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Sustainability in the curriculum

In 2005, the UN decreed that the following ten years would be a Decade of Education for Sustainable Development; shortly after, the University of St Andrews set up its first interdisciplinary undergraduate degree in Sustainable Development. Eleven Schools, from Geography & Geosciences to Management, International Relations, History and Biology, came together to create a ground-breaking programme at a time when only a handful of universities worldwide offered undergraduate SD degrees.

The SD programme aims to enable 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. Flexible degree pathways have been a unique feature of the SD programme from the outset and degree pathways 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.

Beyond the SD programme, sustainability-related learning and teaching is underway across most of the Schools.  A survey conducted in April 2017 identified 194 modules relate to sustainability across undergraduate, post-graduate, executive education and public outreach across the curriculum. The results of the survey were reported to Sustainable Development Working Group led by the Quaestor in April 2017 (Download the surver here: SDWG Sustainability in the Curriculum Module List (PDF, 116 KB). A review of the activities shows sustainability spans topics of localism, human-nature relations, technological development, behaviour change, ethics and corporate social responsibility.

Following the survey, a symposium in May 2018 brought together 26 academic staff, representing 18 Schools from across arts, humanities and sciences, to discuss ways to further embed sustainability across the curriculum. The symposium started with an interesting and diverse panel discussion including Biology, Classics, English, Economics, Geography and Sustainable Development, International Relations, Modern Languages, Music, and Philosophy. Key insights from the panel discussion included

  • the diversity of topics ranging from debates about growth, happiness and the limits to voluntary action;
  • the role of theory to understand and analyse local and global environmental problems;
  • the importance of literature, music and the arts to understanding and engaging with the world around us;
  • the impact of people on the world’s ecosystems; and
  • ethics and responsibilities of institutions to animals and nature.

The symposium also explored innovative pedagogies including a demonstration of ‘theoretical theatre’, explored options for future monitoring and evaluation, introduced the potential for Living Lab projects (download a report on the potential for a Living Lab here: Living lab report (PDF, 5,718 KB) and discussed sustainability activities that Estates are leading across the University (download the full report from the event here: Sustainability in the Curriculum Symposium (PDF, 294 KB).

The aim for sustainability learning and teaching at St Andrews, emerging from the symposium, is to:

“Support our university community to develop the initial capacities to question and explore routes to sustainable futures.”

Following the symposium, ‘Sustainability’ has been made a Proctor’s priority for 2019-20. This includes the establishment of a Sustainability Education Network and dedicating the Academic Fora and Teaching Practice Fora to the theme of sustainability in semester 2 2018/19.

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)

Dr Katherine Ellsworth-Krebs
Lecturer, School of Geography and Sustainable Development

Dr Shona Russell
Senior Lecturer, School of Management