Taking a Whole University Approach to Integrating the SDGs – The University of Winchester


University of Winchester has a 10-year vision –Strategic Vision 2030: A beacon of education excellence, sustainability and social justice- that is all about the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).  Part of this strategy is embedding the SDGs across the University, including and in particular in the classroom in not just the formal curriculum but the informal and subliminal curriculums. This has been supported through a strong commitment from the top, and passion and energy across the student body, staff and faculty. I spoke with Carole Parkes about this approach.

Introduce your approach to integrating the SDGs?

The University of Winchester was an early signatory to the Principles for Responsible Management Education (PRME). The close alignment of the PRME Principles with the University mission and values played a central role in its teaching, research and partnerships policies and strategies. Our 2020-2030 strategic plan sets out who we are and where we are going in the context of the big changes and challenges facing higher education and is shaped by the most urgent problems facing humankind as set out in the UN Sustainable Development Goals – issues such as social cohesion, climate change, sustainability, population growth and poverty. Throughout the strategy we ask ourselves: what are our responsibilities, as a leading values-driven university? How can we maximise the benefits of our research for the common good? How well are we equipping our students to contribute to society and the economy?

How did you develop this strategy?

We worked with Students Organising for Sustainability (SOS-UK) Responsible Futures Programme. This initiative is part of the National Union of Students here in the United Kingdom and aims to support partnerships between students and institutions aimed at taking a whole-institution approach to embedding sustainability into formal and informal learning. We thought it was very important that this came from a student perspective, so we identified student auditors from amongst our student body to lead this process.

What was done in terms of the formal curriculum?

We started with a ‘student-led’ curriculum audit designed by myself and Quinn Runkle (SOS-UK) across all Faculties and subject areas in the University (1500 modules) to determine the current levels of teaching, learning, and assessment relating to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the University Values, and Education for Sustainable Development pedagogy within taught undergraduate modules. It was important to adopt an interdisciplinary approach and this helped to identify existing good practice across the University ; open up a discussion with academics, deans, and across faculties; and establish a quantitative baseline which allows for replicability to track progress over time. All results were fed back to individual faculties and this led to policy changes in teaching and learning and work is continuing to progress the integration of the SDGs into the formal curriculum to ensure that all students at Winchester have education on the SDGs as part of their degree programme. For example, from 2019/2020 the SDGs were included in the learning outcomes of all programmes across the University. The methodology developed at Winchester has now been adopted by other Universities in the UK and promoted internationally.

What are some examples of how you have embedding the SDGs into the formal curriculum?

All students (regardless of discipline) have education for sustainable development as part of the degree programme. This includes all types of programmes. One example is the Virtual Cultural Exchange Programme delivered in partnership with Amity University Business School, India. The exchange is funded by a grant from the UK India Education Research Initiative (UKIERI) Mobility Programme: Study in India, is delivered by the British Council in India, Universities UK International and the University Grants Commission in India on behalf of the UK and India governments. Dr Simon M Smith, the Project Leader, designed the programme to offer meaningful opportunities for students from both universities to enhance their international knowledge around SDGs in action both in the UK and India, as well as developing intercultural understanding. Students and staff from both universities have participated in interactive workshops ranging from debates on business actions for sustainability to application of SDGs in real-life business to yoga and meditation sessions.   The programme is inclusive, enabling students who may be unable to, or apprehensive of, international travel to participate in virtual programmes. At a time of travel restrictions, it has enabled unique and innovative educational and cultural exchange. It is hoped this leads to a deepening collaboration between the two Universities on embedding sustainability into the curriculum, research and student employability.

What about the Informal Curriculum?

This includes a range of campus and community-based activities. In addition to environmental and energy saving initiatives, the University has many staff/student and community engagement initiatives. One example of this is Winchester’s “Bag it up” scheme (that simultaneously reduces waste and makes it easy for students to donate goods to local charities supporting homeless and other vulnerable communities). This was included in the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) “Little Book of Green Nudges” book. 8.5 tonnes have been redistributed in the last 3 years. Another initiative that has resulted in over 150,000 disposable cups being saved from landfill is the introduction of University of Winchester’s own reusable cups, made in part from recycled chewing gum. The company who manufactures the cups, Gum-tec, collected the gum from special pink recycling bins on campus, treat it and turn it into a mouldable composite. To encourage the use of reusable cups, students and staff pay a 25p surcharge on all hot and cold drinks served in a disposable cup. The cup scheme is featured on BBC World Hacks.

And the Subliminal Curriculum?

Our organisational strategies, policies and practices convey messages to our stakeholders about our commitment to sustainability and social justice. As a University we hold people, the planet and all living things in the highest regard. Our strategy commits us to reducing our environmental impact and improving sustainability across the institution.  We are committed to making a positive environmental impact and contributing to a sustainable future. This is reflected across the institution – from the curriculum to our estate to the food we serve on campus.

Any tips for other schools embarking on something similar? 

During the curriculum audit we held pizza lunches when running the student training (and that helped!). But luckily many students wanted to be part of this work. All students received letters of recommendation and certificates for auditing skills to add to their CV. In January 2020, a new department entitled Student Engagement and Employability was launched to help students be partners in their future success and recently the Times Higher Education reported that Winchester is in the top 10 in the UK for overall graduate outcomes.

What’s next? 

Over the last year, responding to Covid has been a priority and supporting staff and students through this but many areas of this agenda have progressed. This includes running online Carbon Literacy Training for mixed groups of staff and students from all disciplines (with support from Petra Molthan-Hill at Nottingham Trent University). A further programme level curriculum audit is also underway to measure progress in embedding the SDGs into all programmes across the University.

For more visit www.winchester.ac.uk/about-us/our-future/our-strategy/


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