National standards for tertiary environment and sustainability education

27 March 2014

The University of Newcastle is leading a consortium of universities nationally to develop standards for university-level teaching and learning in environment and environmental sustainability programs. The standards will define minimum levels of student learning for tertiary programs nationally...

The University of Newcastle is leading a consortium of universities nationally to develop standards for university-level teaching and learning in environment and environmental sustainability programs. The standards will define minimum levels of student learning for tertiary programs nationally with majors that include words such as 'environment', 'environmental', 'sustainability' or 'sustainable development' in their title. The project brings together five universities: Newcastle, the Australian National University, Flinders University, Macquarie University and the University of New South Wales. The project was commissioned by the Australian Council of Environmental Deans and Directors (ACEDD), and is supported by a $220,000 grant from the federal Office of Learning and Teaching (OLT). 

The development of these standards is ACEDD' response to the Federal government's implementation of a standards framework (the Australian Qualifications Framework, or AQF) for higher education nationally. Under the AQF, the government has called for disciplinary communities to determine minimum standards for the tertiary level programs they teach. These standards will mean that students can be confident that they are receiving a high quality education. It also means that educators can be supported in providing a high quality education to their students. 

Given the complexity of increasingly pressing national and international sustainability challenges, it is critical that Australian higher education institutions produce graduates with the skills and knowledge essential to bringing about a sustainable and just future. Ensuring the quality of tertiary student learning will be essential to achieving this outcome. More information about the project can be found on the OLT site (http://www.olt.gov.au/project-learning-and-teaching-academic-standards-ltas-environment-and-environmental-sustainability-2) and at ACEDD's site (www.acedd.org.au). 

Crafting the standards will present several key challenges. Firstly, environment is a more-than-disciplinary field: no single discipline has a mortgage on complex sustainability problems. Secondly, the project will need to ensuring the development of learning standards rather than standardisation of learning: ensuring high quality education is important, and so too is ensuring the freedom for individual universities, faculties, schools and departments to pursue multiple and diverse approaches to their education work. 

Lastly, it is important that the project fosters consensus around the standards and ownership of them by those in the sector. To address all three challenges, developing the standards will be achieved through a widely collaborative engaging a wide range of environment and sustainability sectors in Australia including other Australian universities, other education sectors and employers. This process will ensure the standards are 'owned' and strongly supported by broad consensus amongst (a) scholars in environment and sustainability-related fields, (b) environmental educators more widely, and (c) environmental practitioners. The focus on broad engagement and consensus building will also provide an opportunity for those in a very broad and diverse sector to build stronger ties with one another. 

If you work or study in the environment or sustainability field and would like to be involved in the development of these standards throughout 2014 we would love to hear from you. There will be lots of opportunities to collaborate. If you would like to know more please register your interest with Bonnie McBain or Liam Phelan. 

 Bonnie McBain: Bonnie.McBain@newcastle.edu.au or (02) 4921 8871. Liam Phelan: Liam.Phelan@newcastle.edu.au or (02) 4921 6464. 

*Dr Bonnie McBain is a Conjoint Fellow in the School of Environmental and Life Sciences. Dr Liam Phelan is Senior Lecturer and Online Teaching and Learning Coordinator, GradSchool, and Conjoint Senior Lecturer, School of Environmental and Life Sciences.

Contact: Liam Phelan
Contact Phone: (02) 4921 6464