In our pilot year, consulting with an advisory group of leaders in the 5 subject fields, we developed a methodology which analysed the THE top 20 universities, on five key subjects, working to understand the extent to which they prepared their students to tackle the climate emergency and ecological crisis; by searching for key sustainability terms on their relevant web pages. This indicated their commitment to teaching about and for sustainability.

From the outset we have recognised the elitism of global rankings and the part they play in the marketisation of education. However, we also recognise that, in part because of this, it’s these powerful institutions that disproportionately produce the leaders of tomorrow.

A word search method has obvious limitations but was selected by our advisory group because of its ease of application and because the university’s subject webpages should be indicative of what is taught. The website is how students determine if they want to study there and is how the university presents its key information about that subject to external stakeholders.

Using a website crawler software we searched for key words on each university’s subject webpage, using a list of key sustainability terms as well as subject-specific indicators. For example, in economics we included the term ‘circular economy’ and in health considered ‘social prescribing’. We used key terms from the 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals as well as a broad range of terms across environmental and social sustainability, including things like ‘equity’ and ‘ethics’.

Using a good practice university suggested by our advisory board, we set 1,000,000 mentions per page as a minimum in our methodology to represent the kind of sustainability education we which could better prepare students for a 1.5 degree future. With this, we have determined a ‘sustainability teaching score’ for each university. Those that scored 0-20% are the worst offenders, scoring 40% or below performing poorly, and anyone below 100% still not doing enough. We would consider 100% to be the minimum to responsibly educate students for the future.

We know that the ‘best practice’ in these subjects may exist within universities who do not have the resource to update extensive webpages nor find themselves in the global university league tables – this is not an exercise in identifying the ‘best’ of these subjects, this in about holding the so-called ‘top’ universities to account for their global responsibility in educating future leaders.

Advisory Board

Our work is complemented by an advisory board, made up of experts in the education sector. They have helped to guide the campaign and made invaluable suggestions in this pilot year.