Sustainability at the heart of higher education institutions across Yorkshire – new report reveals today

Sustainability is at the heart of higher education institutions across Yorkshire – a new report published today reveals.

The new Yorkshire Universities guide also highlights how the commitment across the region’s HE sector to collaborate with external partners and embrace Service Learning was enabling students to obtain “real world opportunities” to use their skills and help address sustainability needs in their communities.

The positive findings are revealed today in Yorkshire Universities’ (YU) Good Practice Guide for Engaging Students with Sustainability through Service Learning.

The guide is designed as a blueprint that can be used by other institutions wishing to drive student engagement with sustainability. It is the culmination of a 15-month £20,000 pilot project funded by the UPP Foundation which included an audit of the extent to which the 12 YU institutions embedded sustainability in their curricula.

Examples cited include at the University of Leeds which has identified over 360 modules with a direct link to sustainability to the Environmental Sustainability at York (ESAY), a pioneering initiative at the University of York designed to promote environmental sustainability in research, teaching and operations, the University of Bradford’s Sustainable Futures Curriculum and the climate resilience labs at the University of Hull.

But crucially it also examined how the universities were approaching sustainability in Service Learning – defined as: universities providing educational opportunities for students to use their skills and knowledge on solving genuine sustainability issues in the region through collaborative partnerships between the higher education institutions (HEIs) and the communities they serve.

Today’s guide states the YU audit: “found evidence of significant dedication to sustainability across all twelve member institutions”. Whether it’s through student-led conferences, carbon literacy training or working together on community-focused projects, the universities acknowledge the “pivotal role” sustainability plays in their curricula.

The guide demonstrates that Service Learning was being embraced in a raft of ways across a diverse set of HEIs, and the students across the region were gaining invaluable experience in helping to solve real-life sustainability related challenges in their communities. As part of the pilot, all twelve YU member institutions were given £1,000 to use towards boosting Sustainability Service Learning activity and providing experiential learning opportunities.

Projects ranged from planting 10,000 sphagnum moss plugs during Sheffield Hallam University’s Conservation Day to York St John University piloting a student-led campus café that offers healthy, locally sourced food and provides opportunities for volunteering and developing leadership skills. Leeds Conservatoire enabled their students to carry out environmental field recordings and Leeds Beckett University invited a green building company to set a real-life brief for their students to solve as part of a challenge day.

Encouragingly, institutions reported that even a small amount of seed funding made a considerable positive difference, illustrating that small investments can yield significant outcomes.

A further £3,000 was assigned as prize money to a Multi-University Challenge Day that YU, with the support from the UPP Foundation, and Yorkshire and Humber Climate Commission (YHCC), organised in December 2023 bringing together 36 students from across the twelve regional institutions, with a diverse set of skills and backgrounds. In groups students were tasked with developing ideas on how to engage more students with sustainability while studying at university – a topic that directly aligns with the YHCC Regional Climate Action Plan. The winners were invited to present at the annual Student Sustainability Research Conference hosted by the University of Leeds that showcases student engagement from across the twelve YU members institutions.

Monika Antal, Assistant Director at Yorkshire Universities said:

“YU is proud to have led this pilot and we hope today’s guide will inspire other institutions to learn from what works in our experiences across the region.

The project demonstrated there is significant value for universities working in partnership to address sustainability challenges through Service Learning which benefits communities as well as offering students valuable real-world opportunities and experiential learning.

We also discovered that community partners benefit from a diverse range of student perspectives and small amounts of funding can help to engage a wider range of students who would otherwise not have got involved in sustainability activities.”

Richard Brabner, Executive Chair at UPP Foundation said: 

“Embedding local sustainability projects within the curriculum is great news for the towns and cities universities are from, great news for students who learn vital skills for the workplace, and great news for universities as it improves their reputation. We were proud to fund this project and warmly welcome the report from Yorkshire Universities. We hope it inspires more student sustainability initiatives across the higher education sector.”

The YU Good Practice Guide can be accessed HERE.

Join us for the launch of this guide on MS Teams on 24 June between 4-5pm.

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