Sustainability Action Blog


Student reflections on sustainable development in higher education

By Julia Kendal |

Guest blog by Lydia Butler, Jack Connors and Pippa Guest, Student Sustainability Champions

On January 30th, 3 of Southampton’s sustainability champions joined Simon Kemp in attending the Higher Education Funding Council for England’s (HEFCE) consultation event in London, focussing on their recent report on sustainable development in higher education.

Despite having to wake up at a ridiculous time (for students), we all made it to Russel Square in time. To kick off the event, David Pencheon from the NHS spoke about how they are tackling sustainable development, and the lessons that higher education can learn from them. As you can imagine the NHS faces all sorts of different problems when it comes to sustainable development, however David mentioned that their major problem was the assumption that patients don’t care about sustainable development. This assumption was found to be completely wrong, as it was found that 92% of patients feel that sustainable development is something that should be tackled in the NHS.

Nigel Carrington, Vice-Chancellor of the University of the Arts London, then told the conference about his university. He had some great stories to tell; it was hard for us to imagine how a university that focuses on arts could implement sustainable development, and they have struggled in the past to achieve this. But more recently they have come up with some incredible projects, many of which are student led! For example, the university is developing sustainable fashion and has come up with ‘Catalytic Clothing’, which cleans pollutants from the air as you walk.

The last speaker was Dom Anderson and is a real inspiration to all. Dom spoke about getting students involved with sustainable development, especially those that aren’t studying the traditional degrees associated with sustainability. Dom recently studied History in Derby, but now finds himself leading sustainability for the NUS, showing that anyone can get involved! The NUS are doing some great work for students and sustainable development. Such as ‘Green Impact’, which supports students and staff to bring good environmental practice to the forefront of their universities, as well as their surrounding communities.

The floor was then opened to the whole conference, as there were a few burning questions after hearing David, Nigel and Dom speak. There were some controversial views thrown around during this session, including one that universities are just thinkers, and not ‘doers’… this didn’t go down too well!

Lunch couldn’t come soon enough. Which brings us to a common theme throughout the day – the food. Pastries greeted us in the morning, which set the standard, but lunch far surpassed this. With a selection from Moroccan Tagine to Chicken Pie we found ourselves slightly overwhelmed! However, even if the food was amazing, it had to end and we were soon back in the conference room for the consultation part of the event.

The afternoon gave us a chance to mix with the other university representatives. There are so many different types of higher education institutions out there, and they all implement sustainable development in different ways – be this through growing their own vegetables, or providing the opportunity for students to learn about sustainability. There was a lot of interest in Southampton’s Blackout, and how the University of Southampton gets such high participation rates from staff and students! All this discussion led onto a group feedback session, where everyone was given the opportunity to suggest how HEFCE should continue to support sustainable development. As always there were many different views, and a lot of heated discussion with countless people agreeing and disagreeing with each other, but this was perfect for a consultation event such as this one!

The discussion was brought to an end along with the whole event. There was no time to hang around though as we had a train to catch. Running through Waterloo station with your tutor was not one of the things expected to be doing when we first came to Southampton… nor did we expect Simon’s agility as he ran through the crowds! We made the train literally 1 second before the doors shut and thankfully we all made it on.

The whole day was a great learning experience for us, and gave us the opportunity to implement what we have learnt in the lecture theatres into real life situations. It also brought to light the difficulties associated with implementing sustainable development, especially in higher education!