UWE Bristol has today launched a pioneering climate education course which they believe is a first for UK universities.
The course was developed after a campaign by undergraduates in 2022 calling on the university to provide climate education for all students.
Harry O’Higgins, one of the students involved, argued: “The more informed we are, the better we can mitigate climate change.”
The student campaigners have been instrumental in developing the course along with academic staff and student union representatives. It will be available online to the university’s 30,000+ students.
UWE has embedded sustainability into the curriculum across all departments over the last five years, seeing it as an intersectional issue that impacts all sectors.
The new course will go further to help students and staff understand the causes and consequences of the climate emergency, with a focus on positive, practical actions they can take.
Dr Laura Fogg-Rogers, associate professor for engineering in society, stressed the course centres on empowering students to act to make a difference in the community.
“It’s students that have asked for it, we’ve worked with students the whole way along, the Climate Society have also been working with us on this,” she says.
“It’s really important for us that we are educating students on climate change and sustainability. They’ll be in their 40’s in 2050 – this is very much their life and their future. We need to educate them, across their personal and professional lives, for what they’re going to be living through – but also what difference they can make, so we can reach net zero and have a stable future.”
UWE has been inundated with enquiries from students about the course, says Georgina Gough.
“The climate education course is an extension of work we’re doing already,” Georgina, associate professor of Education for Sustainable Development, goes on.
“We take a very broad approach to sustainable development education here. We don’t think of it as just an environmental issue, it’s about the interconnection between environment, social and economic issues.
“Our approach to this course isn’t just the science, it’s also the implications for people and the economic consequences. It’s very action-focused so hopefully students will walk away with inspiration to do something as an individual.”
The launch day of activities featured repair workshops – with a regular repair cafe due to start operating in October – a ‘We Make Our Future’ pop-up planetarium show and Unleadership for Climate Action workshops led by the Business Department.
Tanith Lyon, a Sustainable Development masters student, came along with a view to getting involved in practical sustainability projects.
“I’m involved in my local extinction rebellion group in Malvern so anything climate action-related catches my eye,” she said.
“This course is important because climate education is kept out of the media so it’s not drummed into people from an early age. I was drawn to UWE because I want to get involved in student sustainability projects and go on to work on a council or as a sustainability consultant, to really make a difference.”
Hazel Morfett, another student attendee, is completing a thesis on UWE students’ feelings about the climate crisis as part of a professional doctorate in counselling psychology.
“It’s early days but my data is showing that UWE students are very aware about what’s going on but find it difficult to express their feelings because it’s quite painful,” she says of her research so far.
“Many of them are holding serious experiences of the stress of their homes or futures being under threat. And they’re sitting with those feelings every single day. So that’s something they really need help with addressing.”
Hazel says activities like the climate action hub and climate education course are practical steps to addressing this issue:
“It’s about having safe spaces like this to communicate your distresses, and that can lead to incredible things – facing the reality we’re in, then taking action and making decisions. We need spaces where our climate reality can be addressed, and that show the students the adults are with them and facing it too.
“This course is 1000% part of the solution, it just needs to be times 100. Much more funding, much more front and centre part of the education. UWE’s good at that but there’s always more that can be done.
“This course is also a sign that if you think something’s important you can make a change.”
UWE was named a first class university for sustainability in People and Planet’s league table, ranked 22nd out of 153 higher education institutions. It has divested from fossil fuels and has a plan in place to reach net zero by 2030.
All photos: Ursula Billington
This piece of independent journalism is supported by The Extra Mile and the Bristol24/7 public and business membership.