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Responsible Futures 2020-2021 in review


August 16, 2021

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It has undoubtedly been a difficult year for teaching and learning in universities and colleges due to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic. From moving teaching online, to working out how to safely meet in person, the upheaval has been felt within and across institutions and students’ unions, from students to educators.

But there has also been resilience and whole-institution efforts to improve teaching and learning. We’ve been inspired to see this unfold through the Responsible Futures programme, SOS-UK’s whole-institution accreditation framework to support universities and colleges, in partnership with their students’ unions (SUs) to embed Education for Sustainability (ESD) across all areas of learning.

This year we saw leadership from University College of Estate Management and De Montfort University and Students’ Union as our Responsible Futures Host Partnerships, playing a leadership role in programme support. Both Partnerships shared their good practice and supported other Partnerships' learning through facilitation of interactive webinars and online support afternoons. These sessions were led by students, staff and senior leadership, and covered:

Throughout the year, SOS-UK staff led cohort catch-ups in groups of around five partnerships every six weeks, creating a safe space to share learnings, successes and challenges. This was the first year RF has used a cohort learning model, and it has proved beneficial, with Partnerships learning from one another and supporting each other’s successes through shared understanding of the current challenges in tertiary education.

2020-2021 also saw three student-led audits to accredit Partnerships with the Responsible Futures mark. We are delighted to announce the successful accreditation of Aston University and Students’ Union, re-accreditation of the University of the West of England and the Students’ Union at UWE, and De Montfort University and Students’ Union.

The student-led audits saw 18 students from the participating institutions and students’ unions receive training and support to review evidence submitted by partnerships and interview key staff members over two days, ultimately contributing to the final score for each Partnership and offering invaluable feedback based on the audit and their experience as students. Student auditors identified excellent examples of whole-institution working, innovative pedagogical practices and strong commitment to embedding sustainability in learning strategies, statements and policies.

The student-led audits provide hands-on sustainability and auditing experience for interested students. Two auditors shared that:

“This experience has definitely been intriguing and fun! It has made me more confident to speak up and voice my opinions and also being able to be on the opposite side of an interview” and “I think the knowledge and skills I've gained over the past two days will be beneficial, both in my academic as well as professional life. I have a better understanding of how audits work in general, and I have a better understanding of sustainability and the many activities we can do to enable sustainable practices.”
Importantly, student-led audits facilitate partnership working and knowledge exchange between the institution and its students. At the beginning of the UWE and SU at UWE audit, SU Community Manger Rachel Colley commented:
“What makes us proud of this accreditation if we are to attain it, is that our students are auditing us as our harshest critics and strongest allies."

There’s never been a more urgent time to progress and focus on ensuring students are equipped with skills, knowledge and attributes to contribute to a sustainable future and adapt to and thrive in a changing world – just last week, the IPCC released a report once again highlighting the urgency of the climate crisis.

We’re delighted to be joined by a number of new Partnerships for the 2021-2022 and to continue supporting existing partnerships to progress this important work in the years ahead.

Interested in Responsible Futures? Learn more about the accreditation here.

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