and Vice-Chancellor Professor Koen Lamberts, announced that we will be actively engaging with Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) in all courses as part of our new Sustainability Strategy.

This was in response to both student interest here at Sheffield and a broader desire from prospective students for universities to provide more opportunities for engagement with sustainability issues; a 2018 NUS international survey on student perceptions of sustainability in higher education found that 70 per cent of students would like to see sustainable development incorporated into and promoted through all courses.

As the student and institutional leads for ESD we would like to give more detail about these plans so students and staff know what to expect.

We have a close dialogue with students and the issues that they care about, and we continue to be impressed by the passion, knowledge and activism that students have about sustainability.

Our aspiration is to equip our students with the knowledge, skills, values and attributes needed to work and live in a way that will bring about solutions to the urgent environmental, economic and social challenges that we face. We're working to embed ESD into the Sheffield student experience, both within the formal curriculum and in the wider student experience.

ESD takes a holistic definition of sustainability, as set out by the UN's Sustainable Development Goals. It aims to make sustainability relevant to all students, no matter what subject they study, and help to produce conscious and informed global graduates. While it can include measures to combat the climate emergency, depending on degree subject, it might also include: climate justice, disaster risk reduction, biodiversity, poverty reduction, sustainable consumption, human rights, social equality and responsible citizenship.

Work on ESD at Sheffield forms part of our Programme Level Approach (PLA). Through PLA departments have been asked to discuss with students how their taught programmes currently support ESD and where there are opportunities for further curriculum development. Questions to help departments consider the focus of their activities and discussions with students are available on the PLA Google Site. We would like to encourage all students to engage in these discussions within their departments.

We are at the beginning of our exploration of ESD. This initial work through Programme Level Approach will directly inform our work on ESD over the coming years and we will be working closely with staff and departments to help them find ways in which ESD can be woven into all courses over the next five years.

We’re really excited about integrating Education for Sustainable Development into our curriculum and we’ll keep you updated on progress over the coming months and years.

Thank you

Brendan Stone , Deputy Vice-President for Education

Harry Carling, Students’ Union Development Officer


Why is the University implementing Education for Sustainable Development?

Students tell us that the climate emergency is the most important issue facing them. Universities are uniquely placed to ensure that the next generation have the skills to overcome these challenges. So this decision was us listening to our students and using our responsibility as a university to create a positive, concrete action. We also want to ensure our graduates are equipped with the skills and knowledge to succeed in their careers. Sustainability will be an increasing part of this, no matter what profession our students choose to enter.

What sorts of themes will be included and how will these be relevant to my subject?

We'll be using the UN's Sustainable Development Goals as a framework to ensure we are taking a holistic approach to sustainability. These include environmental issues such as affordable and clean energy and climate action, but also action on poverty, inequality and global partnerships. This isn't necessarily just about climate change, but about the many other areas linked to sustainability. By using these goals we will ensure that sustainability is covered in a way that is relevant to the degree programme being taught.

Will ESD be for all students?

Yes. The plan is to integrate ESD into all courses. We want every Sheffield graduate to leave the University with an understanding of how they can make a difference.

Will I have to attend extra lectures?

No, we do not envisage ESD being in addition to existing course lectures. We are looking at the ways sustainability can be woven into existing degree programmes. There may be additional modules over time or extra curricular teaching which students can choose but we will not enforce extra compulsory teaching.

Will there be a number of specific lessons or will sustainability issues just be generally integrated into the curriculum?

It's too early to say at the moment. Sustainable education is going to be part of our Programme Level Approach, which looks at degree courses as a whole, rather than as individual modules, to provide students with a coherent journey through their programmes. In some courses this might mean specific lectures, but in others it will be about showing how topics fit into wider sustainability themes.

When will plans be implemented?

In many courses this content already exists and may form a key strand of the whole degree programme, but in others it will take longer. We will have embedded it into all of our courses within five years.