UNESCO laureate NUS-UK launches new student-led sustainability education charity

The National Union of Students (NUS) of the United Kingdom, winner of the UNESCO-Japan Prize on Education for Sustainable Development in 2016 has taken their work to a new international level by creating a brand new non-profit organization.

Launched in April, Students Organizing for Sustainability (SOS) International is co-founded with Danish and Irish national students’ unions. It aims to get half of all national unions of students across Europe collaborating and innovating on sustainability by 2022, and afterwards reach out to the rest of the world.

“Winning the prize gave us such a boost and we haven’t stopped running forward since then,” said Jamie Agombar, Head of Sustainability, NUS-UK. “As well as working on the climate emergency in the UK, supporting the youth climate strikes, working to shape UK education policy, and growing all our sustainability programmes, we have started this exciting new international collaboration.”

Prize highlight's UNESCO's wider ESD work

In 2016, NUS-UK won the UNESCO-Japan Prize for its Green Impact programme, which enables, accredits and awards university departments for sustainability efforts. The UNESCO award, funded by the Government of Japan, recognizes the role of education in connecting the social, economic, cultural and environmental dimensions of sustainable development.

It is part of UNESCO's wider work in Education for Sustainable Development (ESD). It aims to improve access to quality education on sustainable development at all levels and transform society by helping people develop the knowledge, skills, values and behaviours needed for sustainable development.

SOS International sets out its challenge on the basis that students have always been at the heart of change. However, while less than 6 per cent of the global population go to university, 80 per cent of societal leaders are graduates but universities are not equipping these future changemakers with adequate knowledge and competencies to create sustainable societies.

There are 14,000 universities in the world, a number that is set to double in the next 10 years, creating huge possibilities for change.

“We urgently need our universities to stop turning out students who are focused on creating short-term profit over long term gain,” said Jamie.

“Sustainability should be seen as a learning entitlement, and treated as seriously as numeracy, literacy and wellbeing. Regardless of what they study, students need to leave university knowing what the climate emergency is and what they can do through their profession to stop it.”

Students need to bring about change in ESD teaching

© Mark Edwards

SOS International aims to engage with and mobilize student youth groups in order for them to bring about the change in what they are being taught in relation to sustainable development. It works by providing knowledge and support, sharing proven solutions and developing capacity. To further shape its work, it will collect global insights from the student community ensuring their voices are heard in decision-making. It will also work with partners to ensure education for sustainable development is mainstreamed across teaching and learning.

NUS-UK already has a range of campaigns and programmes in addition to the prizewinning Green Impact, which touch on assistance for refugees to access higher education, Student Switch Off, which focuses on room energy and recycling, and Responsible Futures, which aims at whole-institution curriculum reform.

To become a member of SOS International an organization must sign up to lead or participate in one or more joint programmes or shared campaigns aligned with the charity’s purpose.

“Spurred on by our UNESCO award, we are very much up for the almighty challenge ahead of us,” said Jamie.