Students driving curriculum quality for sustainability
One of our ongoing aims at CSF is to drive up standards in sustainability learning at universities. Funded by the Quality Assurance Agency (QAA), we are working on a project led by University of Gloucestershire and in collaboration with King’s College London, drawing on best practice and an Education for Sustainability assessment framework.
Our Student Associate Roberta Davico shares insights on this collaborative project below.
A survey conducted in 2020 by Students Organising for Sustainability (SOS) UK revealed that 84% of students expect sustainable development to be integrated into all university courses. However, a benchmark to define and measure the quality of Education for Sustainability (EfS) doesn’t exist, and it is increasingly difficult for students to understand the depth of the sustainability education in their courses. I participated in this project as an LCF student and Climate Advocate. Between July 2022 and July 2023, I worked closely with students from University of Gloucestershire and King’s College London to raise students’ perspectives on EfS, and to create a tool for students to better understand what a quality EfS is.
“Students’ experience was at the core of this project – in fact, by involving them in defining sustainability benchmarks and principles, universities can empower students to contribute to a more sustainable future and to a positive change within their educational institutions and beyond.”
At the beginning of the project, I participated in a workshop with the partner universities to bring the students’ perspectives in defining the principles that identify good sustainability education. My role as a Climate Advocate at LCF allowed me to understand what matters to LCF students, and to bring a spectrum of voices to the table.
Afterwards, I participated in a workshop where students were asked to use the principles to rate their course, and to give feedback on the principles themselves. It was very interesting to listen to the range of students’ opinions that emerged about what type of education they would like to receive and what they are interested in. A spectrum of attitudes around EfS emerged. On one side of the spectrum, a group of students had radical views about sustainability, and were keen to deepen their knowledge as they considered climate and social justice a prerequisite of university courses. On the other hand, some students approached the topic with a focus on employability in mind, and wanted to understand how they could transfer EfS capabilities into their future careers. As an international student, I understand this point of view, and I empathise with the concerns of students who rely on a stable job to be able to stay in the UK.
My impression is that during the workshop students gained more insights into what a good EfS looks like, while making constructive criticism of the set of principles to measure sustainability education, and actively participating in its improvement. In fact, the rating workshops created a safe space for these conversations to exist, and for students’ voices and opinions to be heard and valued.
To facilitate this process, we created a “take action” section on the student toolkit website, where we outlined possible next steps for students who want to make changes to their course curriculums. In this way, students can not only understand if their course is offering them a good EfS grounding, but they can also take action and try to improve the course for their cohort and future students.
I think that the rating has the potential to become a useful tool to manage the gap between expectations and experience. In fact, this rating system could give students the possibility to make more informed choices, and to evaluate and compare university courses based on the quality of EfS content.
“I believe that the rating system is not only a useful tool to understand the quality of university courses in relation to Education for Sustainability, but also enables students to feel empowered to start conversations both with their peers and with academic staff.”
Finally, collaborating on this project has informed my role as a Climate Advocate, as it gave me more insights on how to measure the quality of sustainability education, and what students want to learn and analyse.
Roberta Davico’s bio:
I graduated from MA Fashion Design Management and I’m currently working as Operations & Impact Officer at BEEN London, a brand with the mission of creating beautiful bags from waste materials. I am very passionate about climate justice in the fashion industry, and the role that institutions can play to increase environmental standards and the wellbeing of people involved in the whole supply chain. I believe that university might be the place where students lay the foundations of their future professional and personal choices, and therefore an occasion to build an understanding of the social, racial and environmental issues of the industry.
As part of my work as a Climate Advocate, I scoped the curriculum of two programmes of the LCF Fashion Business School to create a shared understanding of how these courses drive sustainability through the UN Global Goals. Overall, I believe that there are interesting opportunities for the Fashion Business School curriculums to incorporate a more holistic teaching of sustainability, considering the implications of business decisions not only on companies but on the larger group of stakeholders.