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Launch Announcement : IAU-SOS Responsible Futures International Pilot


October 12, 2023

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Responsible Futures is a whole-institution approach to embedding holistic sustainability across the formal and informal curriculum in higher education. It is a supported change programme and accreditation mark that works to put sustainability at the heart of student learning. The Responsible Futures framework assists in creating an environment for staff and students to work together, in partnership, to embed sustainability throughout teaching and learning.

The programme legitimises and mainstreams education for sustainable development (ESD), ultimately helping to ensure students leave education with the knowledge, skills, and attributes needed to create a more just and sustainable society. The framework facilitates a close working partnership between student representatives and their institutions through a set of criteria drawn from good practice across the sector.

40 partnerships across the UK have joined Responsible Futures since its launch in September 2014. Collectively, they represent more than 700,000 students. For more information see the RF programme website.

International Pilot Launch Workshops

With two workshops taking place online on 3rd and 5th October, the IAU and SOS UK successfully kicked off the international pilot of the RF programme with the first group of universities. The universities participating in the pilot are IAU members who have been invited on board in recognition of their existing commitment to sustainable development and working with an SD strategy at the whole institution. Pilot universities will play a leadership role in working with IAU and SOS to co-create an international RF framework and shape how the international programme is designed and delivered. Around 35 participants joined over the two days, next to SOS UK and IAU facilitators, staff and students from the following universities:

Murdoch University, Australia
Mykolas Romeris University, Lithuania
Queens University, Canada
The University of the West Indies (UWI), Caribbean
Trinity College Dublin, Ireland
Women's University in Africa (WUA), Zimbabwe

Furthermore, representatives from the University of Derby and the University of West of England, both institutions have been involved in the UK Responsible Futures for a number of years, shared how RF created new possibilities and developed initiatives with lasting impact for coordination of institution-wide sustainability engagement. Participants reported on existing sustainability activities and challenges to reach all part of the institution. The programme aims to support them in overcoming institutional barriers and putting systems in place that will encourage the development of lasting sustainability initiatives. In addition to introducing participants and defining aims and objectives, the workshops served to review of the RF framework and exchange experiences.

Erica Clother-Joseph, President of the UWI Global Campus STAT Corp, University of the West Indies, stated after the workshop:

"We are looking forward to the Responsible Futures pilot and the collaboration across campuses, faculties and departments on ESD. This will really bring a sense of unity to our work and bring our university closer together as we work toward this important initiative.”

Heather Aldersey, faculty member at the School of Rehabilitation Therapy and Special Advisor to the Principal on the UN SDGs, Queen’s University, believes that:

“The programme will be helpful to learn from international colleagues around their efforts and through student involvement. The RF framework is useful to look at our baseline and how we’ll move forward in the coming years.”

Sarah-Jane Cullinane, ESD fellow at Trinity College Dublin, believes that

“the programme [will] give us a mechanism to support our students to lead on ESD and to have some transparency around the process as well.”
Why Responsible Futures international?

In her welcome words, IAU Secretary General Hilligje van’t Land stressed how universities are already transforming towards sustainability and how this links to the RF international pilot. “The joint IAU and SOS UK Responsible Futures International Programme is an accelerator on the highway to successfully working with sustainability at the whole institution and can help students, staff and leadership at universities work more closely together” she said.

The IAU strongly advocates for the role of higher education for the 2030 Agenda and for the importance of Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) as a backdrop for action in HE. The IAU decided to endorse the Responsible Futures programme based on its focus on student engagement and co-development so as to accelerate and ensure both medium- and long-term success of sustainability initiatives at the participating universities. Thanks to the diverse group of institutions from different countries, higher education systems, and backgrounds involved in the pilot group and framework co-design process, the IAU is convinced that the international RF programme will be beneficial and help HEIs to advance their sustainably efforts.

Next steps

Next steps will include further individual meetings with institutions, support consultations, and preparing a possible audit. This first round of the IAU-SOS Responsible Futures pilot will conclude in summer 2024, and its results will be presented at the IAU International Conference 2024 in November 2024 (more details will be announced shortly).IAU Members interested in participating in the Responsible Futures International in 2024 are invited to contact Isabel Toman to receive further information on requirements and timelines.

This article was first published on the IAU site on 12th October, 2023.