The Economics Network

Improving economics teaching and learning for over 20 years

Background to the Education for Sustainable Development Initiative

The UK Department for Education and Skills "has lead responsibility for learning about sustainable development". While encouraging universities to "adopt sustainable practices", the department also sees "[c]urriculum development [as] an important aspect in higher education with the opportunity to create informed graduates who are knowledgeable about sustainability and can influence others".

To this end, the Higher Education Funding Council of England (HEFCE) gave the Higher Education Academy £1.1 million "to address a number of specific priorities, one of which is developing a programme for identifying, sharing and augmenting good practice in learning about sustainable development".

The Higher Education Academy created an Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) Planning Group, and this body, in conjunction with Forum for the Future, developed a ten-year strategic plan to embed ESD into the activity of the Academy and its Subject Centres. A short-term operational plan was also devised, in accordance with this strategy, the first phase of which was a pilot programme recently completed academic year 2004-2005. One strand of activity was the funding of individual Subject Centre projects, aiming to:

  • build awareness and understanding of the principles of sustainable development (SD) in the context of each discipline,
  • research current ESD practice,
  • unearth existing and/or develop new learning and teaching resources, and
  • identify opportunities for further development and propose outline work programmes for 2005/06 and beyond.

The Economics Network was one of the 18 participating Subject Centres. To initiate the process of achieving the above aims, the Network undertook several steps, including approaching a large number of potentially interested lecturers, and by conducting interviews and focus groups on the question of embedding SD in the curriculum. The ESD section of the Network's website reports on the initial findings from the research. (Please see the full report, as presented at a September 2005 conference, available in PDF). The paper first describes the steps taken in research by the Network. It then reports some of the key data generated by that research. The paper reports that economists felt that their subject could and should be heavily involved in the ESD project. Several concepts from economics, which were considered key to its usefulness in ESD, were identified. However, there was not full agreement on what those key concepts should be. Furthermore, several barriers to the embedding of ESD in economics curricula were revealed. Some of the most important barriers are shown to be those resulting from working in an interdisciplinary way.

The Network is seeking to overcome the reported barriers with our Current Projects.

The aim of the 2006 ESD programme of work has been to primarily build upon the work of the initial year of operation (2005), principally the work of individual HE Academy Subject Centres (SCs). The Economics Network has been participating in one of the community projects.