Transforming Universities for a Changing Climate

Lead Research Organisation: University College London
Department Name: Education, Practice & Society

Abstract

Climate change is widely recognised as the most critical challenge of our age, with the recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report suggesting that to avoid devastating effects, the world must move entirely to renewables by 2050. This project aims to strengthen the contribution of universities in lower-income countries to addressing this challenge.

The role of research and innovation in this task is widely acknowledged, and universities around the world are closely involved in the tasks of monitoring, interpreting and responding to the process and effects of global warming. Yet the broader role of universities in addressing the climate crisis is as yet under-researched. How do courses provided by universities address the question of climate change, and what forms of climate-related learning do students engage with on campus and beyond? What impacts do universities have on climate change through community engagement activities, in fostering public debate on the issue and in the way they embody the principles of sustainability in their own institutional forms?

These roles of universities beyond knowledge production are critical in addressing climate change, given the deep social, political and economic roots of the crisis, and the need to engage with professional development, civic action and public awareness. At the same time, it is clear that despite the potentialities of universities in this regard, much more could be done. This is particularly the case in low and middle-income countries in which there is disproportionate impact of the most devastating effects of climate change.

This project addresses these questions in the context of the higher education systems of Brazil, Fiji, Kenya and Mozambique. These countries have been selected on account of the vulnerability of their populations to climate-related disasters, but also because of the potentialities of their higher education systems for responding to the challenges, and in generating learning that can be utilised in other contexts. The countries have distinct features in relation to their culture, politics, economics and geography, as well as in their higher education systems, which will allow for significant possibilities of learning across the four countries and with the UK.

The research will start with a survey of the state of play as regards universities' coverage of climate change issues within their teaching, research and community engagement. Participatory action research groups will then be created in 12 universities across the four countries, including representatives of students, lecturers, senior management and local communities. These groups will design, implement and monitor initiatives to address local challenges, in line with their own priorities. Interventions may include new modules for students, training workshops for local professionals working with environmental issues, community based projects on disaster preparedness, or developing a carbon neutral campus.

The learning generated from these diverse experiences will contribute to theory building and understanding of the relationship between education and sustainable development, and of the role of higher education in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). There will be a strong emphasis on South-South collaboration and learning, and insights generated from interaction and comparison across high/middle/low income countries, between Anglophone and Lusophone higher education systems, and between Africa, the Pacific and Latin America.

While most acknowledged that education has some role to play in achieving the SDGs, much closer attention is needed to the institutional forms and practices that are most conducive. This project grapples with this question in the context of four low and middle-income countries, with significant lessons for the broader global community.

Planned Impact

This project aims to bring benefit to communities in four low and middle-income countries through enhancing the contributions of universities to addressing climate change.

The four countries participating in the study contain populations that are highly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. In Fiji, rising sea levels are the primary risk. Kenya and Mozambique are subject to extreme weather patterns and threats to agriculture and food security, while many Brazilians live in precarious housing vulnerable to flooding. All four countries contain substantial proportions of their populations living in poverty, and without access to the support that could help them adapt to these changes.

Positive responses to climate change can exist in the form of mitigation or adaptation, the former consisting of measures to prevent or limit the changes to the climate (mainly through emission of greenhouse gases) through advocacy for policy change or creation of alternatives, and the latter to managing the effects that are already evident.

Impact on adaptation and mitigation will be generated in two main ways by this research project, with diverse beneficiaries:

1. Engaging communities through participatory action research (PAR)

The project involves the creation of PAR groups in each of the 12 participating universities. Each group will design and implement an intervention: these will vary depending on the local context, involving either a community engagement project, a taught course for students, an institutional sustainability plan or a public awareness programme. The beneficiaries will include students (acquiring knowledge, skills and values directly through taught courses in the university, and through the broader learning experiences in the campus and beyond); local communities (through their participation in university projects); professional groups participating in targeted training; and the general public (through public awareness programmes and contribution to public debate).

2. Strengthening higher education institutions and systems

Impact is also envisaged within the 12 universities participating in the research, enabling them to enhance their teaching and research quality, and contribute more effectively to the achievement of the SDGs. The initiatives put in motion by the PAR groups in many cases will involve introduction of taught courses, and curricular and pedagogical reform, with a knock-on impact on the broader learning environment. Second, the links made with community groups and civil society organisations through the research will allow for further collaborations subsequently. Third, each of these institutions will build a medium and long-term sustainability plan, to provide an ongoing framework for action in the years following the project. Furthermore, there will be various forms of capacity building within the institution, in particular with the research associates.

Enhancement of the quality and relevance of work carried out by universities will benefit diverse populations within the participating countries, through the innovation and research generated by universities, and through the professional activities and civic engagement of university graduates.

These positive influences on institutions will be expanded to national and international levels through an extensive programme of dissemination, knowledge exchange and network building. Within Brazil, Fiji, Kenya and Mozambique, this process will be led by the country advisers, in dialogue with national higher education agencies. At the international level, the Association of Commonwealth Universities, along with other agencies and NGOs such as the Association of Portuguese Language Universities and United Nations University, will coordinate international events to engage policymakers and university leaders in transforming their institutions and systems, so as to better address the challenges of climate change.

Publications

10 25 50
 
Description While the project has no empirical findings as yet, given the early stage in the research, in each of the four working packages of the project work has begun to meet the key objectives. This includes the conducting of literature and policy reviews at both the national and international levels, which will be published as working papers of the project, and piloting of novel survey questions designed collectively by the project team. A working paper theorising the impact of universities on climate change has been published, and the project publications have been downloaded by more than 300 unique visitors. A protocol for setting up participatory action research groups has been designed with tools and literature to guide affiliate institutions and researchers and will be published on the website shortly with a corresponding webinar. Networks bringing together policymakers with politicians and academics have been set up in Brazil, and the project is also contributing to global discussions through engagement with our impact partner.
Exploitation Route The findings of the research project can be put to use buy a range of stakeholders. First, university leaders can draw on the experiences of the participatory action research groups in designing transformative strategies for their institutions in relation to climate action. Second, there will be implications for national policy in relation to higher education and sustainability. Furthermore, the extensive collaboration and network activity between universities, community organisations and other civil society bodies will have implications for multisectoral work around climate.
Sectors Education,Environment

 
Description One of the key challenges in the first year of the project has been the constraints on capacity building and engagement activities in the light of the Covid-19 pandemic. This has been overcome through innovative use of virtual methodologies, including delivering pilot surveys by 'what's app' and the extensive use of webinars and digital platforms to engage, including for participatory action research. Radio and newspaper interviews from co-investigators in Brazil and Mozambique have raised awareness of the role of universities in contributing to climate actions amongst key stakeholders as well as the general public. In all four partner countries, work has been done with policymakers through varied engagement strategies, as well as informal discussions, to raise the profile of participatory action research methodologies and the value of educational and social science, hitherto neglected aspects of climate actions. Within university settings, a network of affiliate institutions is starting to be built, bringing together a range of actors and institutions interested in using the project research tools and developing their own climate interventions and research.
First Year Of Impact 2020
Sector Education,Environment
Impact Types Cultural,Societal,Policy & public services

 
Description UCL Institute of Education Global Engagement Fund
Amount £5,000 (GBP)
Organisation University College London 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 03/2021 
End 07/2021
 
Description Climate change education in Brazil: what role for universities? (Blog, by Amanda Salvia) 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact A blog written by the project Research Associate from Brazil exploring how universities can support schools in climate change education draws on research in Brazil, and has been seen to inspire action in the other partner countries of the project. At time of reporting this blog has been viewed just under 200 times, and will be co-versioned into Portuguese for further dissemination.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2021
URL https://www.climate-uni.com/post/climate-change-education-in-brazil-what-role-for-universities
 
Description Commonwealth Climate Resilience Network presentation 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Presentations were made by Tristan McCowan and Jackline Nyerere to the meeting of the Association of Commonwealth Universities (ACU) Commonwealth Climate Resilience Network. The presentation served to raise awareness of the project and the importance of climate action within universities to university leaders and scientists across various countries in the Americas, Africa, Asia and Oceania.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
 
Description Connecting Disaster Risk Reduction, Climate Change & Sustainable Development 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact A webinar presenting the second working paper in our series was hosted by UCL, with a discussant from University of São Paulo in Brazil (Tercio Ambrizzi). Approximately 40 academics and students participated in the discussion, and a further 10+ have watched this through our website or on youtube.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2021
URL https://youtu.be/2KCSpqVsFAY
 
Description Inequality as Cause and Consequence: What can we learn from COVID-19 in the fight against Climate Change? (Blog, by Charlotte Nussey) 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact A blog by the University College London Research Associate has had more than 100 views, exploring the relationship between the Covid-19 pandemic and the climate crisis.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
URL https://www.climate-uni.com/post/inequality-as-cause-and-consequence
 
Description Kenya Methodist University First Participatory Action Research Group (PARG) Meeting 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact The PARG meeting was attended by 11 stakeholders who were introduced to the project 'Transforming Universities for a Changing Climate.' After the introduction to the project members were put into small groups and provided an opportunity to reflect on the project. The members' reflections encouraged discussion on the possible climate actions that the group members can design, implement and evaluate within the life of the project. The PARG members highlighted the need of additional stakeholders who would positively influence the project in achieving its aims, and were asked to make suggestions for further stakeholders to include. The aim of the first meeting was to introduce members to the project and agree on the next steps which include designing of the interventions of the project that would see universities respond to challenges of climate change in Kenya.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2021
URL https://twitter.com/nkongegat/status/1362650459010437121?s=20
 
Description Kenyatta University First Participatory Action Research Group (PARG) Meeting 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact The PARG meeting was attended by 18 stakeholders who were introduced to the project 'Transforming Universities for a Changing Climate.' After the introduction to the project members were put into small groups and provided an opportunity to reflect on the project. The members' reflections encouraged discussion on the possible climate actions that the group members can design, implement and evaluate within the life of the project. The PARG members highlighted the need of additional stakeholders who would positively influence the project in achieving its aims, and were asked to make suggestions for further stakeholders to include. The aim of the first meeting was to introduce members to the project and agree on the next steps which include designing of the interventions of the project that would see universities respond to challenges of climate change in Kenya.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2021
 
Description Kisii University First Participatory Action Research Group (PARG) Meeting 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact The PARG meeting was attended by 13 stakeholders who were introduced to the project 'Transforming Universities for a Changing Climate.' After the introduction to the project members were put into small groups and provided an opportunity to reflect on the project. The members' reflections encouraged discussion on the possible climate actions that the group members can design, implement and evaluate within the life of the project. The PARG members highlighted the need of additional stakeholders who would positively influence the project in achieving its aims, and were asked to make suggestions for further stakeholders to include. The aim of the first meeting was to introduce members to the project and agree on the next steps which include designing of the interventions of the project that would see universities respond to challenges of climate change in Kenya.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2021
URL https://twitter.com/nkongegat/status/1360203353423294464?s=20
 
Description Mozambique National Newspaper interview 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Media (as a channel to the public)
Results and Impact In an interview for one of the main national newspapers which has been read more than 800 times, the Mozambique country lead and Co-Investigator shared the main focus of the project around the importance of universities in contributing to work against climate change.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
URL https://www.jornalnoticias.co.mz/index.php/tecnologias/98420-combate-as-mudancas-climaticas-universi...
 
Description Newspaper article on job opportunities for environmental engineers 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Undergraduate students
Results and Impact The project co-coordinator in Brazil, Prof. Luciana Brandli, was invited by Estadão - a daily newspaper published in São Paulo and one of the largest ones in the country - to present the project as an example of international efforts on climate action.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
URL https://educacao.estadao.com.br/noticias/geral,industrias-e-consultoria-sao-campos-de-trabalho-para-...
 
Description Part of the problem or part of the solution? Considering Sweden's Climate Framework (Blog, by Ulrika Fløisdorf) 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact A blog by an affiliate researcher links the work of the project to existing work in Scandinavia, raising connections between different policy and political responses to the climate crisis.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2021
URL https://www.climate-uni.com/post/part-of-the-problem-or-part-of-the-solution-sweden-s-klimatramverke...
 
Description Project Launch - Transforming Universities for a Changing Climate, Mozambique (Maputo) 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact A webinar (virtual) launched the project in Mozambique, aimed to promote reflection about the type of Higher Education Institutions existing in Mozambique and their engagement in the process of mitigation and adaptation to climate changes and to validate the vision, the mission and the objectives of the project.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
 
Description Project Launch: Transforming Universities for a Changing Climate, Kenya (Nairobi) 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact On 26th February 2020, a half-day workshop provided a national launch of the project in Nairobi. This brought together 45 key stakeholders from across Kenya to learn more about the work of the project and feed into planning cycles, as well as representing a key advocacy space for raising the profile of educational institutions to respond to climate change. These stakeholders were primarily professional practitioners - academics and university managers - but also included relevant policy and regulatory bodies as well as non-governmental organisations and the media, and was attended by the Project Principal Investigator. Participants were invited to reflect on planned activities, and registered their interest in the study.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
 
Description Project Website (engagement focused) 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact At the time of reporting our project website had more than 2000 site visits, over half of whom were unique visitors. These website viewers were global in reach - including 76 different nations in Africa, Latin America, Asia, Oceania and Australasia, the US and Europe. Visitors most commonly navigated to the homepage and 'about' pages, as well as publications and blog sections.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020,2021
URL http://www.climate-uni.com
 
Description Project dissemination through the University of Passo Fundo website (news section) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact The project co-coordinator in Brazil, Prof. Luciana Brandli, promoted this press release on the project, including a description of its aims, methodology, availability of resources, and importance of the topic of climate change, among others. The main purpose was to inform the academic community about the project and introduce the project idea before the research activities of the project began.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
URL https://www.upf.br/noticia/upf-lidera-projeto-internacional-sobre-mudancas-climaticas
 
Description Translation of Green Office Movement documents into Portuguese 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Undergraduate students
Results and Impact The Brazilian team of the Climate-U Project contacted members of the Green Office Movement during an online event developed by the movement. From this initial contact, the team was invited to work on the translation of the materials of the Green Office Movement into Portuguese (which did not yet exist).
The Green Office model is already recognized throughout Europe as a strong and growing movement. These are student-led centres for developing sustainability projects on and off campus. In Brazil, Green Offices as proposed by the movement do not yet exist and the result of this translation activity can encourage the establishment of this model both within the universities of the study, and extending the impact to other interested universities in Portuguese speaking contexts.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020,2021
URL https://www.greenofficemovement.org/pt-br/
 
Description Webinar: Online launch of Transforming Universities for a Changing Climate 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact A global audience of approximately 80 participants from more than twenty-two countries attended a webinar launching the first working paper in our series, followed by a lively discussion on the role of universities in challenging climate change facilitated by a member of our Advisory Board based in Ghana. A further set of 20+ international colleagues so far have watched the recording of the webinar through youtube or on our website.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
URL https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qzj8s4az_ns