Transition Universities

Questions that emerged after day 1


How do we collectively learn to tolerate uncertainty?

How do we open-source what is going on?  How do we give away knowledge/experience?

How can we outreach and get beyond talking to ourselves?

How does a grass roots transition movement engage with universities institutions which are top down and where the top does not buy in?

What could universities look like in 30 years' time and how will we get there?

How can universities play a significant role in helping young people shape their lives?

If the current problem is a split between thought and feeling, how do we change that?

Is this a wholly anthropocentric discussion or is it one occurring within an ecologically diverse system?

How can local transition groups avoid losing sight of national and global problems?


 I. General Themes

Can UK universities be transformed from within or should the transition movement concentrate on cultivating its own alternative educational models?

      The energy discussion would suggest that universities can contribute significantly to energy descent and could play an important role helping their communities to following their example and allowing them to benefit from their research.

      The curricula discussion suggested however that new educational alternatives need to be explored, especially in the light of the current funding situation.

      When it comes to food the answers are very ambiguous.  Different universities would be very differently positioned to lead or lag on transforming aspects of food procurement and consumption.

      The community/university link has been and will be a challenge; the university tradition is that of non-localization, of international sharing and of movement of academics and students from place to place; the university population is thus one of many transients and outsiders.  Alternative, localised, community based forms of education might not be and perhaps have no need to be universities.  [One might draw lessons from the original inspiration of land grant universities in the US, and learn why they never fully lived up to their original ideals.]


What would we like universities to be doing that they are not doing now?

      Connect learning to action - informing societal change

      Create a context for doing things differently in their wider communities

      be centres for work

      prioritize solving problems of living

      encourage free thinking and exploration, not training

      be more efficient and effective and use the internet instead of travel

      be more localised and place based

      open up real options for students

      teach ethics and spirituality

      move from specialisms to holistic, long-term thinking

      overcome the split between rationalism and romanticism

      develop viable alternative educational models


How can they be made resilient? - Currently they not resilient even if they are sustainable and are vulnerable to a collapse of the Chinese economy


Obstacles to changing Universities from within:

      difficulty influencing uni status quo hard to get high level buy in

      carbon accounting is challenging

      funding - harder to lobby for funds if the top does not buy in

      business/corporate model of a university

      lack of wide scale student drive for change

II. Energy



                        sub metering - building meters,

                        building management systems

                        sustainability monitors - drill down notice patterns of use

                        highlight carbon accounting challenges

            Low hanging fruit

                        lighting - LEDs, induction bulbs, ....

                        computer switch off

            Harder but possible

                        change old boilers

            Harder but barriers

                        CHP, PV, Biomass

Behaviour change

            computer users - switch off

            student switch off


            Could they have their own tradable energy quotas?

Drivers for action:

            green league table



            government pressure

            oil price

            energy security



            senior management "buy-in"


            sustainable culture


III. Food

Problems with current sourcing

      use of purchasing consortia leaves relatively little flexibility

      edible waste problem

      not enough choices or connection to the local economy, local food

      sourcing not transparent

      price concerns students want cheap calories and that drives policy

What can be done?

      take fresh fruit and veg out of consortia

      focus on seasonal ingredients

      increase student awareness/cooking confidence

      raise student cooking skills cookery competitions, classes, .

      food co-ops for buying

      slow food on campus use their network

      follow Bristol model - use supermarket waste food to provide cheap meals to students and others

      gardening/allotments for students

      more horticultural students integrate production into education

      integrate into curricula, occupational therapy/ tourism and hotel management

      local farmers' market on campus regularly

      lobby student union  to change procurement policy


      cost of organic/local/sustainable food

      lack of student awareness

      obstinacy and/or ignorance of upper uni management

      existing long term contracts with consortia

      determining carbon footprint of foods


Benefits of change

      allotments - awareness of sourcing - improve resilience, supply and knowledge

      health improvements

      selling point for top universities - reset the bar

      meet HEFC targets - link to curriculum and research


IV. Curriculum

What kind of curriculum in needed?

      methods and approach need changing more than content

       problem based

       place based

       oriented toward wisdom

       oriented toward action

       recognizes multiple forms of knowledge

       involves group learning

       involves systems thinking

       develops capacity for independent learning

       involve students in design and delivery

       establishes communities of enquiry

Radical Overhaul  may be necessary




      anxiety about jobs

      departmental attitudes

      academic professional attitudes/career ladders


V. Communities

How can we reach out to community?

How can the community reach into the university?



      business as usual

       regulated corporatized


       bringing in real-life initiatives

       engaging with locality, social history

       supporting radical "seeds for change" like Transition Heathrow with research, publicity, manpower