Project need and aims

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The aims of this Project were to:

  • Develop an inspiring and workable LTAS Statement for Environment and Sustainability, i.e. one that reflects best practice in national and international standards development and is simple, understandable and accessible;
  • Consult widely to ensure the Statement is ‘owned’ and strongly supported by broad consensus amongst (a) scholars in environment and sustainability-related disciplines, (b) environmental educators more widely, and (c) environmental practitioners; and
  • Strengthen, through a social learning process, the sense of community among environmental higher education scholars across diverse disciplinary bases.

This project’s primary deliverable is an environmental education LTAS Statement which includes threshold learning outcomes for Environment and Sustainability and a report on their development process.

The need for this Project

Australian universities offer students more than 50 undergraduate and 150 postgraduate coursework programs that are highly diverse but with dominant or significant environment and sustainability elements, from which at least 2,600 students graduate annually.

Given the complexity of increasingly pressing national and international sustainability challenges, it is critical that Australian higher education institutions produce graduates with the skills and knowledge to achieve a sustainable and just future. Ensuring the quality of tertiary education is essential to achieving this outcome. Disciplinary standards will serve as curriculum reference points for the design and delivery of tertiary programs.

The scope of the field

Environment and Sustainability is a coherent field of teaching, learning and research, but not in the traditional disciplinary sense. Environment and Sustainability as a field addresses concerns that are shared across many individual disciplines, spanning the full breadth of the natural and social sciences and the humanities (i.e. from environmental science and engineering through to human ecology and environmental management, planning, law, history and philosophy). The field has evolved in the context of growing awareness of human impacts on environments, and includes education about environment and sustainability, as well as education for environment and sustainability.

The Environment and Sustainability field is distinctive through its combination of three key characteristics. First, the field gives attention to relationships between human societies and environments. Education in this field involves: (i) learning fundamental aspects of society–nature interactions and interdependencies in relation to their present and future conditions; and (ii) supports learners to develop the skills required to influence the transformation of human societies towards a more sustainable future. The field addresses interconnections between social, environmental and ecological dimensions of social justice, sustainability and resilience.

Second, the field values transdisciplinarity. Transdisciplinarity encourages a shift in perspective that includes and extends beyond single traditional disciplines: this approach recognises that effective responses to ‘wicked’ sustainability challenges (challenges which are difficult to clearly define, constantly evolving, and have no clear resolution) lie beyond individual disciplines. The field thus encompasses and synthesises the contributions of many disciplines and seeks to draw academic knowledge into dialogue with other forms of knowledge. Contemporary environment and sustainability thinking engages with complexity, uncertainty and cross-scale interdependencies, is creative, and searches for new, more integrative ways of understanding the world.

Third, the field is characterised by its focus on futures. A key concern and intention of sustainability is ensuring the viability of human societies and ecological systems into the future. Decision-making for sustainability therefore makes links between our actions in the present and their impact in the future. It orientates the actions of those in the field to one of envisioning and negotiating more positive futures. The Environment and Sustainability field acknowledges uncertainty and seeks to prepare graduates with skills and attributes that are adaptable for decision-making across a broad range of possible futures.

There are many instances where tertiary qualifications will span both the Environment and Sustainability field and another discipline for which learning and teaching academic standards have been developed. For joint programs, double degrees and double majors, other disciplinary standards will complement this statement and student learning will be informed by both.