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 (ESD)?

‘There is increasing recognition that these three factors [economic, social and environmental] are interconnected, overlapping and interdependent. Drawing on both the 1987 definition 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.

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 on sustainability pages of the university website 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.

Implementing and tracking progress in Education for Sustainable Development

Score maximum of 45%

2a. The university has developed or uses a framework or strategy for ESD

Score 25%


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

  • External frameworks such as SOS-UK's Responsible Futures are accepted. People & Planet will look for evidence of the framework on the university website and check the status with SOS-UK directly. Universities awarded ‘working towards’ status will receive 10% for this question.

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

  • Signed off and published within the last 5 years.

  • People & Planet will find a publicly available strategy or framework on the university website.

  • This can include mapping ESD impact and activity across teaching and learning.

  • Any framework must be university-wide to score points on this question.

2b. The university has a mechanism for reviewing and reporting on progress of the integration of Education for Sustainable Development into the curriculum with named person(s) responsible for progress.

Score 20%


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

  • The strategy or framework must be reported on within the last 5 years to a senior level of the university.

Supporting Academic Staff

3. The university makes available support AND training to help all academic staff integrate Education for Sustainable Development into the curriculum by either:

Score 10%

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

  • Provision of training in ESD.

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

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

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

  • Supporting the development of resources for ESD.

  • Full award holders of Responsible Futures will also score points for this question


  • 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.

Education for Sustainable Development Actions

Score maximum of 20%

NB People & Planet are looking for activity -highlighted in case studies or news items on the university website- that has taken place within the last 12 months.

4a Does the university promote real-world learning of skills for ESD, through the use of its setting as a ‘Living Lab’?

Score 10%


  • People and Planet defines Living Labs as ‘activities that create real-world learning and research opportunities for students, while bringing social and/or environmental benefits to the university or wider community. They can be credit-awarding or extra-curricular.’

  • The learning could be from any department or discipline, as long as it related directly to the sustainability operations and / or environmental impact of the institution.

  • People & Planet will find evidence of projects highlighted on the university website.

  • Living labs are separate to community engagement in that they are organized by an academic department and have clear learning outcomes.

4b. The university supports and highlights School, Faculty or Research team projects for Sustainable Development

Score 5%


  • Projects could be from any discipline or multiple disciplines.

  • People & Planet will find such ESD projects on the university website.

4c Does the university have published criteria for the acceptance of research funding, donations, gifts and sponsorship via external partnerships and collaborations?

Score 5%

  • Policies must be signed off at a senior level and reviewed or updated within the last 5 years.

  • Acceptance Criteria should include considerations of the suitability of the private companies providing funds to the university on ethical*, scientific, environmental or medical grounds, or its alignment with the stated mission, vision or strategy of the institution. Criteria may also exclude entire industries based on the same grounds.

  • It is not necessary to state such a reason in policy for marks to be awarded, but refusing funds from illegal sources of income will not score points, e.g. terrorism, criminal activity

  • The policy must apply, at minimum, to all research grants, contracts, and monies received from third-party sources for research purposes, but could be covered under a broader policy which governs the acceptance of donations, sponsorship, and other income.

  • *Committing to always declaring conflicts of interest does not score points here. We are looking for a stated commitment on the acceptance criteria for external partnerships in the first instance.

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). 7 out of 17 goals contain targets and indicators that are relevant to migration or mobility. The Agenda's core principle is to "leave no one behind", including migrants.

The government mandates that universities that are registered as ‘Approved (fee cap)’ by the Office for Students are required to have an access and participation plan, or similar agreement approved by the Office for Students, or devolved nation funding body. 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 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 We Belong andSTAR.

Following a 2022 Judicial Review of SAAS’s decision not to award student Ola Jasim tuition fee support , the Scottish government has amended the eligibility requirements for students with limited leave to remain in the UK, and young asylum seekers. Therefore, all Scottish universities will automatically receive points for questions 5a and 5c of the Education for Sustainable Development question.

5. a Does the university offer multiple scholarships for the full duration and cost of the degree programme, or a full fee waiver, for people in the process of seeking asylum? 1%

5.b Does the university offer multiple scholarships for the full duration and cost of the degree programme, or a full fee waiver, for people with refugee status or humanitarian protection? 1%

5.c Does the university offer multiple scholarships for the full duration and cost of the degree programme, or a full fee waiver, for people with other limited forms of leave to remain in the UK? 1%


We will award marks to universities offering scholarships to individuals with other limited forms of leave, in particular we’re looking for scholarship programs for UK residents with discretionary leave or limited leave to remain. This may include, but is not restricted to, a limited leave to remain on grounds of Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights, and people who are on the route to citizenship. In many cases people with limited forms of leave in the UK are not eligible for student finance.


  • Multiple scholarships means there must be more than one scholarship available, which are for the full cost of tuition and the full duration of the degree programme.

5.d Does the university offer support for living costs equivalent to that received through student finance to any of the groups in Education for Sustainable Development questions 5.a-5.c? 1%


  • Points only available if multiple scholarships are also offered.

5.e Does the university include any of the groups mentioned in Education for Sustainable Development questions 5.a-5.c in their Access and Participation plan, or equivalent agreement with a devolved funding body? 1%

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