Our commitment to Education for Sustainable Development (ESD)
As we head towards our centenary, we are not only reflecting on our past but looking towards the future. Ours is a global, shared future in which we equip our students with the skills and knowledge they need to help build a sustainable future for all. Our Partnering for the Planet website provides climate science facts and actions, to help educate and raise awareness for all.
Sustainability has become a cornerstone of our strategy and is one of the four principles informing our work. Our Executive Board has agreed that, as one of our priorities, we will embed environmental sustainability across both our curriculum and staff training programmes.
In 2021 the University agreed a proposal to further embed sustainable development in our curriculum. The Steering Group set up to oversee this work reports to our main Teaching and Learning committee and is sponsored by one of our Pro-Vice-Chancellors (Education and Student Experience), Professor Peter Miskell. The Steering Group is working toward the following goals:
- That all graduates of the University will have a fundamental understanding of the concepts related to Sustainable Development
- That our students are enabled and empowered to become effective in positively contributing to sustainability problem-solving in their lives, professions, and communities
Currently, all students have the opportunity to develop an understanding of the concepts related to Sustainable Development through access to key University-wide modules and co- or extra-curricular activities such as the RED Award (with many students choosing to take up volunteering opportunities with organisations like ZSL Instant Wild, Reading Climate Action Network and Zooniverse). Building on this success, the University has launch the RED Sustainable Action Award which is dedicated to encouraging learning, action and advocacy for sustainability, open to all students and with an expanded portfolio of projects in which to participate. In the Spring term of 2023 Reading University Students’ Union held its first Reading University Student Sustainability Summit which saw students, staff and alumni from a range of disciplines present their research on topics associated with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.
Our current Teaching and Learning Strategy focuses on ‘educating for 21st century lives’ and the challenges that entails. Within this Strategy, sustainable development is implicit within our priorities to deliver excellence through the Curriculum Framework and its focus on developing global engagement and multicultural awareness as a graduate attribute, and the underpinning academic principles of diversity, inclusivity and global perspectives.
The Curriculum Framework was revised in the Summer 2021 and includes a statement on ESD as part of the Graduate Attribute “Global and future-facing outlook”. The updated attribute indicates that our graduates should be equipped with the skills to “positively contribute to addressing sustainability issues within the context of their discipline, their personal lives, professions and communities.” This is clearly feeding through to our graduates as the Graduate Outcomes survey from 2017/18 graduates, with the census taken 15 months post-graduation shows 99.8% of graduates had chosen to work in areas with we would deem as ethical employment with only 0.2% electing to work in the fossil fuel, tobacco or arms-related industries.
Additionally, the revised Curriculum Framework expands Principle 4: Sustainability to include a statement that “programmes integrate education for sustainable development appropriate to the discipline, which is achieved by embedding opportunities and empowering students to engage with environmental, social and economic challenges within their programme and beyond.”
Providing a framework for ESD
The University Board for Teaching and Learning and Student Experience (UBTLSE) has a sub-committee: Education for Sustainable Development (ESD), chaired by a senior academic, Dr Stuart Black. The ambition to embed environmental sustainability across our curriculum and staff training programmes aligns with one of the objectives of our educational strategy “to strive for enhanced global environmental sustainability” and one of our graduate attributes of “global engagement and multicultural awareness.”
In developing our framework for ESD across the University we are working towards;
- Ensuring that ESD is the business of all subjects at the University but experienced in a way that is authentic to the discipline. This will be done by underpinning approaches to ESD with the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as the overarching framework, though with special recognition of the University's expertise in Climate Action (SDG13) and environmental sustainability (where appropriate).
- Ensuring that a bespoke University-Wide Module (UWM) is developed and made available to provide a comprehensive grounding in climate and environmental sustainability for all students. We will review existing relevant modules in the 2023/24 academic year and determine how to implement this additional resource for students.
Examples of best practice in delivering ESD
As part of the FutureLearn Campus initiative, students enjoy free unlimited access to a collection of short online courses developed by experts from the University of Reading and partners from EIT Food and the Royal Meteorological Society. The courses deal with topics as diverse as cutting food waste, teaching climate and sustainability in primary schools and using systems thinking to tackle the climate and biodiversity crisis. Completion of one or more of these courses also counts towards the 'acquire' element of the RED Sustainable Action Award.
- In addition to key modules embedded in programmes on climate change and sustainability, the Department of Meteorology offer an optional module, MT1CC Science of Climate Change, aimed at all students, not just those studying the sciences. Students can learn directly from our worldwide experts about why the climate is changing, how we can avoid the most devastating consequences, and what we can do to adapt as the planet warms.
- The School of Archaeology, Geography and Environment Sciences provides students both within and outside of their School access to modules on environmental and social issues linked to climate. These include GV1EI Environmental Issues, and GV2CSR Corporate Social Responsibility and GV3CPS Consumption, Politics and Space.
- Within the School of Agriculture and Policy Development, the module AP1A28 Global Sustainability: Challenges and Prospects, introduces students to key ecological and eco-social challenges of our time with associated debate across several disciplines. As a number of other modules with environmental/sustainability themes are offered.
- The School of Politics, Economics and International Relations runs two modules on climate change: EC110 The Economics of Climate Change and PO1PCC Politics of Climate Change.
- The ICMA Centre in Henley Business School delivers ICM1003 Climate Change and Sustainable Business and Finance and ICM2001 Climate Change and Risk Management.
- The Institute of Education has applied its Climate Education and Sustainability Initial Teacher Education (ITE) Framework to all its initial teacher training programmes, so that all its trainees are empowered to effectively incorporate climate education and sustainability within their teaching across all levels and subjects as part of the National Climate Education Action Plan. Our Institute of Education students learn about what is happening with the climate and how to help children to learn about climate and sustainability, climate justice and the impact of changes to our environment and climate, as well as how to translate that knowledge and theory into purposeful action.
Supporting staff to deliver the ESD Agenda
Our Academic Development and Enhancement Team offers a wealth of training opportunities, many of which are linked to the principles of the Curriculum Framework, which includes a new principle:
Programmes integrate education for sustainable development appropriate to the discipline. This is achieved by embedding opportunities and empowering students to engage with environmental, social and economic challenges within their programme and beyond.
In 2021 we introduced a range of training sessions to support this recently introduced principle, these included a session called ‘Establishing Education for Sustainable Development’ and another called ‘Mainstreaming Sustainability Teaching’. The University is currently undergoing a Portfolio Review (as party of our Strategy Implementation Project), and our Academic Development and Enhancement Team will be working with Schools to implement new Programme Expectations which will be underpinned by the principles in the revised Curriculum Framework. Schools are being asked to review their programmes and undertake a ‘Programme Visioning’ exercise which will encourage them to consider how ESD is manifested in their programmes.
We also offer spaces for staff to discuss practices and concepts relating to the delivery of teaching and learning. Our Academic Development and Enhancement Team facilitates a number of Teaching and Learning fora for the sharing of ideas and best practice. Our School Directors of Teaching and Learning Lunches, Programme Director Community of Practice, and work with Programme Teams provide spaces for participant-led discussions about key topics of interest.
The Academic Development and Enhancement Team continue to provide support to Schools as they engaged in ESD in the redesign and refresh of their programmes.
At the start of our ESD journey we invited Dr Alison Grief, Director of Education and for Sustainability at Anglia Ruskin University, to lead a guided discussion about education for sustainable development at our National Teaching Fellow/Principal Fellow Community of Practice. This event has been a catalyst for wider discussions as the Fellows disseminated the ideas amongst their colleagues.
Building on this, in September 2022, our Teaching and Learning Festival featured Professor Zoe Robinson from Keele University who gave a keynote address on Response and Responsibility: Creating a sustainable future through higher education. The Festival also provided opportunities to discuss ideas closely linked to sustainable development in a series of breakout sessions and workshops, including presentation from staff detailing the ways in which they had embedded ESD in their programmes or associated activities.
Additional Funding for ESD Projects
The University provides funding to projects designed to enhance our Teaching and Learning provision. The funding criteria for the awards ask applicants to align them with the University’s strategic priorities (including sustainability). The University makes awards on an annual basis and has seen an increase in applications with a sustainability or ESD focus. The University Teaching & Learning Enhancement Projects (TLEP) scheme offers 'start-up' funding of up to £2,500 to encourage and enable staff involved in teaching or supporting teaching and learning to experiment and develop practice. We were delighted that three of the 2022 winners were projects related to sustainable development. Winners of the 2023 awards are due to be announced shortly.
Previously funded projects have included the Bee Meadow Project (to create an evolving living laboratory for the Institute of Education), a project to explore the further use of University campuses as living laboratories for Education for Sustainable development, and a project on Co-constructing and evaluating the climate and sustainability education national framework across programmes at the Institute of Education.
In addition, we recently initiated the scoping for a series of outdoor teaching spaces to be implemented on the University campuses. We imagine these to have a strong sustainable leaning and to embrace the ethos and the aims of our ESD approaches. We aim to establish these teaching spaces such that they can be used by both teaching staff, students and the wider community and will be designed in such a way to enhance and embed our principles and commitment to a sustainable future.
The findings from these activities will inform and support the wider adoption of ESD across the University’s teaching and learning activities.
ESD for the Real World - Students Applying Their Knowledge
Environmental research is centre-stage at the University of Reading. Two-hundred academics and hundreds of postdoctoral researchers and PhD students come together within our Environment research theme to explore, understand, and address the challenges of environmental changes, both natural and those shaped by humans.
We are working to maximise the opportunities for collaboration between our students, staff and community partners to apply insightful and innovative research across our campuses and in our local area to meet the challenges that our world is facing.
We have embedded sustainability into a number of projects within our Undergraduate Research Opportunities Programme (UROP). The following are examples of recent UROP projects with a sustainable focus. The projects last 6 weeks over the summer break. Students involved in UROP receive a bursary of £1,320. Since 2006, the University of Reading has supported over 800 students with their projects. Some example projects are outlined below, but from 2017 to 2022, 63 such projects were funded totally £83,160 in areas covering sustainability.
2023 UROP Projects
- Characterising Peruvian soils for projecting crop yields under future climate change
- Effect of climate change on North Atlantic Ocean temperature and effects worldwide
- Evaluating vegetation in the UK Earth System Model (UKESM) using Machine Learning
- A University of Reading (UoR) and Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists (RCSLT) collaboration for a sustainable future in speech and language therapy.
- Examining meteorological data from high-elevation environments
- Controlling mould to protect children's health
- Investigating ecosystem failure in Greenmoor Ponds in Woodcote, South Oxfordshire, for Ecological restoration
- The influence of grazing on comparisons between natural and restored saltmarshes
- Measuring drought effects in potato using 3D multispectral imaging
- Can Earth Observation facilitate sustainable development of livestock production?
- Quantifying the impacts of landscape heterogeneity and habitat availability on farmland bird communities
- Assessing the impacts of environmental enrichment on Dairy calf welfare
- Do frost-sensitive cover crops promote earthworms and increase soil carbon and yield in UK arable farms?
- Food labelling for sustainability
- The effects of wildflower habitat on commercial apple pests and their natural enemies
- Mitigating climate change: how fungal interactions augment soil carbon-sequestration
- Examining daily patterns in time-use behaviour in the United Kingdom from 1974 to 2014
- Spectral signatures of the solar irradiance within the tree canopy shade
- Studying the effect of ventilation policies on exposure to indoor pollution
- Associations between environmental microbiome and human activities.
- How green is a healthy diet?
2022 UROP Projects
- Repurposing town centres: The case of the Reading cycle parking hub
- The contribution of trees on farms to soil carbon
- Variability of Drought-Stress Markers in Potato
- Supporting small-scale farmer adaptation to changing temperatures
- What drives differences in apple pollinator communities in different regions of the UK?
- Farm assurance schemes as knowledge hubs for sustainable agriculture
- How do regenerative farming practices affect belowground biodiversity in UK arable farms?
- Natural enemies, pests and climate change: monitoring the functional response of Anthocoris nemoralis under future climate.
- The effects of wildflower habitat on commercial apple pests and their natural enemies.
- Assessing the impact of land-use on soil carbon storage in a managed landscape
- Carbon (dis)benefits of face-to-face, online and blended education
- Evolution and Diversification on a Green Planet (2 x students)
- Characterising changes in simulated Euro-Atlantic climate extremes at stabilised global warming levels
- Early warning system for extreme precipitation over Southeast Asia
- Role of abrupt changes in North Atlantic Ocean temperature on future changes in West African precipitation
- The impact of decarbonisation of heating systems on urban microclimate, energy, and environmental performance of buildings during the transitional period to net-zero carbon in 2050
- Do tree clustering arrangements affect the local microclimate?
2021 UROP Projects
- Weather-wise buildings: taking advantage of weather information for better passive building design
- ENVISION - Monitoring of Environmental Practices for Sustainable Agriculture Supported by Earth Observation
- Exploring the potential for agri-tech to contribute to the environmental sustainability of farming systems
- Sustainable biocontrol and the role of wildflower habitats in apple orchards
- Assessing the impact of bee health on pollination service and crop yields
- Ozone exposure and health impacts in urban environments
- Effect of a mitigation strategy on effects of climate change
- Green chemistry in undergraduate practical classes: how can experiments be adapted to reduce their environmental impact?
'A Living Laboratory'
By using the University’s facilities and surrounds as a ‘Living Lab’, we provide opportunities for students to gain practical skills and direct experience in applying research, help shape how we improve our environmental performance, use our resources efficiently, and work towards a thriving, sustainable university. Our undergraduate students are actively engaged in sustainability across our campuses. You can find out more about their work below:
Investigating the amount of food waste generated in offices and academic areas on campus (2023)
A Victorian Building Retrofit (2023)
The effect and arrangements of indoor plants on IEQ of office (2023)
Investigating the potential of sustainable roof configurations on a localised Urban Heat Island during Autumn/Winter months (2023)
Developing a visual waste composition analysis to inform waste management strategies (Summer 2022)
IEQ of the UoR library after refurbishment (March 2022)
IEQ of a modular building – Chancellors Building (March 2022)
Lessons from refurbished buildings – Harry Pitt Building (March 2022)
Potential of PV and the GSHP at Carrington Building & other UoR buildings (February 2022)
Carbon sequestration research (2021)
This initiative ties directly into two of the University’s six sustainability themes: Biodiversity and Green Infrastructure, and Carbon Management. As noted in the University’s Environmental Sustainability goals, we aim to “Reduce our carbon footprint by developing woodlands or other landscapes that sequester carbon...” and “Place sustainability and biodiversity at the heart of our community, including management of campuses and other landholdings.”
Greywater and Greenlands Campus - Summer 2021
Sustainable takeaway food packaging (Summer 2021)
Evaluation of the Chancellors Building (May 2021)
Electricity consumption within our Library (May 2021)
Energy efficiency in Edith Morley tower (May 2020)
We regularly receive requests for energy data for our buildings on our campuses which are used in student studies and research.
For example, we supplied an MSc student with electricity use and solar generation data for several buildings for a study looking at the potential of battery storage to smooth supply and demand.
University of Sanctuary
The University of Reading has recently been recognised as a University of Sanctuary. This award 'recognises ‘universities that have gone above and beyond to provide an understanding, compassionate, and safe experience that would enable people seeking sanctuary to thrive and recognise their potential’.
Supporting Students - Sanctuary Scholarships
The University offers scholarships to eligible sanctuary seekers (people with refugee, humanitarian protected, or asylum seeker status) through our Sanctuary Scholarships scheme. The scheme has been running since 2018 and offers the following awards each year to eligible applicants:
- 5 fee waivers each year that cover the tuition fees for our 11–week English Language programme (starting in June each year) – £4,565 in 2022
- 4 bursary payments of £5,000+ each year of study for new applicants to undergraduate courses* with refugee or humanitarian protection status
- 1 bursary payment of £10,000+ (pro rata–ed for part-time students) for new applicants to postgraduate taught courses with refugee or humanitarian protection status
- 1 Scholarship of a fee waiver and a bursary payment of £14,200+ for each year of study for new applicants to undergraduate courses with asylum seeker status
- 1 Scholarship of a fee waiver and a bursary payment of £14,200+ (pro rata–ed for part-time students) for new applicants to postgraduate taught courses with asylum seeker status
- 10 Scholarships for 2022/3 entry of a full tuition fee waiver and a bursary payment of £5,000 (pro rata–ed for part-time students) for each year of study for new entrants to undergraduate courses* or postgraduate taught courses who have entered the UK under the Ukraine Family Scheme or the Ukraine Sponsorship (Homes for Ukraine) scheme. In addition, scholars under this route will be eligible for a full fee waiver which cover the tuition fees for our 11–week English Language programme (starting in June 2022) as well as reimbursement of the cost of a single English Language test, from our list of approved providers, up to the value of £185.