UWE Bristol’s Dr Georgina Gough has been appointed to the new role of Professor for Education for Sustainable Development - one of only three professors with this remit within the UK's higher education sector.
The university has seen significant progress and success in sustainable development over the last 12 months. It achieved a ‘first class award’ and ranks among the top universities for environmental and ethical issues, according to a league table compiled by People and Planet.
Its outstanding green credentials earned another national title winning the Sustainability Institution of the Year at the Green Gown Awards; and in September 2023, UWE Bristol provided a deep institutional response to students’ call for more climate education by pulling more than 30 staff together to create a free course for all students about the climate emergency.
So how does the university ensure continuity of momentum and integrate sustainable development into teaching, learning and research?
Dr Georgina Gough was appointed to the newly created position in December 2023.
Since joining the university in 1996, Georgina has become a leading expert in this field, most recently working on the Education for Sustainable Development Guidance, published in 2021. She’s active in the UK and Ireland Chapter of the United Nations Principles of Responsible Management Education (PRME), sitting on the National Steering Committee as well as coordinating the South West of England and South Wales network of the PRME of the UK and Ireland Chapter. She is also an Honorary Fellow of the EAUC and a member of the National Coordinating Group of CATE-NET, promoting collaborative working in higher education.
In Bristol, Georgina is one of the founding members of the SDG Alliance, which is an organisation of individuals and organisations who have an interest in pursuing achievement of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) within the city region.
With UWE Bristol being a strong advocate for sustainable development for many years, Georgina is keen to maintain its ambition and leadership: “I want to ensure that our reputation in this area continues to grow, and that we are recognised for excellence in shaping and delivering education for sustainable development. We need to be active nationally and internationally in driving innovation and change and to bring those global examples of best practice back into the university.”
Within the role, Georgina is overseeing the creation of strategy and policy that sets the right conditions for delivery of education for sustainable development. She said: “It's about ensuring that our staff have the right skills and knowledge to be able to enact those policies and strategies and to help us to achieve the objectives that we've set.
“We aspire to be leading best practice, to be innovating and creating new ways of doing things and to be seeing things in a way that is not common across higher education globally, not just within the UK.
“Ultimately to get this right, there are some big questions we need to ask ourselves about how higher education is framed, structured, and delivered. It's about not being afraid to engage in those discussions and to really review the way in which we help to create the employees and citizens of the future.
“This is about how we contribute to the needs of our local region and global society and ensure it's not just about creating the new positive actions. We must review the way in which we've done things to date and really question whether those are still fit for purpose and appropriate in the context of climate change and evolving societal needs.”
Ambition is key – reflecting on the purpose of higher education and thinking what the value to students and society of each individual program of study is. “That rich and deep thinking about purpose leads to meaningful change in curriculum design and delivery,” she said.
“We have never sat and simply ticked a box in relation to this agenda. We want every student to leave UWE Bristol with a sense of purpose, and to be confident they will help make things better. To do that, we need staff to deliver that kind of learning experience.
“To achieve this we must be flexible, empathetic, and understand that people are busy and have competing priorities.
“We have a group within UWE Bristol that we’ve been formalising and coordinating over the last few years, with local champions who understand those disciplines and can help to translate some of the generic principles of sustainable development into discipline specific language, but also to promote action within with an understanding of how those programs work.”
Georgina has also started to look at approaches to leadership and how this can support her work in 2024. In particular, she is excited to complete UWE Bristol’s institution-wide review of study programmes through the lens of the UN SDGs. This work brings academic teams together to agree collective objectives for student learning about SDGs and approaches to teaching and assessment for sustainable development across students’ learning journey.
“We must explore devolved responsibility to achieve our goals. I see my role not as the only expert in sustainable development who has all the answers, but as a catalyst for creation and curation of a community of practice within the institution where everybody feels they've got a contribution to make.”
And there are certainly challenges to overcome, including the scale of what needs to be achieved: “There is so much to do that is urgent. Higher education is not always known for being a sector which changes rapidly, and yet we've managed to deliver our climate education course very quickly which gives me great hope. We need to try to move at pace and to find new ways of doing things in a space where there isn’t a path already laid.”
Elena Marco, Pro-Vice Chancellor and Head of College of Arts, Technology and Environment, added: “I am delighted for Professor Gough to have accepted the challenge to help UWE Bristol to continue being at the forefront of education for sustainable development. Her passion, drive and attention to detail will ensure we deliver on our commitment to make the world a better place. She always has been prepared to roll up her sleeves, get involved and prove that change can happen. I am delighted to work with Professor Gough in this collective journey of continuous improvement.”