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Climate change education for universities: A conceptual framework from an international study

Molthan-Hill, P and Worsfold, N and Nagy, GJ and Leal Filho, W and Mifsud, M (2019) Climate change education for universities: A conceptual framework from an international study. Journal of Cleaner Production, 226. pp. 1092-1101. ISSN 0959-6526


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© 2019 Elsevier Ltd The role of universities in climate change education (CCE) is of great importance if the scientific, social, environmental and political challenges the world faces are to be met. Future leaders must make decisions from an informed position and the public will need to embed climate change mitigation tools into their work and private life. It is therefore essential to understand the range of CCE strategies being taken globally by Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) and to explore and analyse the ways that HEIs could better address this challenge. Consistent with this research need, this paper offers an analysis of the extent to which HEIs in 45 countries approach CCE and provides a conceptual framework for exploring how HEIs are embedding CCE into their curricula. In addition to the specialist approach (where students choose to study a degree to become experts in climate change adaptation and mitigation tools), the CCE framework developed identifies and highlights three other approaches HEIs can deploy to embed CCE: Piggybacking, mainstreaming and connecting (transdisciplinary). Using data gathered in an explorative international survey involving participants working across academic and senior management, this paper illustrates the different approaches taken and analyses practical examples of current CCE practice from across the world. Responses from 212 university staff from 45 countries indicated that CCE was highly variable – no clear pattern was identified at the country level, with CCE approaches varying significantly, even within individual HEIs. This plurality highlights the wide range of ideas and examples being shared and used by institutions in very different countries and contexts, and underlines the importance of the independence and autonomy of HEIs so that they can choose the right CCE approaches for them. To highlight the breadth and variety of approaches that were uncovered by our survey, the paper offers a range of examples illustrating how climate change education may be embedded in a higher education context, some of which could be replicated in HEIs across the world. The conceptualisation of CCE and the examples given in this paper are valuable for anyone who is thinking about strategies for embedding more climate education in the higher education curriculum.

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