15 June 2021

It’s hard to think of a bigger challenge than climate change’, said Prof. Malcolm Press, Vice-Chancellor, Manchester Metropolitan University, UK, as he opened the session on the role of HEI’s in tackling climate change at Going Global 2021.

The virtual panel discussion focused on four topics: Strategic Capabilities: Innovation and Research and Engagement.

Dr Renuka Thakore, Research Fellow, University College of Estate Management, UK, argued that HEIs have a big role in preparing future stakeholders to address these problems. She believes they can show societies how to become more resilient and prepared for adverse situation like Covid-19. However, she cautioned that to ‘transform our world’, we need to understand our world first. She stressed the importance of reducing inequalities in many areas of life including access to natural resources, gender imbalance and employment inequalities. 

Speaking from the University of Botswana, Dr NKuba Michael, said every discipline at university needs to be engaged in climate change education and sustainability – this is the single most important role for HEI’s in tackling climate change.

Climate education should not be relegated to ‘specialist’ courses as this leads to limited research – climate education must be mainstream across all disciplines. 

He argued that HEI’s can play a role in changing the mind set of future generation as they are training future policy-makers.

Universities need to come up with new technologies to deal with climate issues and mitigation as research backed by universities goes into global companies which can effect society positively.

He also told the audience that we need good communicators and journalists who can speak to all areas of society from primary school to the corporate world so they can appreciate what climate change and global warming means. But he acknowledged this relies on greater economic and human resources. 

Stephen Davison, Deputy Director (Strategic Development), Cambridge Zero, University of Cambridge, UK, agreed that universities have a strong role in this issue but said there isn’t one solution. Instead, HEIs should represent plurality and demonstrate a breadth of expertise. They are important in protecting academic freedom and ensuring the student voice is represented externally in public discussions. However, universities hold positions of trust and influence and interventions can be seen as unwelcome or inappropriate, particularly if public funding is involved or competing agendas.

He said: 'Climate change is an enormous global challenge.  It can be viewed as millions of interconnected local challenges with multiple economic and political contexts.  We need to find ways to have that conversation at a local and global level.'

Working with institutions with international networks allows us to engage with communities which we might not be able to engage with.”

See also