Social Responsibility and Sustainability

Student Engagement and Learning

The University is committed to providing embedding the climate crisis and the Sustainable Development Goals into its learning and teaching, supporting more students to critically engage with these issues.

In 2019, a working group of academic, professional staff and students was established to share good practice and identify opportunities to embed the Sustainable Development Goals into the academic curriculum and student experience. The group has supporting the mapping of the Sustainable Development Goals in the curriculum, by working with students, projects have been completed in the Business School and the School of Geosciences. Further work is being undertaken to improve our understanding of how these issues are and can be further integrated in the curriculum and wider student experience. 

Academic curriculum

The Institute of Academic Development delivered the Wicked Problems project, which focused on how teachers in the University were preparing students to deal with wicked problems in their future lives. Wicked problems include climate change, poverty and conflict. The project collected qualitative data across the three academic colleges of the University and provided recommendations on what students might need to learn to prepare for these wicked problems, teaching strategies and a direction for the academic curriculum.

The Edinburgh Futures Institute is developing a new multi-disciplinary elective course for undergraduate students. Currents: Understanding and Addressing Global Challenges will be the first undergraduate course launched by the Edinburgh Futures Institute in September 2020. Students will have the opportunity to explore a current challenge facing the world from the perspective of different disciplines.

Next year, the RACE.ED hub will address the issue of racism within educational programmes. It will promote a programme of activities and launch an inter-disciplinary course on Race and Decolonial Studies.

This has made a number of its courses available online for free in a bid to support frontline NHS staff in the fight against Covid-19. The University’s MSc Critical Care team, in collaboration with the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh,  has developed an online training and education hub called the Covid-19 Critical Care Education Resource. To date, 44,000 learners from 197 countries have already taken this short online course to learn the principles and practice of critical care for patients during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Student experience

The Students as Change Agents project aims provides an opportunity for students to work with community partners. A ‘living lab’ approach for students, staff, and external partners to tackle real-life challenges and generate fresh thinking. It involves students from multiple disciplines who want to make a social impact during their time at University.

The culmination of the programme in June 2020 saw 150 students taking part from across the world, working together with partner organisations to address challenges like youth homelessness in Scotland and exploring what an environmentally sustainable future might look like for Edinburgh in the revival of its tourism industry and festivals post-Covid-19.

In 2019, the University launched a ground-breaking course aimed at providing people with the necessary skills to help the homeless. Over 60 undergraduate and postgraduate students from across all three academic colleges completed the course, which included individuals who worked in the homelessness and health sector, completing the course as continued professional development. The Design for Change Degree Programme at the Edinburgh College of Art has embedded the Sustainable Development Goals in compulsory studio courses, taking a critical approach to understand the role of design in addressing social, technical and environmental change.

Student-led projects

Edinburgh Innovation's client Alison Wood
Alison Wood, Lilypads

In November 2019, Lilypads, a student social enterprise that developed a reusable sanitary pad, was chosen as part of the Universitas 21 RISE Showcase. The RISE Showcase is a global exposure initiative, which highlights student-led projects across the globe in the areas of sustainable development, social enterprise and non-profit innovation. The University launched a Student Enterprise Hub, which provides a space for students to meet and work on their enterprises, as well as a venue for to deliver events and services, such as one-to-one business adviser meetings.

Several student-led project received seed funding from the University in 2019-20 to develop and implement projects to address and promote sustainability issues. One such project was the YIKES podcast. It is hosted by student Mikaela Loach and fellow climate acivist, Joanna Becker, and focuses on intersectionality, system change and how we, as individuals, can work to address the climate and refugee crisis. They wanted to create something that would make activism more accessible and share the stories that might not make it to the mainstream media.

Case studies

Critical courses made free to support NHS

Edinburgh University launches course to help homeless

EFI announces UG course focusing on global challenges

Student Enterprise Hub an instant hit

Teaching Matters Blog: Sustainability in the Curriculum

Wicked Problems