50.2 Auditing Cardiff University's curricula using the STAUNCH© system for sustianable events

Rodrigo Lozano , BRASS Centre, Cardiff University, Cardiff, United Kingdom
During the last decade many efforts have been made to engage higher education institutions in Sustainable Development (SD). Such efforts call for SD to be incorporated into research, operations, outreach, assessment and reporting, and to the core of universities and colleges: curricula.

Although different tools are offered to help to incorporate SD into existing curricula, to date there has been no comprehensive means of developing an overall curricula analysis, which would cover how well specific SD issues are covered by particular schools or courses and what gaps or areas of weakness might exist

For this purpose, the Sustainability Tool for Auditing UNiversities Curricula in Higher-Education (STAUNCH©) system was developed. STAUNCH© is intended to help universities to audit their curricula from a Sustainable Development perspective based on courses’ description.

STAUNCH© has four steps: 1. Criteria selection, 2. Data collection, 3. Data input and grading against the selected criteria, and 4. Analysis and results of degrees, schools, and the university’s contribution to SD.

The grading in done against 36 criteria, which are divided into the traditional three-top level SD categories (economic, environmental, and social aspects), with an additional category named cross-cutting themes, referring to those topics that touch upon the previous three, e.g. governance, and people and part of nature.

The scale used for the criteria is presented in Table 1 . Note that the second column presents what the grade means to the Disciplinarity issue[1]. This is done for all of university’s courses.

Table  SEQ Table \* ARABIC 1 Grades used for the assessment criteria


Normal categories



Not related/mentioned



Weak relation/mention



Medium relation/mention



Strong relation/mention


Once the courses are graded, STAUNCH© analyses the results and provides an inbuilt report with a summary to highlight the relative strength and depth of coverage of SD within the curriculum for degrees, schools, and the whole institution.

It also provides the results in graphical form, which can help to demonstrate the extent to which for whole Schools/Departments, their degree schemes, and their specific courses/modules address SD issues; and the relative balance between economic, environmental, social and cross-cutting SD issues.

The analysis allows the ‘breadth’ and ‘depth’ of coverage of sustainability issues within the curricula of different schools within an institution to be plotted in a systematic and consistent way. Thus providing useful information to those seeking to tackle the challenge of integrating sustainability issues more strongly into teaching. It also encourages the development of a more synergistic approach to sustainability.

STAUNCH© was successfully piloted in 21 of Cardiff University’s 28 schools. The analysis of over 5,800 provided interested insights into the how SD is currently being addressed in Cardiff University’s curricula. The results showed that around 30% of the university’s courses contribute to SD, where the contributions are mainly low. The main focus in the university is on the social aspects, whereas environmental aspects are the ones least being considered.

The results were the key results from the analysis. The contributions to SD from the schools can be divided into:

·        9 schools with low contribution and balance (from 0.5 to 1);

·        7 schools with relatively middle contribution and balance (from 1 to 1.5);

·        5 schools with relatively high contribution and balance (above 1.5

In regards to the percentage of modules contributing to SD, the schools can be divided into:

·        8 schools with relatively few modules relating to SD (0 to 20%)

·        8 schools with some modules relating to SD (20% to 40%)

·        5 schools with high number of modules relating to SD (over 40%)

CU’s schools vary considerably in how teaching is connecting to SD, and they appear across all the spectra of depth of contributions and balance. This suggests that currently CU’s curricular contributions to SD are approached from a portfolio perspective, where each school specialises in the SD issues that are most central to their discipline, or areas of discipline, without necessarily relating these to the broader SD context or other SD issues. 

One of the most important conclusions learnt was that SD should permeate throughout the university and be seen beyond a “portfolio” of schools. The results from the exercise helped to demonstrate that SD needs to be addressed through balanced, synergistic, trans-disciplinarity and holistic perspective, and not through compartmentalisation, over-specialisation, and reductionism.

The results from STAUNCH©’s audit of Cardiff University can be used as a results can help other universities to engage in auditing their curricula contributions to Sustainable Development, and look for ways to better integrate it into their systems, and be better aligned with the DESD.

STAUNCH© was shortlisted for the Times Higher Education 2008 awards. It has been successfully piloted in all the universities in Wales. Worcester University, UK, and Monterrey Tec, Mexico, are also starting to use it.

[1] For a review on Disciplinarity see Lozano, R. (2006). Incorporation and institutionalization of SD into universities: breaking through barriers to change. Journal of Cleaner Production, 14(9-11), 787-796.