Colleges 'must be at centre of climate change action'

Colleges are key to climate action – they will supply workers for the green economy, says College Development Network

Kate Parker

Climate change: Colleges 'must be at the heart of emergency plans'

Colleges need to be at the centre of climate change emergency plans – or the national response will not be successful, the chief executive of the College Development Network has said.

Speaking exclusive to Tes, Jim Metcalfe said getting to net-zero must be a huge objective for Scottish colleges in the next 10 years.

He said: “Unless the college sector is absolutely at the centre of it [tackling the climate emergency], I don't think our national response can work, because we won’t have the workforce to do what we need to do as a country in the next 20 years.  

“But also, I don't think our students will buy it. I don't think our students, long-term, would accept a system that is disinterested in one of the things causing them genuine anxiety and concern. Quite rightly, they'll expect a response of us. As a system, we are working on that now, and that's going to be a huge objective for the next 10 years. It’s something we have to get right.”

More: Five reasons why FE needs to act now on climate change

Meet Jim Metcalfe: Champion of Scottish colleges

Climate change: How to become a 'net-zero' college

This week, CDN published the Scottish Colleges’ Statement of Commitment on the Climate Emergency, which highlights how college staff and students are working together to achieve a more sustainable future for Scotland.

The statement includes 10 key actions, which will support Scotland’s efforts to achieve net-zero climate emissions by 2045 – and help Scotland’s colleges to achieve net-zero by 2040 or earlier. 

FE colleges committing to action on climate change

The key actions for colleges include educating staff, students, and local communities on the impact that daily life can have on the environment, publishing action plans to address on-campus and supply chain emissions, and working with industry and employers to find practical solutions to help make the planet safe for future generations. 

Metcalfe said there was “absolute unanimity of purpose and urgency” from the college sector. “I think that reflects a new generation of leaders who have grown through their education leadership experience with the climate emergency as part of their thinking," he said. "Students are demanding and student associations pressing, wanting to see more action, which is brilliant.

"Staff across the whole college system realise this is now part of their work. That’s the easy bit, writing the statements. The difficult bit is the years and millions of pounds of investment, the thousands of hours of staff time, that is going to go into all of the difficult things we need to do next. But as a first step, I think there is an absolute unanimity of purpose and urgency from the Scottish college sector on this one.”

Shona Struthers, chief executive of Colleges Scotland, said: “Colleges are determined to make an impact and play our part in mitigating the climate emergency – it’s very timely that colleges have come together to make this strong commitment to take meaningful action. 

“Colleges have already made good progress in this area – the sector’s overall emissions reduced by 7 per cent between 2017-18 and 2018-19. 

“And colleges will also, of course, continue to deliver the skills and training required to support the workforce which is needed to tackle climate change in the years to come. There’s huge interest from students in the green economy, and colleges are key providers of education and training for growing industries like sustainable energy and for the low carbon economy. The 10 key actions within the commitment will support and enhance this ongoing work in colleges across Scotland.”

Jamie Hepburn, the minister for higher education and further education, youth employment and training, said: Jim Metcalfe’s comments are very welcome. Higher and further education plays a lead role in the research and innovation that will underpin the net-zero transition. Our Climate Emergency Skills Action Plan remains central to our ambitions to create a future workforce that can support our transition to a net-zero economy.

“As part of the plan, a priority action identified includes undertaking a programme of collaborative work with colleges and other delivery partners to develop a coherent skills response to Covid-19, including the identification of opportunities for a green recovery in their regions. Work is underway to align training and education opportunities to the net-zero transition and this will be a critical part of my focus as I work with partners across the education and skills system in the coming period.”

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Kate Parker

Kate Parker is a schools and colleges content producer.

Find me on Twitter @KateParkerTes

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