In Kenya there are currently 22 public universities,14 chartered private universities and 13 universities with Letter of Interim Authority (LIA). One would assume that with all these universities in kenya and the many research and publications they have done on climate change a solution would be eminent or in the horizon. The sad outcome is that students and scholars do research so as to meet the mandatory requirements so as to graduate or to get departmental promotions as in the case of lecturer’s.

Kenya has been hard hit by the adverse effects of climate change ranging from drought to famine and if the scholars cannot provide a solution to this then who will? This is the million-dollar question that we are asking our scholars and universities. The actualisation of the big 4 agenda by president Uhuru Kenyatta depend on how fast we counter the adverse effects of climate change.

To win this war against climate change the Cabinet Secretary for Education Prof. Magoha, the Cabinet Secretary for Environment and forestry and the vice chancellors should ensure Kenyan universities stick to the below 3 roles to help Kenya win the fight against climate change;

1. Engaging in sustainable research

Research is the process of generating new knowledge, insights or patents, by asking questions and finding answers through experiments and studies. Many institutions conduct research: For example, pharmaceutical companies look for new drugs, government research organisations provide answers to parliament and environmental NGOs identify harmful substances in rivers. Universities are one of the major societal institutions that conduct research, using taxpayer’s money.

Several factors influence if your university’s research contributes or hinders sustainability. Here are some factors they might want to consider:

  • What topics does my university do research on? For example, do we have institutes that conduct research for authoritarian governments on how to make their weapons more lethal or better spy on their population? Or do our research institutes help to find solutions to world hunger, economic inequality or climate change?
  • Is the research just published in academic journals that few other scientists will read and understand? Or does our research help to educate the general public? Does it lead to new policies, technologies and patents that positively impact society?
  • How engaged are our researchers in the world beyond the ivory tower? To what extent do they act as “public intellectuals” to advance a liberal agenda of human rights, social equality and environmental protection?
  • Who defines what research is being done? Do researchers study question they are personally passionate about, or do we conduct research that industry pays for? To what extent do we realise research in service of larger societal questions, posed by public institutions and non-profit organisations?

To conclude, one important role of universities in sustainable development is to investigate research questions of high societal relevance. In this way, they generate insights to address socio-economic and environmental challenges that affect many people and animals.

2. Providing education for sustainable development

We all acquire new knowledge, skills and values through education. Many countries require children and youth to receive formal education, by attending a state or private-run organisation until a certain age. EU citizens attend kindergarten, primary and secondary school. Then they go to a technical and vocational college or a university.  Universities are important educational institutions, because they grant the highest degrees of the education system: Bachelor, Master and PhD degrees.

Several factors influence if your university’s education contributes or hinders sustainability. Here are some factors they might want to consider:

  • What is the goal of education? Does our university want students to become obedient citizens or passive consumers? Or do we strive to educate global citizens for sustainable development?
  • What topics do students learn about? For instance, do engineering students just learn about constructing a building in the most cost-efficient manner? Or do they learn how to construct a zero-energy building that provides long-term benefits to its occupants?
  • To what extent does your university and local community serve as experimentation and learning environment for students? Do they explore real-life questions through projects and case studies? Or do they just passively learn in the classroom, by listening to lectures all day?

To conclude, one important role of universities in sustainable development is to empower students to learn about sustainability in an inter-disciplinary and learner-centred way. At the end, they should be able to upon sustainability issues in their organisations and communities.

3. Ensuring a zero footprint campus by using green renewable energy.

The primary societal functions of your university are research and education. But this education and research doesn’t take place in a vacuum. Natural and societal resources are used in the process. Students and staff work or live in buildings on campus, eat food in the cafeteria, fly abroad, print on paper, work or study at computers.

The operational processes of your university might have significant environmental impacts on animal health and well-being, freshwater, air and soil quality, as well as the climate. The purchasing and employment practices of your university also affect the human rights, labour conditions and employment prospects of people – often in countries far away.

Several factors influence if your university’s operations contribute or hinders sustainability. Here are some factors they might want to consider:

  • To what extent are we aware about the environmental and social impacts of our buildings, procurement and waste management practices? If not, you might consider conducting a sustainability assessment or Environmental Impact Assessment.
  • To what extent are buildings equipped with solar cells, good insulation, waste separation or energy-efficient lighting?
  • Do we have a responsible and sustainable procurement policy in place? That should help us screen suppliers with harmful environmental and social practices.
  • To what extent are we improving the environmental impacts of our laboratories? Believe it or not: Laboratories (chemistry, biology, physics, medical laboratories etc.) are huge energy consumers and waste producers.

To conclude, one important role of universities in sustainable development is to assess and then reduce the environmental and social footprints of their buildings, procurement practices and laboratories.

To sum it up: The role of universities in sustainable development is to provide new insights to urgent societal challenges, to educate global citizens for sustainable development, and to reduce the environmental and social footprints of operations.

5 thoughts on “Role of universities in an age of climate change”

  1. As a climate scientist, I have enjoyed reading this article. I just want to emphasize the need for multi–disciplinary research and public private partnerships in such research. Otherwise we tend to build tensions and to work at cross purposes.

  2. This is great team together we can eradicate climate change. Let congratulate Stanley Oguta volunteering creating climate change mitigation measures by intiating food tree seedlings to homa bay community

  3. This article is very informative. Solutions to climate change are with us as individuals, higher learning institutions, Kenya government and greatly with climate scientists. At least there are things we can do. One great hinderence to war against climate change is politics. Our leaders politicise pertinent issues for their own political gains at the expense of us all. Natural resource conservation is never part of their agenda at all. Somebody address this’

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