University of Gloucestershire top the rankings for meeting student calls for climate action
Tuesday 16 July - 154 UK universities ranked on their sustainable development and only a third are on track to meet carbon reduction targets in 2020 - but higher education cuts to data collection may mean we'll never know.
The 11th People & Planet (1) University League (2) published today ranks all 154 UK universities on over 100 indicators that test for commitment, policy and performance in sustainable development. Currently celebrating its 50th year, the People & Planet student network first published the University League in 2007 in response to environmental inaction on campus.
As part of the research, People & Planet analyse carbon emissions data collated by the Higher Education Statistics Agency for all publicly funded UK universities and publish their results toward the sector wide target of 43% cuts on 2005 emissions by 2020. But just 1 year before the target date, the Office for Students are planning to drop carbon emission records for English universities, making it impossible to see whether universities have met a crucial carbon reduction target and leaving students shocked and frustrated in a period where many of them are organising strikes to demand action on the climate crisis.
This years results (3) have found that while some successes can be celebrated - including many improvements in teaching and learning for sustainable development education - the majority of universities have slowed down or plateaued on what was an energetic period of commitment and without government incentive it leaves universities allowing strategy, actions and even jobs for sustainability staff to lapse and not be replaced. This flies in the face of popular opinion among students of all ages who are regularly taking to the streets to call for action on climate change.
University of Gloucestershire win this years league, up from 2nd place in the previous table with a total score of 80.6% - a '1st class' in People & Planet's degree style classifications. Gloucestershire have ranked highly in the league since its inception and continue to impress and innovate, scoring highly across most criteria and by reaching their carbon reduction target early, having already reduced carbon by 46%. The university have divested (removed their investments) from all fossil fuels companies and believe in system change coming through their teaching and learning.
This year's University League revealed that the UK Higher Education sector is failing workers, particularly in international supply chains but also at their own universities with more than half of universities scoring 25% or less on this criteria and zero universities scoring full marks making it the poorest scoring area for the UK universities.
People & Planet Co-director J Clarke said:
"All institutions should adopt worker-driven monitoring, the real Living Wage for all staff and policies ensuring parity of pay and conditions between in-house and contracted staff. Students will accept nothing less."
The research also shows that only one third of universities with pledges to divest from fossil fuels have the commitment enshrined in policy.
76 UK higher education institutions have announced they would remove their investments from fossil fuel companies, but just 19 were awarded full marks by the People & Planet University League for explicitly screening out all fossil fuels in their ethical investment policies. A further 7 have policy to exclude just coal & tar sands.
University of Glasgow and Durham University have been high-profile fossil fuel divestment commitments but are included in those which have failed to make the pledge policy. Cardiff University and Kings College London are among the universities which do include their commitment in ethical investment policy.
Chris Saltmarsh, Co-Director: Climate Change Campaigns at People & Planet, commented:
“Universities’ failure to embed divestment commitments in policy is a crisis of accountability. Student bodies are always changing and without clear policy landmark pledges are easily brushed under the rug. We won’t allow universities to let themselves off the hook by waiting for students to leave before abandoning divestment.”
Steff Farley, 25, is a postgraduate researcher in mathematics at Loughborough University and has been campaigning on fossil fuel divestment for the past 2 years:
"Without this league table, universities are often accountable to nobody on these issues. By making this information public and transparent, People & Planet are helping students to hold their university management to account. Loughborough University is well behind other universities on sustainability and ethical criteria, our university needs to go further in developing a sustainability strategy, ditching banks that invest in fossil fuels and ensuring equal access for asylum seekers and students with irregular migration status."
This year is the first time universities are assessed on whether they enable migrants and those with an irregular migration status to access university (4) in line with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 4 which states that everyone should have access to “inclusive and equitable quality education” and “lifelong learning opportunities.”
People & Planet found that half of all UK universities had recognised barriers to higher education for refugees and migrants and were taking steps however most were only offering support for small numbers of students and half of universities doing nothing at all. King’s College London was exemplary here and found to be taking multiple approaches to support young people with an irregular immigration status.
Only 3 universities among 154 were found to be supporting people seeking asylum in a variety of ways including bursaries, offering counseling and admin support and these were University of Bath, University of Edinburgh and Queen Mary University of London.
Overall in the rankings, last years winners Manchester Metropolitan University take the 2nd spot and Nottingham Trent are ranked 3rd. The top 3 universities are steaming ahead with an impressive lead on scores which People & Planet say is down to senior management taking responsibility with vision and commitment to realising the opportunity for planning in university wide sustainable development.
University of Bristol are the top Russell Group university, ranked 11th overall with 5 Russell group institutions making the top 30. Imperial College London continue to fail in this years table ranking 130th but up from 141st in the previous league. Universities at the bottom of the table include St Georges, University of London, Royal College of Music and University of Dundee.
Top of the Scottish league is Glasgow Caledonian University, the only university in Scotland making it into the top 30, followed by University of Edinburgh ranked 38th overall. Of the 8 Welsh universities 3 make the top 30 with Swansea University taking the lead and ranked 9th in the UK. Of the 4 Universities in the north of Ireland, University of Ulster comes top.
Notes to Editor
Notes to Editor
The full methodology is published online at: https://peopleandplanet.org/university-league-methodology
(1) People & Planet are Britain’s largest and oldest student network campaigning to end world poverty, defend human rights and protect the environment. We’re a student-led movement that empowers young people with the skills, confidence and knowledge they need to make change happen on social and justice issues, at home and globally. Originally called Third World First, People & Planet were founded in 1969 by students at Oxford university, campaigning for global equality and justice.
(2) People & Planet are Britain’s largest and oldest student network campaigning to end world poverty, defend human rights and protect the environment. We’re a student-led movement that empowers young people with the skills, confidence and knowledge they need to make change happen on social and justice issues, at home and globally. Originally called Third World First, People & Planet were founded in 1969 by students at Oxford university, campaigning for global equality and justice.
(3) In 2019, the People & Planet University League ranked 154 UK universities – awarding them a First class degree, 2:1, 2:2, Third, or Fail – according to 13 criteria including: Environmental policy, auditing and human resources, and their performance in areas such as carbon reduction, waste and water recycling, student engagement, teaching and learning for sustainable development, energy efficiency, sustainable food and workers rights. The ranking combines information made public by universities online, with raw data obtained from the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA).