The impact of universities on climate change: A theoretical framework
Transforming Universities for a Changing Climate
Working Paper Series No. 1
Abstract: Universities have a crucial role to play in addressing climate change, but the complex and multifaceted nature of the issue presents challenges for the traditional functioning of the institution. While there is a growing body of work on campus sustainability and climate issues in the curriculum, there is a need to understand more holistically the forms of influence that universities have on society and the environment. This paper puts forward a framework for understanding the impact of universities on climate change, involving four stages: the modalities of university action (education, knowledge production, public engagement, service delivery and campus operations); direct engagement with bridging actors; the broader influence on societal understandings and practices; and finally impact on the ecosphere. Specific pathways of impact are identified, involving either mitigation of or adaptation to climate change. This framework serves as an analytical tool to identify the trajectories of impact already in evidence, but also presents normative implications for the role of higher education institutions in addressing the current climate crisis.
Tristan McCowan is Professor of International Education at the Institute of Education, University College London. His work focuses on higher education and international development, particularly in Latin America and Sub-Saharan Africa, including issues of access, quality, innovation and impact. His latest book is Higher Education for and beyond the Sustainable Development Goals (Palgrave Macmillan, 2019), and he is editor of Compare – a Journal of International and Comparative Education. He is the principal investigator for the Transforming Universities for a Changing Climate research project.