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Sustainability in the Curriculum

Sustainability in the Curriculum

‘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.’

(Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education, Education for sustainable development: Guidance for UK higher education providers, June 2014, p. 5)

The University of St Andrews is committed to teaching sustainability in its broadest terms across the whole curriculum. This is supported by the new institutional strategy which states we must:

  • ensure our students graduate with a clear sense of their environmental responsibilities as global citizens;
  • deliver teaching that…responds to changed needs in…social responsibility, and environmental sustainability.

The Sustainability in the Curriculum Committee is responsible for finding creative ways to pursue the following five goals

  1. Give every student opportunities to engage seriously with sustainability concerns during their studies.
  2. Provide opportunities for staff to receiving training with respect to integrating sustainability into their teaching.
  3. Provide opportunities for the dissemination and sharing of practice in sustainability related teaching.
  4. Build an external reputation for the integration of sustainability in learning and teaching. 
  5. Celebrate staff/student achievement and excellence with respect to the learning and teaching of sustainability in the curriculum

The Committee is chaired by the Associate Dean (Education) of Arts & Divinity and attended by Associate Dean (Education) of Science, academics, representatives from the Environment Team and Academic Policy Office, the Student Association Director of Education and the President of the Students’ Association.  It meets every two months to plan and progress actions around Sustainability in the Curriculum. 

Background to sustainability in the curriculum at the University of St Andrews

Sustainability is increasingly an important part of the St Andrews curriculum and not simply limited to subjects where it is a natural fit such as Geography, Biology and Sustainable Development.

Students across all Schools have opportunities to engage with sustainability concerns. Flexible degree pathways, executive education programmes and public outreach activities allow students to tailor learning to their interests including options that focus on climate change, environmental management, business and corporate social responsibility, sustainable technologies, social justice, international development, policy and implementation, and knowledge and education for sustainability. Background 1

The current initiative builds on over 10 years of an undergraduate degree in Sustainable Development and continued cross-faculty commitment to embedding sustainability in the curriculum. The University of St Andrews set up its first interdisciplinary undergraduate degree in Sustainable Development in response to the United Declaration that 2005-2015 would be the Decade of Education for Sustainable Development.  The ground-breaking programme brought together academics from Geography & Geosciences to Management, International Relations, History and Biology. The Sustainable Development degree programme enables students to critically interrogate the principles, practice and plurality of sustainable development in order to contribute to the evolution of innovative, interdisciplinary thinking and action in this area.

Background 2 In May 2018 the University held its first Sustainability in the Curriculum Symposium, involving 26 academic staff from 18 schools and a number of external speakers. This event, funded by the Teaching Development Fund 2017/18, aimed to document and highlight innovative practice aligned with the University’s strategic commitment to sustainability.  This event helped secure support from the University Proctor who named Sustainability in the Curriculum as a priority for 2019/20 and resulted in the formation of a Sustainability in the Curriculum Committee in the summer of 2018.  

The work of the Sustainability in the Curriculum Committee is informed by developments in the sector and through discrete research projects including:

  • SDWG Sustainability in the Curriculum Module List (PDF, 116 KB) – this report presents results of a desk-based review of undergraduate and post-graduate modules, executive education and public outreach activities. In total, 194 sustainability-related modules were identified. Modules cover topics including localism, human-nature relations, technological development, behaviour change, ethics and corporate social responsibility.
  • Sustainability in the Curriculum Symposium (PDF, 294 KB) – this report presents a summary of the symposium that aimed to document current practice and discuss further opportunities to embed sustainability in the curriculum.  Academic staff representing 18 Schools from across Arts, Humanities and Sciences, discussed ways to further embed sustainability across the curriculum.
  • Living lab report (PDF, 5,718 KB)– this report reviews the development of the Living Labs concept and examines the potential for the Living Lab approach at the University of St Andrews. 
  • Mapping sustainability-related teaching (PDF, 367 KB) – this report presents findings from interviews with Directors of Teaching that aimed to explore the opportunities and challenges associated with embedding sustainability in the curriculum.

Case studies

The University is interested in showcasing sustainability teaching and learning across the Faculties at the University of St Andrews.

Here are three case studies of Undergraduate modules.

Case Study 1Case Study 2Case Study 3

If you would like to submit a case study, please use the template provided, and submit it to the Associate Deans.

News and Events

In October 2019, Ed Coyle (Georgia Institute of Technology) and Steve Marshall (University of Strathclyde) presented at the Academic Forum on Vertically Integrated Projects (VIP). VIPs are multidisciplinary teams of students from different levels of study who work together on an ongoing research project. Students have opportunities to take initiative and leadership in shaping the direction of the research and benefit from experiential project based learning. As VIPs are part of the curriculum, students earn credit and are awarded grades for their work.

St Andrews has adopted the VIP model for implementation in 2020/21. Vertically Integrated Projects provide both educational infrastructure and opportunity for sustainability related projects to be more widely embedded in learning and teaching for students from across all Schools in the University.

In April 2019 Ewan Klein and James Stewart from the University of Edinburgh delivered a presentation at the University’s Academic Forum to interested colleagues on the topic of their Living Lab initiative. This is a partnership between the University and Edinburgh City Council which permits undergraduate students to engage in real world projects for academic credit. They use data and technology to address the challenges of sustainable cities through a process of co-design with local stakeholders.

Related links: 


Vertically Integrated Projects


Living Labs

General Enquiries

Dr Ian Smith
Associate Dean Education (Arts and Divinity)

Dr Jon Issberner
Acting Dean of Science

Dr Kevin McNamara
Academic Policy Officer (Taught Degrees)