Professor Zoe Robinson: Response and Responsibility: Universities as Actors for a More Sustainable Future

Professor of Sustainability in Higher Education

Awareness of the need for urgent action to ensure a more sustainable future seems to have reached a tipping point, reflected in 2019 by organisations and nations declaring a climate emergency, and an increasing global focus on the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.

Educational institutions are vital contributors towards this more sustainable future. In 2005, the Higher Education Funding Council for England laid out a vision that within 10 years the HE sector in England would be recognised as a major contributor to society’s efforts to achieve sustainability through its own strategies and operations, and the skills and knowledge that its graduates put into practice; adding in 2008 the role of research, knowledge transfer and business and community engagement.

‘Education for sustainability’ can take many forms, from the formal curriculum we teach, the co-curriculum in the opportunities we provide for students, and the ‘hidden curriculum’, in the learning that occurs from the environment in which we live, work and study. But how do we as educators navigate the tensions and synergies between the drive to ensure employable, high earning graduates, metrics driven league tables, and the responsibility to ensure our students, society’s future leaders, are equipped to become knowledgeable and engaged actors with the skills to educate and influence others, and the agency to enact change.


Professor Zoe Robinson Professor Zoe Robinson is a product of Keele’s interdisciplinary educational ethos, completing her undergraduate degree and PhD at Keele, followed by a brief period working in environmental consultancy. Professor Robinson has worked at Keele since 2004 as a Lecturer, Senior Lecturer and Reader across Physical Geography, Environmental Science, and Sustainability roles, and in her capacity as the University’s Director of Education for Sustainability since 2012, leading a transformation in sustainability culture at Keele. Professor Robinson is a leader in the field of Education for Sustainability, and has acted as an advisor on Education for Sustainable Development for the Higher Education Academy, Environmental Association of Universities and Colleges, and National Union of Students. She has led many nationally-recognised sustainability education teaching innovation and research projects, as well as continuing to conduct research in glacial environments. Zoe is a National Teaching Fellow and Principal Fellow of the Higher Education Academy, and Co-Director of the Institute for Sustainable Futures.


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