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Education for Sustainable Development at the University of Hull

'We are committed to ensuring that every student engages meaningfully with their role in shaping a fairer, brighter and carbon neutral future, using the UN Sustainable Development Goals as a common framework across all programmes to aid understanding and inspire action'

There is significant demand across the UK from students for greater inclusion of sustainability in the formal curriculum: 91% of students say they agree that their place of study should incorporate and promote sustainable development and 84% would like to see sustainable development actively incorporated and promoted throughout all courses (NUS-SOS Sustainability Survey 2020-21).

Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) develops competencies (UNESCO 2017; Giangrande et al 2019), and links them to subject knowledge, supporting students (and staff) to contribute to a more sustainable future (AdvanceHE QAA 2021). These include key competencies that are widely recognised as among the top and emerging employability skills including systems thinking, critical thinking, active learning, collaboration, complex problem-solving, creativity and emotional intelligence (World Economic Forum 2020).

The UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) set out a framework for eliminating poverty, taking action on climate change, achieving gender equality, ensuring inclusive education, promoting lifelong learning opportunities, and creating a more just and sustainable future for all. The SDGs can be used to identify links within and between disciplines and key issues in sustainability.

ESD is defined as “the process of creating curriculum structures and subject-relevant content to support and enact sustainable development” (AdvanceHE QAA 2021). It also “empowers learners to take informed decisions and responsible actions for environmental integrity, economic viability and a just society, for future generations, while respecting cultural diversity” (UNESCO 2017).

In 2022/23, 8 student partners representing 7 programme clusters worked with academic staff in their disciplines on SOS-UK’s ESD Changemakers project. First, students conducted a curriculum mapping exercise, assessing the extent to which the module specifications for their programme of study included, either implicitly or explicitly, the UN Sustainable Development Goals, the ESD Competencies, teaching practices that support ESD, and several university frameworks.
Our students then used the mapping results to work with academic partners to explore how ESD, and sustainability more generally, could be embedded in their programmes, and presented these at a final learning event in May 2023, making several exciting suggestions, some of which are quick wins, others longer term, ambitious projects. We hope to see some of these coming to fruition in the future!

Most students come to university to study their discipline, and our student partners raised the question of whether sustainability should be made more explicit, because it might not be something that students want. All agreed that there was value in understanding the links between their discipline and the full breadth of sustainability, and in developing the skills and competencies linked to ESD, regardless of their discipline, but very much in the context of their discipline.

You can read more about the project, and about student skills development, in this SOS-UK blog.

For more information and for support with mapping your own programme against these frameworks, please contact the Teaching Excellence Academy.


AdvanceHE QAA (2021) Education for Sustainable Development Guidance.

Giangrande et al (2019) A Competency Framework to Assess and Activate Education for Sustainable Development: Addressing the UN Sustainable Development Goals 4.7 Challenge. Sustainability 2019, 11, 2832. 

NUS-SOS (2021) Sustainability Skills Survey 20/21 

UNESCO (2017) Education For Sustainable Development Goals: Learning Objectives

World Economic Forum (2020) Future of Jobs Report 

Photo by Richard Bell on Unsplash

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