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July 2005/28
Policy development
Statement of policy

This report is for information

Sustainable development in higher education

This has been superseded by the 2008 update to the strategic statement and action plan (HEFCE 2009/03).

This document sets out our approach to promoting the sustainable development agenda following feedback received on our consultation document (HEFCE 2005/01). It includes a strategy statement and an action plan. We intend to review our approach by the end of 2007.

Also available are:

To: Heads of HEFCE-funded higher education institutions
Heads of universities in Northern Ireland
Of interest to those responsible for: Strategic management, Governance
Reference: 2005/28
Publication date: July 2005
Enquiries to: Nicola Dowds
tel 0117 931 7029

Executive summary (read on-line)


[ MS Word 122K | Zipped Word 102K | Adobe PDF 476K | Zipped PDF 103K ]

Responses to the consultation

Summary of written responses
[ MS Word 295K | Zipped Word 48K | Adobe PDF 197K | Zipped PDF 141K ]

Report of the consultation seminars
[ MS Word 100K | Zipped Word 19K | Adobe PDF 41K | Zipped PDF 31K ]

Overview of activities in the sector to support sustainable development
[ MS Word 279K | Zipped Word 53K | Adobe PDF 193K | Zipped PDF 145K ]

Executive summary


1. This document sets our approach to promoting the sustainable development agenda following feedback received on our consultation document (HEFCE 2005/01). We intend to review this approach by the end of 2007.

Key points

2. Overall, the consultation exercise demonstrated:

  1. A high degree of consensus that this agenda was important; that higher education (HE) had an important contribution to make to its delivery; and that HEFCE should have a role in facilitating the sector's activities in this area. With the marked exception of concerns around actions relating to the curriculum, the specific actions we suggested raised little negative comment.
  2. A significant number of concerns about how we should promote this agenda, but with little consensus about the best way forward.
  3. Agreement regarding the potential contribution by the HE sector to sustainable development through institutions':
    • role as educators
    • generation and transfer of knowledge
    • leadership of, and influence on, local, national and international networks
    • business strategy and operations.

3. This document comprises a new strategic statement accompanied by a slightly revised and updated version of our original action plan. The key revisions to the action plan are:

  1. The removal of the proposal to 'explore with the Quality Assurance Agency, Universities UK (UUK) and the Standing Conference of Principals (SCOP) how a contribution to sustainable development could be used as an indicator of high quality taught provision'.
  2. The insertion of a new action: 'To ask the Higher Education Academy, in the course of its ongoing work on sustainable development, to be alert to anything in the QAA precepts or codes that might work against including sustainable development in the curriculum, and if so to raise it with UUK, SCOP and the QAA.'
  3. The inclusion of a new section on procurement, responding to feedback as well as to the high profile given to this issue in the Government's new strategy for sustainable development.

4. To help clarify HEFCE's interests in sustainable development we have developed a set of objectives for this first phase of activity. These will be to:

  1. Seek 'win-win' opportunities for the sector to engage in this agenda by helping to identify sector-wide business cases as well as benefits for individual institutions.
  2. Promote the value of engaging with the sustainable development agenda by integrating it in our policy-making processes and being open about the often hard choices made.
  3. Demonstrate to stakeholders that HEFCE and HEIs are making genuine efforts to promote sustainable development and to develop good practice and tools.
  4. Support sector-led capacity building to pursue this agenda, based on existing frameworks and activity.
  5. Stimulate national debate among stakeholders on those structural features of the English HE system that currently underpin its financial viability but which do not promote sustainable development, and to identify possible policy responses.

5. While we continue to believe in the value of developing tools to report organisations' progress on sustainable development, we are not seeking to introduce sector-wide reporting nor to penalise negative performance. In the short-term we will commission a strategic review of activity relating to sustainable development in the sector to demonstrate sector performance to stakeholders.

6. The proposed action around which there is most consensus is building on existing activity to share good practice and develop capacity. Accordingly, the strategic statement emphasises:

  1. A commitment to continue to support the Higher Education Academy's work to identify, share and support the development of good practice in relation to sustainable development in the curriculum, in whatever form is appropriate.
  2. An invitation to existing professional networks to submit proposals to the Leadership, Governance and Management Fund to develop capacity or good practice in sustainable development that would be of practical value to their professional activity.

Action required

7. This document is for information.