CGHE 2020 Annual Conference webinar panel: Higher education and sustainability

Tristan McCowan, UCL Institute of Education (CHAIR)
Hilligje van’t Land, International Association of Universities (IAU)
Jackline Nyerere, Kenyatta University
Robin Shields, University of Bristol

Universities are heavily implicated in the current global crisis of climate and environment. They are the locus of most environmental science, and are spearheading the development of innovative technologies that may enable more sustainable futures. With increasing proportions of the population progressing to higher education, they also have a fundamental role in educating young people about sustainable development. At the same time, they are also contributors to climate change and environmental destruction, through their own emissions, their international students and academic travel, their investments, and their complicity with an economic and cultural model of wasteful consumption that has created the problems in the first place. This panel debates the current and potential roles of higher education in relation to sustainability. It assesses the impact that higher education systems have on graduate perceptions, attitudes and actions relating to the environment, the impact of their research and community engagement, their own campus operations, and the ways in which these might be transformed. It also engages with the complex ideological and epistemic questions surrounding sustainable development, distrust of experts and climate denial, and the role of student and staff activism and mobilisation.