Skip to main content | section navigation
You are in :

June 2008/18
Policy development

Responses should be sent to HEFCE by Friday 5 September 2008

Sustainable development in higher education
Consultation on 2008 update to strategic statement and action plan

This document is both a progress report and a consultation on an updated strategic statement and action plan on sustainable development in the higher education sector.

This consultation contributed to 'Sustainable development in higher education: 2008 update to strategic statement and action plan' (HEFCE 2009/03).

To: Heads of HEFCE-funded higher education institutions
Heads of universities in Northern Ireland
Of interest to those responsible for: Strategic management, governance
Reference: 2008/18
Publication date: June 2008
Enquiries to: Joanna Simpson
tel 0117 931 7411

Executive summary (read online)


Main report and annexes

[ MS Word 514K | Zipped Word 122K | Adobe PDF 195K | Zipped PDF 152K ]

Annex D - consultation response form

[ MS Word 55K | Zipped Word 8K |

Executive summary


1.   This is both a progress report and a consultation on sustainable development in the higher education (HE) sector.

Key points

2.   In July 2005 we published 'Sustainable development in higher education' (HEFCE 2005/28) which set out our approach to promoting the sustainable development agenda. It contained a strategic statement, a 10-year vision and an action plan until the end of 2007.

3.   We want to make sustainable development a central part of our strategy for the future development of the HE sector. We still consider our vision set out in 2005 to be valid, namely that: within the next 10 years, the HE sector in this country will be recognised as a major contributor to society's efforts to achieve sustainability - through the skills and knowledge that its graduates learn and put into practice, and through its own strategies and operations.

4.   This is a challenging agenda and there is a strong perception that society is not moving forward fast enough, particularly where climate change is concerned. There is now widespread agreement in the sector that sustainable development is important and it is a growing political priority both nationally and internationally. HE makes an important contribution to the UK's Sustainable Development Strategy, updated in 2005. We are currently in the UN Decade for Education for Sustainable Development, which runs until 2014.

5.   Higher education institutions can make a substantial, sustained and exemplary contribution to the challenge of sustainable development through teaching and research, as campus managers, as employers and as protagonists in their local communities. Publications such as our strategic review and Universities UK's 'Greening spires: universities and the green agenda' show that there is already substantial good practice and this is supported by the Estates Management Statistics which indicate that some institutions are reducing the environmental impact of their estates. Between 2004-05 and 2006-07, for example, energy consumption per student FTE (full-time equivalent) reduced by 7 per cent for median institutions . However, the momentum for change needs to continue and increase if HE is to play its full part in helping society meet the challenge of sustainable development.

6.   This is a consultation on an updated strategic statement and action plan to support HE's contribution to sustainable development. It is structured around the four roles we identified for HEFCE in our first sustainable development strategy (HEFCE 2005/28):

  • engaging with stakeholders to bring about policy synergies on sustainable development
  • building the capacity of people to manage sustainable development
  • sharing good practice, or supporting the development of good practice where none exists
  • rewarding more sustainable behaviour.

7.   We are also reporting on progress against the actions we set ourselves in 2005. In most cases these actions were just the first steps on a long journey and not an end in themselves. Nevertheless, we believe that implementing these commitments is resulting in lasting benefits and the continuation of this work is reflected in our updated action plan, for example facilitating the development of good practice.

Action required

8.   Comments are invited on the proposed strategic statement and action plan, using the response form at Annex D. Electronic versions of the document and response form can be found on our web-site, under Publications. Responses should be e-mailed to by Friday 5 September 2008.

9.   Institutions responding to this consultation are asked to involve all those responsible for strategic management in both academic and non-academic functions. Collaborating across the institution to develop an holistic response will provide feedback that addresses all aspects of our strategy, as well as helping to embed sustainability issues within the institution.

10.   As part of the consultation exercise we are holding three consultation seminars. We hope that all institutions will be represented at a senior level at these events. Further details are given in paragraphs 18 and 19. Please register for these events using our online form.