Sustainability in the Curriculum: University of Manchester

I was recently invited to sit in on a meeting of the Community of Practice at University of Manchester which is thinking through how to embed Sustainability across the curriculum. This area of thinking and study is massively relevant as it connects with each and every human and living thing on the planet. How we move into greater synergy with our environment and life supporting bio-systems is an emerging field which is complex and multi-disciplinary.

Sustainability Curricula Logo


It has been through working alongside, and encountering the open perception of the University of Manchester to learning in the broader context, that I have started to understand Sustainability as something which necessarily involves us all.


Susan Brown, who coordinates the Community of Practice which is developing sustainability in the curriculum has changed my personal attitude from one disconnected with any idea of my interrelationship with the environment to one of understanding my actions as having critical importance in the environmental outcomes we collectively face.


I attended the Community of Practice and assisted by helping record the session presentations. I was struck by the openness and encompassing nature of the people involved, recognising that everyone has a part to play and a valuable perspective to be represented. It was impressive the way that the presenters were talking about the sustainability issues as Real World problems and that an open ended, interdisciplinary approach was necessary before any traction can be gained in these ‘wicked problems’.


Problem Based Learning was a theme which emerged and, as a strategy, it was highly valuable as a way of embracing the complexity of the issues. The work which the university has been involved in innovating has opened out a number of successful courses and prompted a greater focus on how sustainability can be embedded in all subjects – as each has something to contribute to the understandings we need for tackling global scale problems.


There was discussion about how it was vital to engage communities as equal stakeholders in the problems, and utilise their expertise in developing frameworks for approaching solutions to the problems. The problems were conceived as the starting points for learning which could be used to provide a scaffolding to developing the skills and knowledge required to reach towards solutions. This way of seeing problems I think is highly relevant as it promotes the joined up thinking which is increasingly scarce in an over specialised society.


I walked away feeling that the barriers which the community faces are the barriers which the academics are also facing, and that through this kind of dialogue there is optimistic scope for removing the divides and enabling a united effort to tackle complicated problems. It is so easy to create ingroup-outgroup mindsets that evoke tribal behaviours and marginalise one or another perspective.


This is particularly prevalent when an informal community banks onto a formal one. What I saw in these presentations were enlightened viewpoints which were open, and ones which appreciated that everyone should have a place at the table when dealing with the real world.


What I am taking away from this is some sense of how I can practically think through developing a strategy for positively effecting my environment, and a sense of direction on what thinking has been started.