One nation mandates climate classes for its entire higher education system
Bryan Alexander 2023-08-31
How might academia respond to the climate crisis?
One way is for colleges and universities to teach more content and classes on the topic. This is a path individual faculty who are passionate about global warming can follow, to the extent they have the autonomy to redesign their classes or to create new ones. At a larger scale, academic leaders, from department chairs to academic deans and presidents, can help support the infusion of climate into curricula, or the creation of entirely new climate-themes programs, such as certificates, degrees, or interdisciplinary courses of study.
…but on the other hand, maybe some academics won’t have the choice to do so, because the decision will be made for them, from outside of academia.
I’m thinking of a recent development. The Indian government decided that all of that nation’s universities will now require students to take global warming classes in order to graduate. As University World News put it,
All students at India’s universities will have to study subjects such as environmental education and climate change in order to graduate, starting from the about-to-begin 2023 to 2024 academic year, according to guidelines from the University Grants Commission (UGC), the country’s higher education apex body.
The UGC also published curricular guidelines about such coursework earlier this year.
There are more interesting details in Shuriah Niazi’s account. This requirement covers all students studying all topics, “including general engineering, medical, architecture, pharmacy, management, among others.”
The required classes are also not based in one single discipline:
the new environment education curriculum will be multidisciplinary and encompass areas such as climate change, sustainable development, conservation and management of biological resources and biodiversity, pollution, sanitation, waste management, and forest and wildlife protection.
(This matches my call for climate change to be the new liberal arts, in the American context.)
The reason for doing this is immediate disasters striking the nation:
Many academics have noted that as India has witnessed extreme weather events in the past few years, including huge loss to life and property, extreme heat waves, unprecedented floods and excess rainfall, landslides, glacier bursts etc, believed to be triggered by climate change and environmental imbalance, the environment as a subject has become of prime importance.
(There is also a professional group for Indian academics teaching the climate crisis. Hello, TACC!)
This is an important move for global higher education, as I think it represents the first nation to mandate climate crisis classwork for all postsecondary students. Some nations have encouraged such classwork’s development to various degrees, but not required such, as far as I can tell. Some individual campuses require such work – indeed, University of Barcelona students struck to compel their administration to issue that mandate. Yet at the level of all post-secondary education for a country, I think India might have broken new ground.
Will others follow suit? I’m not sure of the geopolitics here. Perhaps other BRICS countries will be inspired. Maybe some individual nations hit hard by climate, or clearly threatened by global warming, will consider such a move. I imagine national leaderships seeking to build up green job capacity may find this a useful policy tool.
I don’t know what this means for academic freedom and autonomy in India’s colleges and universities. UGC does have the power to issue such policies. Is this an unusual step in practice? How does it connect with prime minister Modi’s policies*? I am not sure, and would like to learn more.
It might be that years from now we’ll see mandatory climate classes across the world. Alternatively, such mandates might become superfluous as student demand soars, and wise academic institutions meet it.
*Please don’t interpret this post as an endorsement either of Modi or his leadership.
(thanks to Vivian Forssman for the main link)