Sustainability in the Curriculum

Education for Sustainable Development

What do we mean by Education for Sustainable Development (ESD)?

Being an educational institution, we guide our students, and communities through teaching academically and professionally accredited courses at a higher education level. This provides the opportunity to integrate ideas, concepts and behaviours into the curriculum providing learning opportunities for students to become aware of and understand the development that needs to occur to be a sustainable member of society.

We encourage students to consider their concepts of their academic discipline whilst also recognising the idea of global citizenship, generally as well as in their professional and personal lives from then onwards. Environmental stewardship, social justice, ethics and wellbeing concepts will help them not only achieve academic successes. This will also develop their future-facing outlooks and consider consequences that better their chances of supporting a more sustainable future for themselves and those around them.

Coventry University Group and Education for Sustainable Development

At Coventry University Group, we are committed to engaging our students to think critically on the impact that they can make towards the major challenges facing society, encapsulated by the United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development Goals. Coventry University signed the SDG Accord, recognising that higher education has a critical role in delivering the goals through both teaching and research.

Goal 4.7 is of particular importance to Coventry University:

“By 2030, ensure that all learners acquire the knowledge and skills needed to promote sustainable development”

Our goal is to provide teaching and learning experiences that empower and inspire students to be critical change-makers for sustainability within their field of expertise– whatever that field is, through ESD.

To support this the Coventry University ESD Working Group was founded in 2017. The working group links together an active Micrsoft Teams group and provides and online forum for staff to come together and discuss opportunities to embed Education for Sustainability into their programmes as well as share opportunities to attend workshops and training.

In 2022 a range of ESD coffee mornings organised by Curriculum 2025 student interns were organised and included topics such as climate change in the curriculum in addition to the webinar ‘An Introduction to Embedding Sustainability and Climate Education in Teaching and Learning’ and access to Carbon Literacy Training

Staff can find out about how to get involved and access further resources through the Academic Development website.

This year we have reviewed our curriculum and graduate attributes under the Curriculum Transformation project. Our graduate attributes establish the core skills and values graduates from Coventry University can expect to gain.

One of our core attributes is:

Socially Responsible/Mindful/Sensitive [integrity]: Ethically and environmentally conscious with a sustainable outlook; Acts professionally and with integrity; Champions own and others' well-being and development

Our Graduate Attributes put sustainability at the heart of our curriculum framework with all academic staff integrating this within their programmes. This is governed through formal  structures such as our course review processes, whereby on an annual basis each course provides a detail on how they have met the graduate attributes to the Academic Board. Overall ESD and the integration of the graduate attributes sits with Andrew Turner (Interim Pro-Vice Chancellor – Curriculum Development).

Students are engaged throughout our curriculum development and quality processes. Our Course Reps scheme provides students direct input into their courses at a faculty level. We have student representation on our Academic Affairs Committee and out Quality in Learning and Teaching Committee. The Responsible Futures kitemark also provides students with the opportunity to shape our progress with ESD through audits and feedback.


ESD is embedded within our Education Strategy falling under the category ‘Community contribution and responsibility’, which is one of the five main pillars:

“Communities benefit as we foster a sense of global citizenship and future-thinking, including: sustainability issues; environmental stewardship; disability awareness; social justice; corporate social responsibility; ethics and well-being.”

This strategy is realised through the Curriculum 2025 framework.

Curriculum 2025

Coventry University’s Curriculum 2025 Enhancement Team

As part of this commitment to the SDGs, Coventry set up a team supporting academics and professional service teams with curriculum enhancement. The ultimate vision is surrounding 8 big-picture themes that will explore the perspectives, views and needs of all learners, creating a readiness to contribute responsibly to their communities as students and citizens.

Curriculum 2025 works in collaboration with members of the university group who interact directly with students to make their experience and overall education accredited with the ability to demonstrate academic and professional prowess. This enhanced curriculum focuses on developing and implementing a curriculum framework that is academically rigorous and robust, providing the setting for students to learn face-to-face, blended or online, and relevant to student’s future lives and careers.

The United Nations’ Framework for 2030

UNESCO (2019) highlighted “the crucial role of ESD as a key enabler for all SDGs and a key element of quality inclusive education to build a more just and sustainable world”.

With 2019 drawing a close to five-year cycle, UNESCO needed to instigate the creation of their 2030 Framework. Using this at Coventry, we can use their plan in order to acknowledge and implement “ESD’s role in empowering learners and the societies they live in” as well as in the campus and learning environment they are part of at the University Group (UNESCO, 2019). Scaling UNESCO (2019)’s learning avenues at Coventry University Group, we can “[advance] policy, [transform] learning and training environments, [build the] capacities of educators and trainers, mobilizing youth, and [accelerate] sustainable solutions” which the Framework has identified and calls for.

The key means by which this framework’s goals can be reached are through:

  • Transformative action – thinking about learners as individuals, how no one should be left behind and how we can teach the future generation to take this sustainability forward.
  • Structural changes – thinking of the balancing act different organisations and societies have, we need to nurture the relationships to cut any unsustainable development.
  • Technology – recent advances have enabled more streamlined, sustainable solutions and allow more emphasis on the full complexity of sustainable development.
  • With the point of the team to enhance both content and experience for students, the other themes that the team supports are as follows:

    Enabling actions Description
    An inclusive curriculum that facilitates a sense of belonging The design and delivery of curriculum will provide the setting for all students, regardless of their background or personal characteristics, to reach their full potential. All students will feel part of, and contribute to, the learning community.
    An inclusive curriculum that facilitates a sense of belonging The design and delivery of curriculum will provide the setting for all students, regardless of their background or personal characteristics, to reach their full potential. All students will feel part of, and contribute to, the learning community.
    Mental Health and Wellbeing Course teams and the wider University Group will consider the impact on mental health and wellbeing of both staff and students when designing and delivering courses. Students will be supported to learn positive mental health and wellbeing practices to take forward in their future lives and careers.
    Graduate Skills Our courses will support students to develop critical skills and competencies to operate in a rapidly changing international, cross-cultural and digital world.
    Decolonisation Learning materials and experiences will engage students to understand the social and cultural underpinnings of their discipline. We encourage staff and students to think critically about how knowledge is created, by who and in whose interest.
    Authentic Assessments Assessments will be designed such that they are worthwhile, significant, and meaningful. They will provide students an opportunity to demonstrate skills that have real world application whilst maintaining academic rigor.
    Flexible and Personalised learning Courses will be designed and delivered so that students can move between campus and online based learning to fit in with their lives and preferences. As well as responding to their needs, learning should be designed to play to their strengths, skills and interests.
    Curriculum Co-creation Students, employers and other relevant stakeholders will be involved as partners in the co-production of the design, delivery and ongoing evaluation of courses.

Responsible Futures

Coventry University has retained the Responsible Futures Kitemark since 2015. Responsible Futures recognises UK Universities who are working to embed issues around sustainability and social responsibility within curricula across all faculties. The kitemark considers both formal and informal curriculum such as the extensive volunteering opportunities led by Your Students' Union which provide students with invaluable experience and contribute beneficially to the wider community.

As part of the Responsible Futures Kitemark we have to evidence visible and active senior-level leadership within both the students' union and institution. The Governance of our Responsible Futures Partnership can be found in the ‘Sustainability in Teaching and Learning report’.

Student Satisfaction

Responsible Futures is partly a response to nine years of NUS surveys which consistently show more than 60% of UK students want issues around sustainability to be included within their courses - in recognition of the importance of this in future career paths.
Education for Sustainability often requires inter-disciplinary, cross-cultural, futures-focussed learning experiences which we know students gain from, and enjoy.

Read the 2022 NUS Survey results. 

News and Case studies

Frequent updates can be found from Coventry University Environment Team on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram using the handle @CovUniSust.


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