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The UK’s “Top Institution” for Sustainability? Edinburgh Ranks Poorly Once Again in 2022 University

Writing by People and Planet Edinburgh. Artwork by Isi Williams.


Last semester, the University of Edinburgh could be seen celebrating on social media that it had been rated the best university for sustainability in the UK and the 4th best in the world by QS. To the contrary, in the beginning of December 2022, the annual People & Planet University League found Edinburgh to rank 81st in the country – a 2:2 level University according to People & Planet’s criteria, and in danger of slipping down to 3rd class University in future. This league is the only one to rank UK universities exclusively by environmental performance, ethics and transparency, and additionally investigates the success of each institution in meeting their own environmental goals. The University of Edinburgh is not only far from the top 10 in the league but is in the lower half of the 153 universities ranked, after failing to remain on-track for its emissions reduction target this year, and performing particularly poorly in the categories of ‘Environmental Policy’, ‘Ethical Investment’, and ‘Carbon Reduction’, with scores of 0%, 1% and 10% respectively. For all Edinburgh’s preaching of its sustainable goals and ethics, there appears to be a significant gap between this and its actual practises.


Of particular interest to Edinburgh’s students will be the ‘Ethical Careers and Recruitment’ category for which the University was given a score of just 18%. Edinburgh People & Planet are currently carrying out the ‘Fossil Free Careers’ campaign, aiming to end links between the fossil fuel and mining industries and the University careers service. The lack of a solid careers policy is significantly damaging Edinburgh’s ranking, as when fossil fuel companies such as INEOS, Schlumberger and Subsea 7 are allowed to attend careers fairs (as they were in November’s Careers in Engineering exhibit), the University’s careers service becomes independently responsible for a major blemish on its sustainability and ethics record. Eliminating this through a policy that excludes oil, gas and mining recruitment, as well as other unethical industries such as in tobacco and arms, is one route the University should take to improve their success in being an ethical and sustainable institution.


“Education is fundamentally about securing and investing in the future. As a world-leading place of education claiming to do so, it is extraordinary that the University of Edinburgh continues to support the fossil fuel industry at the same time as it rightly continues to teach about its endangerment of our futures. Edinburgh cannot build a greener future for its students while it encourages them to blacken that future’s skies with fossil fuels – that is why I am campaigning for Fossil Free Careers”


– Caitlin, Member of People & Planet Edinburgh


“For a university that does a lot of lip-service to issues of sustainability this ranking demonstrates a failure, or perhaps a lack of willingness, to put any of this high talk of sustainability into practice. A university degree is useless on a burning planet and the University of Edinburgh owes its students a future to graduate into.“

– Silver, Member of People & Planet Edinburgh


Notes:

(1) People & Planet is the largest student network in the UK campaigning for social and environmental justice. We envision a future in which spiralling inequality, instability, climate crisis and resource depletion are reversed, and a world in which the balance of power in society has fundamentally shifted to an equal world that benefits all of us. Our mission is to build an empowered generation of change-makers who are equipped with life-long skills, motivation and networks to be a force for change in achieving a more equitable and sustainable world.


(2) In 2022, the People & Planet University League ranked 153 UK universities – awarding them a First class degree, 2:1, 2:2, Third, or Fail – according to 14 criteria including: Environmental policy, auditing and human resources, and their performance in areas such as carbon reduction, waste and water recycling, student engagement, education for sustainable development, energy sources, sustainable food and workers’ rights. The ranking combines information made public by universities online, with raw data obtained from the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) 2020/2021 Estates Management Record (EMR) covering the period 01 August 2020 to 31 July 2021


(3) The 2022/23 People & Planet University League was researched by a team of trained student and recent graduate volunteers between July-August 2022.


(4) Universities had to demonstrate evidence of fulfilling the criteria in the 2021/22 academic year.


(5) All information aside from HESA EMR data, had to be publicly available on the university website at the time of data collection, between July-August 2022.

(6) The full People & Planet University League ranking can be found at this address: https://peopleandplanet.org/university-league and the detailed Edinburgh University page can be found here: https://peopleandplanet.org/university-league/2022/u853/university-of-edinburgh


(7) For additional quotes on precarity in higher education, feel free to contact Jane Thompson, Bargaining and Negotiations Official at the Universities and Colleges Union JThompson@UCU.ORG.UK


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