Chair in Outdoor and Environmental Education, Director of the United Nations Centre for ESD (Scotland), Dean of Students (CHSS)
Thomson's Land (Room 1.17)
Professor Peter Higgins holds a Personal Chair in Outdoor and Environmental Education at Moray House School of Education at the University of Edinburgh. The department has an international reputation and is one of few in the world with both a practical and teaching orientation as well as substantial research interests in the field of 'learning outdoors'. The focus of the work of the Outdoor Education section is to prepare critically aware professionals to teach within and improve practice in Outdoor, Environmental and Sustainabilty Education, and also to make a significant contribution to research and knowledge in these fields. Peter's national and international contribution has been recognised by the University of Edinburgh through the award of a Personal Chair, the only one in the field in the UK and Europe.
He is currently Dean of Students in the University's College of Humanities and Social Sciences, and his significant contributions to teaching policy and practise in Higher Education have been recognised by the Higher Education Authority where he is a 'Principal Fellow'.
Peter's early career was as an environmental scientist and freshwater biologist. He holds a BSc in Environmental Physical Sciences, an MSc in Freshwater Ecology and a PhD in the biology of Atlantic Salmon, and has conducted freshater ecological work in England, Scotland, Honduras and Alaska, and was one of the ecologists responsible for the re-introduction of Atlantic Salmon into the River Thames. (See also academic publications listing).
Subsequently Peter retrained as a teacher of Outdoor Education and Biology and in addition to his formal teaching qualifications has gained a wide range of high-level UK and European governing body teaching awards notably in canoeing/kayaking, free-heel skiing and mountaineering, in all of which he retains a strong recreational interest. This training and qualifications were central to his work in several UK outdoor education centres and in New Zealand.
He teaches on a range of Outdoor Education and Environmental Education programmes. Of these, and notable for its 40-year history is the Postgraduate Diploma and Masters degree in Outdoor Education which is unique in Europe and one of the few in the world. It has a high national and international reputation, attracting students from many parts of the world. He teaches both academic and practical aspects of these and other sustainable development and education programmes in the university.
He has successfully supervised 15 PhD students in fields as diverse as residential outdoor provision, education in indigenous cultures, environmental education in Africa and Scandinavia, skill acquisition in kayaking, decision-making by mountain guides, and sustainability in early years education. He currently supervises ten Doctoral students in an equally wide range of areas.
He has recently been active in developing on-line approaches to ‘learning for sustainability’, including a University of Edinburgh Massive Open On-line Course (MOOC) in the field (UofE LfS MOOC), which in 2015 was followed by over 12,000 individuals in 166 countries; and a similar joint venture with Cornell University (USA) (Environmental Education: A transdisciplinary approach to addressing wicked problems). He is currently (jointly) developing an on-line course in Sustainability that will be available to most students in the University from 2016-17.
He is the author of over 100 articles and books relating to these fields. Through individual and collaborative (with other UK and European universities) research grants and consultancy activities he has attracted income of over £1.5M. In addition to his academic work he is active in public disseminatiation of work in the field, through comment in the press and other media.
The policy impact of the work Peter and colleagues have carried out is significant, and was highlighted in a University of Edinburgh submission for the recent (2014) UK Research Excellence Framework. Research by Higgins, Beames, Nicol and Ross, their PhD students and collaborators since 2000, has led directly to national and international developments: 1. Scottish Government policy on local outdoor environmental and sustainability education; 2. Scottish Government and General Teaching Council for Scotland policy on sustainability education and outdoor learning; 3. specialist degree programmes, and continuing professional development for UK and overseas teachers. Related work has supported policy developments on recreational and educational countryside access.
To further increase the impact of this extensive policy work, Peter and colleagues have recently been awarded a major British Council 'Connecting Classrooms' 3-year award (2015-2018) to support the development of teachers' skills in Learning for Sustainability.
Peter is a member of a number of national and international panels and advisory groups on outdoor and environmental education and education for sustainable development. These include several European Union and UNESCO educational projects and the UK Commision for the UN. He jointly established and is currently Director of the United Nations 'Regional Centre of Expertise in Education for Sustainable Development' for Scotland (LfSScotland).
Peter has acted in advisory capacity to the UK and Scottish Governments on Outdoor and Environmental Education, access to the countryside and related environmental issues. He is currently Chair of the Scottish Government National Implementation Group on 'Learning for Sustainability' - integrating education for sustainabie development, global citizenship and outdoor education. He is also a member of the Boards of Trustees of the Field Studies Council and Venture Trust. He has held advisory roles with a wide range of other outdoor and environmental educational providers and agencies and has contributed to their continuing professional development.
Peter is a member of the UK Commission for UNESCO 'Expert Panel' and has recently jointly written their review of ESD in the UK. He co-wrote the chapters on ‘Outdoor Education’ and ‘Sustainable Development Education’ in the definitive text on education in Scotland (Scottish Education, Bryce et al., 2013) and co-authored ‘Learning Outside the Classroom’ (Routledge).
Sustainability, Society and Environment - University-wide Undergraduate Elective Course
MSc Programmes in 'Outdoor Education' and 'Outdoor Environmental and Sustainability Education'
MSc Programme in 'Learning for Sustainability'
MSc Carbon Management
MSc Nursing Studies
Peter currently supervises 11 doctoral students (from the UK, Europe, South-East Asia and North America) who are studying a wide range of topics in Outdoor, Environmental and Sustainability Education in the context of the UK, Europe and other parts of the world.
He has supervised doctoral students now working in the UK, Europe, Japan, Canada and Austraila.
He also works with an Honorary Research Fellow and an EU funded Marie Curie Fellow.