Students demand greener education sector

In February 2012, over 500 students wrote to universities Minister David Willetts, as part of People & Planet’s Go Green Week to demand a greener higher education sector. Specifically students and staff are calling for the government to:

1) Increase investment in carbon reduction & renewable energy for the education sector

We call on the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (DBIS) to commit to £100 million of new investment for the Hefce-run Revolving Green Fund 2 to boost renewable energy generation and carbon reduction project within the sector. The sector as a whole is not yet on track to reduce carbon emissions by 43% by 2020 (on 2005 levels). This investment is essential if the sector is to achieve its targets and meet its climate change responsibilities.

Hefce has admitted that the current planned investment of £10.8 million would only result in 18,500 tonne savings of CO2 per year, however the sector needs to cut emissions by around 230,000 tonnes per year to meet its 2020 targets. Results from the first round of the Revolving Green Fund (RGF1)1 show that the reductions achievable per million pound spend require an investment 10 times that currently being offered to the sector. The Government must increase funding to the Hefce-run Revolving Green Fund to the level necessary to help the sector achieve savings of at least a 230,000 tonne of CO2 by 2013.

2) Ensure every UK graduate is prepared with the skills and knowledge for a low-carbon economy.

The university sector could and should be a major contributor to society’s efforts to make the transition to a low-carbon economy – through the skills and knowledge that its graduates learn and put into practice.

Currently university funding is linked to their ability to meet national carbon reduction targets, but there is no explicit requirements on UK universities to integrate sustainability into their core activities (ie. teaching and research). We call on the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills to introduce a formal requirement linked to HE funding for all institutions to integrate education for sustainable development into their curricula.

This will be crucial to ensure that our society has graduates that are able to understand and tackle the interlinked social and environmental problems that we face over the next century.

3) Involve students and staff in developing a Transition Vision for the HE sector for 2020

How will universities need to adapt and change if they are to become sustainable, low-carbon, resilient institutions AND cut their carbon emissions by 43% by 2020? What would these ‘future-proof’ universities look like in 2020? We need thorough research and analysis to answer these questions and find out what the implications are for university estates, curriculum requirements, and international student numbers among other things.

We call on DBIS to establish a high level commission involving students, university staff, Vice Chancellors and other representative bodies to develop a 2020 Transition Vision for the HE sector and a strategy for achieving it. Students in particular should have a greater say in the future of the sector – especially given the rising tuition fees burden they are bearing to keep the higher education well funded.