Education toward sustainability | Inquirer Opinion

Education toward sustainability

/ 05:02 AM October 23, 2021

While our world leaders continue to tackle a host of global challenges, the role our education systems can play in ensuring a more sustainable future is also becoming increasingly apparent.

New Zealand is keenly aware of this, and has made strides to ensure our local and international students are equipped with the knowledge and skills to address the global challenges of today and tomorrow.


New Zealand’s “future focus” education system is centered around developing graduates with skills desired by future employers, empowering them to address global challenges.

This focus is matched by the students themselves. The current motivators for students when selecting an education, and ultimately a career, are very different from what they were five years ago. The QS Environmental Concerns Survey 2019 saw that 79 percent of international students looking to study in the United States, United Kingdom, Australia, or Canada are more likely to choose a degree if the content taught them about reducing their environmental impact.


To maintain pace with what our students are actively seeking, global educational institutions are matching demand and using frameworks such as the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDGs) as a basis to engage their learners. Key global challenges that the SDGs must work to address are explicitly listed by the UN: poverty, inequality, climate change, environmental degradation, peace, and justice.

The introduction of the global University Impact Rankings in 2019 serves as an effective motivator for universities to take the necessary steps and ensure that programs focus on successfully delivering the UN SDGs. Within the rankings, universities are measured against four key indicators—research, stewardship, outreach, and teaching.

New Zealand’s University of Auckland, for instance, clinched a coveted position on the top 10 list of the Impact Rankings following the announcement of their Taumata Teitei—Vision 2030 and Strategic Plan 2025—curated to acknowledge and address the concerns of this generation.

The University of Waikato also recently announced that it will be introducing the world’s first Bachelor of Climate Change in 2022, equipping students with the scientific knowledge of the biophysical world and an understanding of the impacts of economic and political systems on different communities.

Universities and higher education institutions worldwide today are also offering more programs online to drive a more resilient and sustainable education industry.

Education New Zealand, our government agency responsible for international education, along with several of our higher education providers, recently launched several sustainability-based programs in a pilot project with the online platform FutureLearn. This collaboration allows learners to take up free short courses to equip them with real-world skills they can utilize to make our world a better place.

Incorporating sustainability practices remains a work in progress at both government and institution levels across the globe. While it requires institutions to cleverly embed sustainability thinking within their systems, exposing students to a sustainability-focused mindset from a young age is a great start.


The Philippines also maintains a sustainability focus with its Environmental Awareness and Education Act of 2008. Under this law, environmental education must be integrated into all school subjects to enable students to develop their own sense of values and commitment to solve problems and make informed decisions concerning sustainability and the environment.

It is clear that education institutions, at all levels, will need to be adaptable to the changing needs of younger generations who are invigorated about propelling us all toward a better future.

Now is the time for our educators to lead from the front, and New Zealand’s education providers are ready to work with our global counterparts to ensure that students are fully equipped to create change for the world. Most importantly, the industry must set certain standards which demonstrate a genuine commitment to making an impactful change.


Ben Burrowes is the regional director for Asia at Education New Zealand.

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TAGS: education, environment, New Zealand, sustainability
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