Drawing resources together
At school you may have got into trouble writing on your desk, but a similar practice is now being encouraged at the University of Worcester to form a sustainable vision for the future and engage students, staff and the local community to help create it.
In February 2011, 53 students, board members, senior management, academic and support staff at the University were invited to envision a sustainable University of Worcester in 2020 using an informal ‘World Café’ format.
Around the café, different tables and hosts held conversations on general themes of campus, curriculum and community. As people enjoyed a cup of coffee and moved around the room, they wrote and drew their thoughts on the tablecloths and these were then used to gather the key strands from the group. People were encouraged to be colourful and creative.
Following this initial event, the key themes from the cafe were made up into a large 11-foot banner that was taken around the University. Over 250 staff and students engaged with the banners by placing colour coded stickers on them showing what’s the most important (red), what’s the most easily achieved (green) and what adds the most value (blue).
For campus sustainability, both staff and students thought that 24-hour access to the University was important, combined with affordable sustainable travel. Old favourites of recycling and reducing waste to landfill came out as the area people thought could be achieved the easiest. To add the most value to the campus, local procurement came out highest from both staff and students. Interestingly, the next area from staff was specifying controlled heating, whereas students cited social sustainability. The University says that this desire for social sustainability has been reflected in the interest shown in their sustainability focused Facebook and Twitter sites.
On the subject of community sustainability, staff and students supported the continuation and expansion of a current University practice to provide students with internships and work placements. Staff said this was most important to bring in fresh ideas, networking and energy to departments and mentioned how it had helped many students transition into excellent job opportunities. This practice is reflected by the University of Worcester having one of the highest rates of employment for graduates of any institution in the UK. All would like to see further relationships made from the University, students working with schools and staff with businesses. Recent University of Worcester graduate intern Rayanne Ahmed said: “Finding work as a graduate is extremely competitive and tough in the current market. The internship scheme at University of Worcester allows recent graduates to gain valuable work experience. Personally, I have learnt a lot about working in the public sector and the many processes of working in a university office. Working in two departments has shown me different work cultures and how important support services are to higher education – something I was unaware of when I was a student.”
Students and staff all wanted to see the curriculum become more sustainable through ‘individualisation of learning’, most importantly making learning relevant. Staff thought that increasing opportunities to develop practical skills added the most value and the students thought this was the easiest to achieve. A curriculum that brought diversity of options and flexibility was also cited, while both students and staff were aware of the need for students to maintain economic sustainability as they learn.
University of Worcester Director of Environmental Sustainability Katy Boom said: “This project has three phases and we are looking forward to the third phase of going into the community and talking to local organisations, community groups and businesses to find out how their vision of the University maps with visions of the students and staff. As a process it’s been incredibly powerful and enjoyable. We have a tradition of students being part of the decision-making for the University, but these are usually elected representatives. The students who took part in the café didn’t have to be course representatives or Students’ Union officers – just anyone who was interested. Their thoughtful and creative ideas created a real buzz.”