17 November 2021

New Zealand ready to lead students to a more sustainable future


As the world warms and the impact of humans on the planet is undeniable, a new generation of students is seeking to shape a more sustainable future.

Research commissioned by Education New Zealand in May found that 79 percent of participants were interested in studying sustainability and climate change. And the 2019 QS Environmental Concerns Survey of 3700 prospective international students from around the world found that more than 75 percent would be more likely to choose a degree if the content helped them learn about reducing their environmental impact.

New Zealand is often viewed as a progressive nation delivering new solutions to problems while at the same time valuing people, place, and planet. Our world-class education system prides itself on preparing graduates with the practical skills and innovative thinking sought by future employers. Those skills must also now empower them to address issues of global consequence.

Tertiary education providers boost sustainability education options

New Zealand tertiary education providers are playing an increasingly important role in shaping this enthusiastic generation of learners, with many institutions incorporating a sustainability focus into their research and in many of the courses they offer.

Waikato University has gone one step further, announcing it will offer the world’s first Bachelor of Climate Change degree from next year. The three-year course will take a multi-disciplinary approach combining science, economic, social, and political systems, plus mātauranga Māori (Māori knowledge and wisdom).

“We all agreed that science alone can’t come up with all the solutions,” says Dean of Science Professor Margaret Barbour, one of the key players in the development of the programme. “We need people who can think across knowledge systems.” She is enthusiastic about the contribution international students will make, working alongside domestic students.

“Very soon New Zealand, and the world, will have these graduates who will have a thorough understanding of climate change and the impacts on environment and people, and they’ll be able to think critically and holistically,” says Prof Barbour. “They will have expertise in a particular area related to climate change, but they’ll also have the ability to engage with cultural competency outside their area of expertise.” Whether it’s about protecting our land or our oceans, Aotearoa New Zealand is making its mark. While there is still much work to be done, learners are looking our way for both leadership and collaboration.

Students choose New Zealand for sustainability studies 

German PhD student Alexandra Lischka has travelled the world for her research in marine biology but says she chose New Zealand for her doctorate studies because it offered her the opportunity to work with internationally respected marine scientists across three universities.

Heinrich Blass came to New Zealand from Germany to learn more about sustainable and ecological building practices. He chose to spend two semesters last year taking Building Science courses at Victoria University. “I was able to learn a broad approach to sustainable concepts from design to building technology and engineering systems to green building certification,” he says. “This gave me a deep insight as well as extensive expertise in sustainable building.”

International education experience takes New Zealand thinking to the world 

In 2019 and 2020, Auckland University topped 850 institutions from 89 countries in the Times Higher Education Impact Rankings which assessed universities against the 17 United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals across research, outreach, and stewardship.

Vice-Chancellor Professor Dawn Freshwater says the ease of access to oceans and land provides a “natural emphasis” for environmental research. This, combined with the value placed on kaitiakitanga (guardianship) and mātauranga Māori helps to shape “a unique and distinctive approach to sustainability in this country”.

For students who seek a brighter future with a lighter footprint, an international education experience in New Zealand will take our thinking to the world, open pathways to collaborate on global causes, and help make the world a better place.

Mō tātou te taiao ko te atawhai, mō tātou te taiao ko te oranga.

It is for us to care for and look after the environment to ensure its wellbeing; in doing so we ensure our own wellbeing and that of future generations.

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