Image shows the UN Sustainability Development Goals

Sustainable Development Goals – report from workshop funded by ANTF

This report has been provided by Dr Georgina Gough, Associate Professor in Education for Sustainable Development at the University of the West of England. Georgina, a CATE winner, and project lead for UWE’s Knowledge Exchange for Sustainability Education (KESE) team, was one of five successful award-winning applicants for funding from ANTF in 2021 to support dissemination of their work around sustainability in Higher Education. You can follow Georgina on @GeorginaGough on Twitter.

Image shows Dr Georgina Gough, author of the blog
Dr Georgina Gough, lead for KESE and Associate Professor at UWE

UWE’s Knowledge Exchange for Sustainability Education (KESE) led a workshop in January 2022 on mapping of curriculum against the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and their experiences of staff and student engagement through this process.  This mapping work has been active for nearly six years and the first five-year phase was completed in 2021. On one level, the mapping work has been a process by which we can assure ourselves that all UWE students have the opportunity to engage with ideas of sustainability in their programmes of study. Eighty discipline, programme and module teams have engaged in mapping to date, generating seventy ‘maps’ and prompting multiple curriculum changes. However, the work has led to many outcomes which we had not predicted at the start of process.

During the workshop, participants from HE institutions across the UK and abroad heard from the project leader, Associate Professor Georgina Gough about the context, intention and outputs of the mapping work to date. Then, KESE members from five different discipline areas presented the approach which they have individually taken to engage their colleagues with the mapping. Presenting were:

  • Grant Howie (Creative and Cultural Industries)
  • Ian Brooks (Computer Science and Creative Technologies)
  • Jon Mullholland (Social Sciences)
  • Jona Razzaque (Law)
  • Venkat Bakthavatchaalam (Engineering)

Attendees heard about the challenges and outcomes achieved by these colleagues and explored the benefits of adopting local approaches towards a common objective. Following presentations, attendees worked in small groups with a KESE facilitator to consider how elements of UWE’s approach might translate into their institutions and work objectives. Themes and challenges which emerged from the group discussions included:

  • The value of ensuring that the SDGs are integrated within all programmes of study;
  • Consideration of what it means to ‘live the Goals’, not just teach them;
  • Agreement that visible use of SDG icons is powerful and that we can all do that, on slides, emails and so on;
  • Concern about the relative lack of SDG awareness in the UK (relative to the rest of the world) and amongst HE staff;
  • Difficulty in finding ‘space’ in the curriculum for more sustainability content. Related to this is a call to be more honest about the negative impacts of our programmes of study – what should we not be doing or teaching any more?; and,
  • The challenge of competing with other HE and institutional agendas such as internationalisation and decolonisation.

These are all avenues for future discussions.

Feedback on the workshop was very positive, with attendees finding it useful and interesting. Comments on the usefulness of sharing approaches across institutions and of having the space to discuss and share experiences were common. Hearing about how ‘different departments have taken ownership of mapping to best suit them but produced the same kind of final map’ (attendee feedback) was of interest to attendees, as was hearing the personal experience of various colleagues in leading on this work. Attendees were prompted to consider what immediate steps they might take to making use of the ideas which were shared in the workshop. Responses included:

  • ‘Review what curricula development has taken place across the constituent modules’
  • ‘Re visit my interaction style with staff and gathering data’
  • ‘Include relevant SDGs on my lectures, report back to the team I work with for institutional efforts to embed SDGs’/ ‘include SDGs in a module I may be rewriting next year’

There is never enough time in workshops to explore everything and attendees expressed an interest in knowing more about how UWE got started on its SDG mapping journey and about the teaching, learning and assessment implications of the mapping exercises which have been undertaken so far. In relation to engaging staff in the mapping process, there was interest in hearing more tales of resistance (and how to overcome them!). We will seek to share these in future workshop sessions or via documents which we will endeavour to circulate amongst relevant HE networks. There was also interest in hearing more examples of experiences from other institutions so we would call upon colleagues from other institutions who have undertaken SDG mapping type work, or have aspirations to, to share their work further too.

There is potential for new collaborations in relation to SDGs and curriculum (or more broadly in HE). Workshop attendees discussed ways by which ‘friends’ can be found within their own institution and in other institutions. One possible area for new joint work which emerged in this workshop is in relation to measuring progress. What baseline data should be collected? How many outcomes and which outcomes should/could be measured? Possible outcome measures identified included curriculum content, student awareness, student curriculum choices, and student career decisions. Sharing practice on this is likely to benefit all parties and the sector as a whole. Consideration of how measurement aligns to the expectations of the QAA/Advance HE Guidance on Education for Sustainable Development and other institution and sector priorities warrants further consideration too.

In summary, the KESE group at UWE have found the SDGs to be a useful framework to engage staff and students in discussions of curriculum enhancement, employability, skills and attribute development and even of the purpose of higher education. The team continues to work on Phase 2 of their SDG mapping work with additional work on research and theory supplementing curriculum mapping activity.

For further information on this work, please contact

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