UK higher education signs partner deal with UN to promote global sustainability study

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July 23, 2014

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UK higher education has underlined its commitment to sustainability studies through North-South collaboration on developing specialist graduates in the area.

The Environmental Association for Universities and Colleges (EAUC) has just agreed a three-year partnership with the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) to advance sustainable innovation.

The partnership brings together more than 230 UK universities and colleges who are EAUC member organisations with UNEP’s Global Universities Partnership on Environment and Sustainability (GUPES) network.

This is a welcome move and the team here hope that our work and strategic discussions with education institutions will help to underpin the initiative through practical steps on sustainability across the campuses of the UK, while helping to remove any understandable inertia within the system.

GUPES features more than 430 universities and regional partners from five continents and is focused on three key pillars:

  • Education
  • training
  • networking.

The intention is that UK universities and colleges will lead and learn from other prime movers in sustainability, particularly from the Global South. The partnership will strive to link and support tertiary education institutions worldwide in their sustainability developments through to 2017 and beyond.

The GUPES flagship programme fosters closer linkages between the UN’s policy domain and universities worldwide, and is part of the Environmental Education and Training Unit. GUPES was initiated after a 2010 consultative forum in Nairobi in 2010. It builds on the successes of the Mainstreaming Environment and Sustainability in African Universities, Mainstreaming Environment and Sustainability in the Caribbean Universities and the Asia-Pacific Regional University Consortium.

Iain Patton, CEO of EAUC, says: “The EAUC view is that our member UK universities and colleges have to take the lead on a global scale to ensure our students have the skills and knowledge to ensure a social, economic and environmentally responsible future for us all. We are excited to be putting our members on the map and working together with UNEP to bring this change.”

Mahesh Pradhan, Head of UNEP’s Environmental Education and Training Unit (EEUT), says: “UNEP seeks to enhance engagement with the higher education community, in empowering the next generation of sustainability leaders across the planet. This partnership with EAUC complements current efforts of the Global Universities Partnership on Environment and Sustainability (GUPES), whereby new opportunities for exchange of sustainability knowledge, experiences and networking are created.”

The agreement will also help to expand the Green Gown Awards across the globe with an emphasis on profiling and learning from the Global South. The awards recognise exceptional sustainability initiatives of universities and colleges across the UK, covering all aspects, including teaching, research, leadership, buildings, food and communities. The UK and Australasia Green Gown Awards are now in their 10th and 5th year, respectively, while the French speaking Awards is a new addition this year.

The partnership also wants to encourage universities and colleges to measure sustainability performance, particularly using the Platform for Sustainability Performance in Education. This platform, supported by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), the UNEP, Principles for Responsible Management Education (PRME) and the Global Compact, brings together organisations that have created sustainability assessment tools designed to support universities and colleges.

It is also designed to assist commitments of Higher Education Sustainable Initiative signatories and can also support complementary Rio+20 initiatives, for example, the People’s Sustainability Treaty on Higher Education.

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