From education to employment

Most parents don’t recognise role of universities in tackling climate change

Professor Steve West CBE, UUK President

Just four in 10 (44%) parents of 16–18-year-olds – the crucial next generation of climate activists, researchers and scientists – believe that UK universities are equipping students with knowledge about climate change, according to new research from Universities UK.

And alarmingly, although nearly every university in the country has a published sustainability strategy, less than half of parents (49%) recognise that universities are researching solutions to climate change, with only a quarter (24%) thinking they communicate to the public about their efforts.

The findings come as universities across the UK launch a major new campaign backed by actor and environmentalist Lily Cole, to reaffirm their commitment to tackling the climate emergency through researching solutions, working with local communities, and equipping students and the public with much-needed climate literacy. 

Public looking to universities to equip population with green skills

Despite this apparent lack of awareness, parents see universities as crucial to delivering on the Department for Education’s sustainability strategy – published last week – with 64% believing that going to university would equip their child with skills and knowledge that can help make the world a better place, and 70% thinking a university degree is essential for those contemplating a career in tackling climate change.

And given the opportunity, more than one in three UK adults (37%) would consider higher education as a route to upskilling to realign their career with efforts to combat the climate emergency.

Environmentalists out in force to back campaign

Universities throughout the country have joined forces with celebrities and organisations including model Lily Cole, to set the record straight on their commitment to climate action. A new set of case studies – published today – demonstrates the remarkable breadth of ways that universities are actively tackling the climate emergency through their research, business and community interaction, and efforts to equip each and every graduate with climate literacy, no matter what subject they study.

Actor, model and environmentalist Lily Cole said:

“With scientists issuing a ‘now or never’ plea in the latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the need for bold and urgent climate action has never been clearer. Universities across the UK play an important role in tackling the climate emergency – educating and inspiring the next generation of climate activists, and carrying out research and innovation on a global scale.

I’m proud to support this campaign and by association the ground-breaking work being delivered by our universities. They give me hope that together we can make the changes necessary to secure a sustainable future for generations to come.”

Professor Steve West, President, Universities UK, said:

“We need urgent and ambitious climate solutions and must ensure future generations are given the chance to build the careers they need to tackle this emergency head on. Universities are crucial to this. A university education can make all the difference in equipping students with the knowledge and skills to help them to make a positive impact on the planet, whatever path they choose.”

You can find out more about the MadeAtUni campaign at You can also follow the campaign on Twitter @MadeAtUni and Facebook @madeatuni.

Sector Response

NUS Vice-President for Higher Education Hillary Gyebi-Ababio said: 

“We welcome the launch of Universities UK’s climate action campaign. But their plan must recognise that universities are currently funneling millions of pounds of students’ money into fossil fuel companies. They’re also platforming them at careers fairs and taking funding from them for courses and resources.

“This can’t go on any longer. This must be the watershed moment where UUK finally listen to the students and staff who have been calling on them to break these links, and urgently commit to divesting from companies who profit from harming the planet and the people living on it. We don’t have time”.

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