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Student leadership is at the heart of the Responsible Futures Mark

Sonya Peres
March 22, 2021

This year, our host Responsible Futures partnerships De Montfort University and Students’ Union and the University College of Estate Management (UCEM) have been delivering webinars to share their learning with the wider Responsible Futures cohort. Given the crucial role played by students in Responsible Futures partnerships, planning a student-led webinar on the importance of student leadership was absolutely essential.

On February 24th, students and students’ union staff from De Montfort Students’ Union and UCEM came together to share their visions for sustainability and their experience working with their institution to advance sustainability. The students also facilitated workshops exploring students’ visions for sustainability, and challenges and opportunities for students as leaders in progressing sustainability at their institutions.

The event also saw a panel discussion with students Antonia Hayward (DMU), Vicki Grimshaw and James Doyle (UCEM) on their journeys with sustainability and how they are supporting their institution to advance sustainability in their current placement roles.

Alongside celebrating student leadership, the event resulted in many useful takeaways, including recognising the need:

  • For institutions to better clarify to their students opportunities to push sustainability;
  • For clear communication across the institution about sustainability work at a student, faculty, and senior leadership level;
  • To offer more paid opportunities for students to lead sustainability at their institution, to further social justice and emphasise that sustainability leadership skills are valuable and employable;
  • To develop mechanisms for appropriate handovers between student staff to ensure long-lasting and effective sustainability projects that don’t lose momentum when students graduate.

Why are partnerships with students so important to Responsible Futures?

We recognise that effective and lasting change needs a whole-institution approach, which includes top-down, middle-out and bottom-up coordination, co-creation and buy-in at universities and colleges.

The benefits of partnership working is highlighted in the 17th UN Global Goal for Sustainable Development partnership working for the Sustainable Development Goals. Partnership working is the golden thread weaving throughout all sustainability work. Partnerships allow for more effective campaigns, projects and actions by bringing in a wider array of skills, competencies and life experiences.

Partnerships with students, specifically, make institutions more effective. Students are the heart and soul of higher and further education institutions: Colleges and universities exist to develop skilled and knowledgeable graduates able to tackle the world’s challenges. Effective partnerships with students ensure an institution’s purpose is being met and reflects the needs and priorities of students and the world into which they will graduate.

Taking student ideas to the highest level

After the panel, Antonia, Vicki and James kindly answered questions from the audience, including, “if you could ask your vice-chancellor or principal to change one thing to have an impact on sustainability, what would you ask for?”

For Antonia and Vicki, this change would include at least one module that relates to the Sustainable Development Goals in every course, and embedding student-led webinars and workshops on sustainability into every course to ensure students are co-creating Education for Sustainable Development and not treated as simply passive recipients of knowledge.

James also succinctly clarified what he’d like to see, saying, “it’s all about listening and engaging with the student voice – [many students and young people] have been brought up with sustainability, we’re at the cutting edge of the discussion. If institutions want to move sustainability forward and keep on top of it, we need to take student ideas forward to the highest level.”

Thank you to Antonia Hayward, Vicki Grimshaw, James Doyle, Phoebe Farrell, Paul Adeleye, Joanna Dine-Hart, Antonia Lindsey, Tereza Katrnakova and Ranikqué Euneta for leading on and delivering this workshop. The Responsible Futures accreditation will continue supporting institutions to embed sustainability across all aspects of student learning, and to place student ideas,experiences and solutions at the centre of responses to the climate and ecological emergency.

If you’d like to find out more about Responsible Futures, please contact us on hello@sos-uk.org