UK universities are below their US and Canadian counterparts in a global sustainability ranking that ranks them on their environmental footprint and contribution to society, as student climate activists warn that nearly half are behind on their emissions targets.
The ranking places the University of California at Berkeley in first place, followed by two Canadian institutions, the University of Toronto and the University of British Columbia, with the University of Edinburgh being the best performing British institution in the fourth place due to its strong durability. to research.
The second-highest UK university was Glasgow, in 13th place, which the QS Rankings compiler said performed well on equality, thanks to a large number of female leaders and a transparent approach to governance. governance.
Next come Oxford, in 16th place, Newcastle in 18th and Cambridge, which claimed 19th place.
Andrew MacFarlane, head of the QS rankings, said the UK performed “exceptionally well”, with the second highest proportion of institutions in the top 100 after the US.
“On average, [UK universities] demonstrate good gender diversity ratios, both at staff and student levels, published commitments to diversity and tolerance as well as climate mitigation and governance, an impressive line of research that speaks many UN SDGs and evidence of transparent governance,” he said.
However, Quinn Runkle, education director at Students Organizing for Sustainability, warned that nearly half of UK universities were not on track to meet carbon emissions targets and that two-fifths were not had not yet made a commitment to divest from fossil fuels.
“While it is positive to see UK universities performing well in the overall rankings, I think it reflects how far the sector still has to go. Getting to the top does not necessarily mean institutions are doing all that needs to be done. , but rather that they simply do more than the others,” she said.
She added that sustainability rankings could be a useful tool to drive change and she hoped such metrics would be included in the overall rankings.
“Globally, only 3% of people go to university, but graduates occupy 80% of leadership positions. Universities therefore have a huge duty to ensure that decision-makers do things right when it comes to sustainability” , Runkle said.
Fiona Goodwin, chief executive of the Alliance for Sustainable Leadership in Education, said “sustainability is a growing driver of choice for where students apply”, adding that she hopes the new sustainability strategy and climate from the Department of Education would provide leadership and motivation for universities to do more.
QS’s survey of 3,000 students found that 82% of applicants have researched their prospective institution’s sustainability work, while 87% have reviewed its equality and diversity track record. Almost three-quarters (73%) of Western European students cited the climate emergency as the biggest issue for young people.
The rankings are based on two categories: environmental impact, including institutional sustainability and teaching and research on the climate crisis, and social impact, which measures the equality and diversity of the establishment, and the place of social justice in programs and research.
Edinburgh’s high ranking is the result of producing research aligned with the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, a good diversity record, a strong environmental science department – including a climate institute and courses such as the Msc Climate Change – and numerous partnerships with universities in the global south.
Planned initiatives include a carbon sequestration program, which will sequester over one million tonnes of CO2a total divestment from fossil fuels, scholarships for people in areas most affected by the climate crisis to explore ways to combat its effects and support the Scottish capital’s net zero target.
Dave Gorman, director of social responsibility and sustainability at the University of Edinburgh, said the institution aims to “increase our ambition year by year”, adding that it hopes to develop this further over the course of the year. the next decade by expanding its sustainability focus to include social responsibility. , biodiversity, resources and circular economy.