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9. Education for Sustainable Development

also commonly referred to as:

  • education for sustainable development (ESD -used in this guidance)
  • education for sustainability
  • learning for sustainability

What is meant by education for sustainable development?

‘There is increasing recognition that these three factors [economic, social and environmental] are interconnected, overlapping and interdependent. Drawing on both the 1987definition and its 2005 recalibration, the present guidance defines education for sustainable development as follows: Education for sustainable development is the process of equipping students with the knowledge and understanding, skills and attributes needed to work and live in a way that safeguards environmental, social and economic wellbeing, both in the present and for future generations.’ (The United Nations World Summit, 2005)

Education for sustainable development means working with students to encourage them to:

  • Consider what the concept of global citizenship means in the context of their own discipline and in their future professional and personal lives.
  • Consider what the concept of environmental stewardship means in the context of their own discipline and in their future professional and personal lives.
  • Think about issues of social justice, ethics and wellbeing, and how these relate to ecological and economic factors.
  • Develop a future- facing outlook.
  • Learning to think about the consequences of actions, and how systems and societies can be adapted to ensure sustainable futures.

The Education for Sustainable Development approach is characterised by being proactive in main-streaming sustainability across the curriculum rather than simply promoting a sustainability department or stand-alone sustainability course. Therefore only committing to supporting a sustainability department or course will not qualify for scores in this section.

Access to Higher Education


The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development recognises for the first time the contribution of migration to sustainable development. Migration is a cross-cutting issue, relevant to all of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). 11 out of 17 goals contain targets and indicators that are relevant to migration or mobility. The Agenda's core principle to "leave no one behind", including migrants.

The government mandates that universities wishing to charge above the basic rate of fees for undergraduate degrees are required to have an access and participation plan approved by the Office for Students. Universities will therefore usually have strategies for widening participation, but asylum seekers and people with limited leave to remain are rarely recognised in them.

Universities can play a further active role in enabling meaningful access to higher education for all members of society. Currently, thousands of young people with a irregular migrant status, and those seeking refugee or humanitarian protection or discretionary leave to remain are inhibited from attending higher education due to the fact that their legal status creates considerable financial barriers.

The post-2015 international sustainable development agenda contains three pillars; human rights, equality and sustainability. The UN Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights interprets Sustainable Development Goal 4 (which protects inclusive and equitable quality education and promotes lifelong learning opportunities for all) as requiring equal access to education and other essential services for migrant populations. We have included new criteria to help promote this sustainable development agenda within the UK in collaboration with expert advice from Let Us Lean and STAR

Commitment and governance for Education for Sustainable Development.

1. Does the university demonstrate commitment to education for sustainable development at a high level of strategy or senior responsibility?

Score maximum of 20%

People & Planet will use a variety of key word searches and also check sensible pages of the university website (where students, staff or interested parties might look) to see whether a senior member of staff is championing ESD or whether ESD features within the university mission statement, teaching and learning strategy, strategic plan or other high level guiding documents.

  • If there is evidence of commitment to ESD within the Sustainability Strategy only, the university will score 10%

Implementing and tracking progress in Education for Sustainable Development

Score - maximum of 45%

2a. Has the university developed a framework or strategy for ESD which includes the following:

  1. The university has mapped ESD impact and activity areas across teaching and learning operations

  2. The university has identified a mechanism for measuring and reporting on ESD which includes ‘input’ and ‘output’ style indicators

  3. The university is networking and sharing best practice in a self-defined community

  4. The university has developed an ESD strategy/plan and uses a framework to track progress and performance against an aspirational mission or vision

  5. The university supports student and staff engagement in ESD development


  • Universities could use an existing tool or externally verified scheme.

  • Universities could develop their own framework or strategy informed by best practice guidance.

  • The strategy or framework must be reported on regularly to a senior level of the university.

  • The strategy should be signed off and published within the last 5 years with clear lines for regular reporting and review.

  • People & Planet will look for a publicly available strategy or framework.

  • People & Planet will be able to score universities that demonstrate at least 3 of the 5 indicators above


2b. Has the university implemented a mechanism for reviewing and reporting on the progress of the integration of ESD into the curriculum [with named staff responsible for progress]?

NB: If the university has achieved 50% for having an ESD strategy, it will not be scored on this criterion.

Score 20%


  • People & Planet will find evidence of reporting and reporting structure on the university website.


Supporting Academic Staff

Score 10%

3. Does the university make available support and training to help all academic staff integrate ESD into the curriculum by..

  • a. Creating spaces for dialogue, collaboration and participation around ESD.

  • b. Provision of training in ESD.

  • c. Inviting trade union representatives to participate in the development of ESD.

  • d. Monitoring the uptake of staff training and development for ESD with resources for continual improvement.

  • e. Allocating a number of Continuing Professional Development hours in ESD for academic staff.

  • f. Supporting the development of resources for ESD.

  • g. Supporting and highlighting research for ESD - specifically the pedagogy and practice of ESD


  • Providing training or support on general environmental issues or environmental management does not count as this training is not focused on integrating sustainability into the curriculum.

  • People & Planet will look for online case studies or university advertisements, news items or events invitations that demonstrate that this work is taking place and evaluates it within the overall aim of the university ESD journey.

  • People & Planet will look for evidence of at least 3 of the areas above to be able to score universities on this criterion.


Education for Sustainable Development - research Actions

NB People & Planet are looking for current activity (that has clearly taken place within the last 18 months).

4a. Are coursework projects linked to the sustainable development of the university?

Score 10%


  • The coursework must be a component of a course taught by the university.
  • The coursework could be within any faculty or discipline, as long as it is related directly to the sustainability operations and / or environmental impact of the institution.
  • Not including internships or volunteering schemes i.e. they should be accredited modules on either under-graduate or post-graduate courses.
  • People & Planet will look for evidence of these projects highlighted on the university website.
  • This is often referred to as a Living Laboratory; where the university campus becomes the lab or ‘real world’ case study.

4b. Does the university audit and highlight research for sustainable development?

Research for sustainable development would:

  • reach beyond single discipline to an interconnected analysis of the world
  • address significant environmental and social sustainability challenges
  • aim to achieve the 3 pillars of sustainable development [social, economic and environmental]
  • be underpinned by, or aim to further understand the foundations of ecological limits and social justice
  • aim to achieve positive change in sustainable development

Score 10%


  • Research could be conducted by any faculty or be multi/ trans discipline
  • People & Planet will look for evidence that the university has audited all university research outputs to assess those which can be deemed to be research for sustainable development (e.g. results of a research for sustainable development audit)
  • People & Planet will look for evidence that the university has collated and is highlighting research for sustainable development undertaken by university students or academics
  • People & Planet appreciate some research is undertaken collaboratively with academics or teams from other universities

Equal Access to Higher Education 

Score - maximum 5%

5.  Does the university offer long-term residents with irregular migration status in the UK:

  • a. Scholarships to cover full tuition fees?
  • b. Grants and or bursaries to cover study and maintenance costs?
  • c. Does the university publish policy and support options in place to help enable equal participation of long-term UK residents with irregular migration status in University life?
  • d. Does the university provide and publish options for administrative support to long-term residents in the UK with irregular status [so that they can attempt to regularise their status in the country]?


  • People & Planet will look on the university website for evidence of the availability of scholarships that cover full tuition fees for Undergraduate courses.
  • People & Planet will look for evidence of scholarships and or grants and or bursaries to cover costs of living while studying on the university website. Question 5b is not asking about grants related to tuition fees. People & Planet will only award universities scores for Question 5b where the figures (amounts) available are published.
  • People and Planet will look for the policy and support options or support packages on the university website.
  • People & Planet will look for evidence of support options on the university website.
  • More information and a non-exhaustive list of examples for 5c

6. Does the university offer equal access to University education for asylum seekers and people who have sought refugee protection and been granted humanitarian protection or discretionary leave to remain, but do not yet have access to student finance?

  • 6a. Does the university classify all those seeking asylum as home students for fee purposes?
  • 6b. Does the university offer multiple scholarships that cover study and / or maintenance costs for people who have come to the UK seeking refugee protection.
  • 6c. Does the university publicise their Equal Access policies so that potential students can easily apply?
  • 6d. Does the university have policies in place to help support and enable the equal participation of asylum seekers in University life?


  • People & Planet will look for evidence on the university website of more than one scholarship that covers at least half of study costs and or maintenance costs for the duration of undergraduate and or postgraduate courses.
  • People & Planet will look for equal access policies and policy or support options on the university website.
  • Criteria for section 6 applies to undergraduate and or postgraduate courses.

further clarifications for this question including examples of support are in this document

Scoring clarifications

  • 5a - 0.5%
  • 5b - 0.5%
  • 5c - 0.5%
  • 5d - 0.5 %
  • 6a - 0.5%
  • 6b - 0.5%
  • 6c - 0.5%
  • 6d - 0.5%
  • If all 4 areas of criteria 5 are satisfied [a to d] the university will score the maximum available of 2.5%
  • If all 4 areas of criteria 6 are satisfied [a to d] the university will score the maximum available of 2.5%
  • If all 8 areas of criteria 5 and 6 are satisfied, the university will score the maximum available of 5%


NUS Responsible Futures programme

Quality Assurance Agency for HE and Higher Eduction Academy aims to help higher education institutions in the development of sustainability literate graduates who have the skills, knowledge and experience to contribute to an environmentally and ethically responsible society

The Future Fit Framework for Education for Sustainable Development (HEA & Prof. Stephen Sterling)

UNESCO expert review of processes and learning by Prof. Daniella Tilbury (2011) – UN Decade for ESD

Learning for Change: Scotland’s Action Plan for the Second Half of the UN Decade of Education for Sustainable Development

Professional practice for sustainable development

People & Planet clarifications and briefing notes for criterion 5 & 6 - Equal Access to Higher Education 

STAR - equal access campaign and scholarships

Young Gifted and Blocked campaign - by Let Us Learn (videos, news coverage etc)

Young Gifted and Blocked - letter from 120 students to universities asking to 'let us learn'

Young Gifted and Blocked -  a briefing paper for universities by Let Us Learn and Just for Kids Law