‘Everything is on the line’ – students’ rallying cry after successful campaign to create first climate course for all at a UK university

Media Relations Team, 19 September 2023

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Former UWE Bristol students Adam Edwards and Harry O'Higgins
UWE Bristol postgraduate student Adam Edwards and graduate Harry O'Higgins

UWE Bristol has become the first university in the UK to introduce a free course about the climate emergency for all students.

The comprehensive online course was developed with students following a successful campaign led by UWE Bristol undergraduates Adam Edwards and Harry O’Higgins. They launched a petition in 2022 calling on the University to implement compulsory climate change education, arguing that every student at UWE Bristol should have climate education as part of their university experience.

Supported by the Students’ Union, the pair took their arguments to the University’s Vice-Chancellor who agreed to the development of the course in close collaboration with students. Set across nine one-hour units, the course will help students understand the climate crisis, its causes and consequences and what they can do to mitigate emissions.

Climate change modules have traditionally been limited to courses such as environmental sciences, geography, politics, wildlife ecology and conservation science in UK universities. While some universities across the globe have developed bespoke climate courses (notably in Tasmania and Barcelona) for all students, it is understood that no such detailed guide to climate change has been introduced at a UK university on a universal basis.

If its pilot year is successful, the course could be further developed as a full module for the 2024-25 academic year offering 10 credits counting towards students’ final degree classification. There is also potential to make the course available to members of the public.

Harry O’Higgins, who studied Accounting and Finance at UWE Bristol, said: “My colleague Adam and I realised the profound impacts of the climate emergency – they are life-altering, career changing and can be paralysing. It demands a full, detailed education that everyone should have access to. The more informed we are, the better we can mitigate climate change. How can a university prepare us for life after education without equipping us with the knowledge of what our personal and career futures will look like on a warming planet?”

Adam Edwards, studying for a master’s degree in Financial Technology at UWE Bristol, said: “This course is not just climate literacy, which is offered across some other academic institutions, rather this module offers the opportunity to truly understand and connect with the climate crisis and how it will affect the future. We hope it will inspire students to become agents of change, because this is an issue where everything is on the line.”

"We hope it will inspire students to become agents of change, because this is an issue where everything is on the line."

Adam Edwards, UWE Bristol postgraduate student

Adam Edwards, UWE Bristol postgraduate student

The optional course has been developed by a team of academic staff, professional services staff and staff from the university’s Digital Learning Service. Harry O’Higgins and Adam Edwards, along with representatives of the Students’ Union, were an integral part of the development team.

Professor Sir Steve West, Vice-Chancellor at UWE Bristol, said: “Climate change is real and it’s with us now - we’re already starting to see profound impacts on our biodiversity, our climate and on humanity. Now is the time to act and we need to do this in a purposeful way.

“I’m delighted that we have developed this course collectively, with the student body and staff working together with a shared passion for tackling the climate emergency and making a difference. I’m looking forward to seeing all our students and staff engaging with this excellent module to benefit from a deeper understanding of the issues and the actions we all need to take.”

To mark the launch of the course, a special event ‘Are we consuming our way to Climate Change’, a conversation with Aja Barber on the impact of fast fashion and consumer culture on social justice and climate change, will take place on Wednesday (20 September). The launch will be supported by three further sustainability events - We Make Our Future Planetarium Show, Unleadership for Climate Action, and a Repair Skills Workshop.

Professor Jim Longhurst, UWE Bristol’s Assistant Vice-Chancellor for Environment and Sustainability, said: “UWE Bristol’s students will live their life course in a time of profound climate and environmental change. Students increasingly expect that their higher education experience will prepare them for the challenges that they will encounter in their life course and to help them cope with rising levels of anxiety about the climate crisis.”

UWE Bristol was named as a ‘1st Class’ university for sustainability in People & Planet’s latest sustainability league table, ranked 22nd out of 153 higher education institutions. The University has no investments in fossil fuel companies and in January 2022 committed to maintain this position in perpetuity. Later this year the University will complete one of the UK's largest Passivhaus low carbon developments, with a new student accommodation development on its Frenchay campus.

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