Supporting our students to lead on sustainability

Posted on: 15 March, 2021

At UCEM, student feedback is vital in shaping what we do. Students are invited to fill in anonymous feedback on our virtual learning environment (VLE), either to comment on positive aspects of their programme or areas for improvement.


This feedback can lead to change with several examples listed on our ‘You said, we did’ webpage. This desire to engage with the student body to bring about positive change has manifested itself in the creation of a growing number of Student Trustees, Representatives and Ambassadors, who help to bridge the gap between UCEM and its students.


We work with students on all aspects of what we do. When it comes to sustainability, our participation in the National Union of Students’ (NUS) Responsible Futures initiative, which sees students audit their university’s sustainability credentials, since 2018 has enabled us to work with our students to embed sustainability at UCEM even further.

We became the first online institution to gain Responsible Futures accreditation in 2018 and, along with De Montfort University and De Montfort Students’ Union, we were delighted to become a host partnership for the initiative for 2020-21.


This deepened our role with the programme, seeing us take on responsibility for advocating Responsible Futures and trying to work with as many other institutions to drive forward sustainability across the higher education sector.


As part of this, students from UCEM and De Montfort led an online workshop entitled ‘Student leadership for NUS Responsible Futures’ and here is a summary of the event, as well as the reflections a short Q&A with our Student Trustee and Lead Student Representative, Phoebe Farrell, who facilitated the second workshop…


Blog graphic

Advertised as an exploration of students’ vision for sustainability, the webinar was led by students from UCEM and De Montfort University, and attended by staff and students from universities up and down the country, including: Keele University, the University of Derby, Manchester Metropolitan University (MMU), University of the West of England (UWE) and the University of Westminster.

More than 40 people attended the three-hour workshop.

Welcome and introduction

First off, three students – including our Sustainability Ambassador, Vicki Grimshaw, and Diversity Ambassador, Ranikqué Hayden-Best – set the scene, introducing themselves and explaining what sustainability means to them.

Vicki Grimshaw

Vicki summarised: “To me, sustainability is all about kindness and conscious thought, and preserving the environment to protect the planet for future generations.”

Ranikqué added: ““For me, it’s more than just thinking green, but thinking: what does the world need more of? The SDGs, which include reduced inequalities, peace, justice and strong institutions, I hold closely. Sustainability is meeting today’s needs whilst protecting the future.”

Ranikque Hayden-Best

Ranikqué Hayden-Best

First workshop

Attendees were then split into breakout rooms for a discussion on ‘exploring students’ visions for sustainability in their tertiary education’.

A theme from the discussions was the desire to see visible action regarding sustainability at their universities.

A student at Keele University suggested that the United Nations’ (UN) Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) should be incorporated into students’ learning materials; a student at the University of Derby expressed their desire to easily find information on sustainability at her campus; and a student at MMU updated the group on how their university was currently looking at how to incorporate sustainability into the curriculum.

A student from UWE cited their Students Union’s Greener Futures competition which rewards societies for their sustainability initiatives with prizes and pondered whether competitions at other institutions could engage students more actively with sustainability.

Panel discussion

After a short break, a panel discussion was held on the topic of ‘Understanding current mechanisms and opportunities for students to be leaders in progressing sustainability at their institutions, and visions for the future’.

Four students – two from De Montfort and UCEM’s Communities Ambassador, James Doyle, and Vicki again – took centre stage, firstly, pondering the topic up for discussion then answering questions from fellow attendees.

Headshot James Doyle

James Doyle

The Responsible Futures student audit – which James and Vicki both took part in – was cited as an important mechanism in progressing sustainability at UCEM, with James explaining: “The Responsible Futures programme empowered in a very meaningful way and opened the door for us to become student leaders.”

Vicki agreed, adding: “The experience of Responsible Futures built our confidence to get involved in things like this [webinar]. I am more confident to approach people.”

They also shared how becoming Student Ambassadors is an important mechanism to continue to lead on progressing sustainability at UCEM, with Vicki declaring that she wants to create a network of students to discuss sustainability moving forwards.

Other mechanisms suggested during the discussion to support the aim in future were: social media for getting across the sustainability message; emails from specific staff members being used as opposed to anonymous institutional emails; blog updates from student representatives; and student-led webinars as part of the curriculum.

Second workshop

The event concluded with a second workshop on ‘Challenges and opportunities for students as leaders in progressing sustainability at their institutions’.

UCEM Student Trustee and Lead Student Representative, Phoebe Farrell, led on the workshop alongside her peer from De Montfort.

Among the questions discussed were: ‘what are the current mechanisms?’, ‘what’s your vision?’ and ‘what are the challenges and opportunities for students to lead on sustainability?’.

Overwhelmingly, the student attendees expressed their desire to have greater autonomy in leading on sustainability on behalf of their university. They declared their desire to take on more responsibility and work collaboratively alongside their institutions in delivering positive outcomes on sustainability.

A student’s view


Headshot Phoebe Farrell

So, that’s a summary of what took place but did our students think about it? We asked our Student Trustee and Lead Student Representative, Phoebe Farrell, for her thoughts on the event.

  • How did you think the event went?

“It went very well. The participants and hosts were passionate about change and sustainability. There was open and honest dialogue with many shared experiences given. It was a positive experience.”

  • What did you learn?

“I got a deeper insight into the various ways different universities tackled sustainability, which not only gave me some good tips for UCEM but also allowed me to understand the different points of view on how best to tackle issues. With sustainability, it is important to get a wider viewpoint to not become too fixated on one solution when there could be numerous.”

  • What was your key takeaway?

“Honestly, how passionate and attuned each attendee was. You could really see visibly and with what everyone was saying how much it meant to them. That kind of passion is really inspiring as it shows that we all were there not just because it was the right thing to do, but because we all cared.”

Thanks for your thoughts, Phoebe, and thanks to all our student representatives who led on this great event!