Credit: UofG Green New Deal

Bottom grade for University on sustainability

By Odhran Gallagher

An annual ranking of UK Universities based on sustainability has placed the University of Glasgow 110th in the country.

The University of Glasgow’s level of sustainability has declined compared last year, according to a newly released league table. People and Planet’s 2024 University league table, which ranks Universities based on their sustainability and environmental impact, has demoted the University of Glasgow to the lowest possible passing score. The table uses academic terminology and ranks Universities with a degree classification – giving the University a third-class ranking.

The league table is based on a rubric of factors affecting sustainability and environmental impact, including managing carbon, energy sources, and sustainable food, as well as issues outwith the environment, such as ethical investment and workers rights. According to the league table’s website, it is “the only comprehensive and independent league table of UK universities ranked by environmental and ethical performance”. 

The University scored 0% in multiple areas, including policy and strategy, where it was criticised for not having a publicly available and up to date climate strategy. They published a Draft Climate Change Strategy in 2019, and a white paper on its response to the climate crisis in 2020, but there has been little update to these since. The University also scored 0% in Waste and Recycling, being criticised for lacklustre waste management as taken from the estates management record. 

The University also scored just 1% for ethical investment and banking, in which ratings were based on whether “an institution’s investments and banking practices are conducted transparently and in an economically-viable, socially-responsible manner”. This news comes after an investigation by Demilitarise Education (DEd) in January 2023 revealed that Glasgow University had increased its investments in the arms trade since 2019, holding shares in 23 arms companies which are worth almost £3.2m in total.

However, the University received praise in some areas. For example, it received a rating of 75% in workers rights for “being an accredited living wage employer, having a policy that monitors equality of pay and conditions between in-house and outsourced staff, and membership of Electronics Watch [a workers rights watchdog]”. Moreover, the University was rated 66% for staff and student engagement, where it was praised for “publishing a strategy detailing how universities will engage students and staff” and “student representation on committees that oversee sustainability”, however it was criticised for a lack of trade union engagement.

After rising by nine places to 75th last year and receiving a second-class rating, the University has dropped by 36 places and placed below other Russell Group universities such as the University of Edinburgh (99th), Imperial College London (98th), and the University of Exeter (21st).

In October of 2021, during COP26 in Glasgow, the Principal of the University, Anton Muscateli, released a statement claiming that Glasgow has “a clear strategy to be carbon neutral by 2030”. He stated: “We have introduced changes to the curriculum…to make sure students are exposed to carbon literacy and climate change, so they leave knowing the vital role they can play in their careers.”

A press release from People and Planet compared the rankings, stating: “Russell Group universities only have one in the top ten this year: Kings College London. However, the most common award for a Russell Group university is a 2:1 and this year 54% received a 2:1 or higher…Scottish Universities performed less well, with no institutions receiving a 1st and only three receiving a 2:1: Glasgow Caledonian University, Robert Gordon University and Edinburgh Napier University.”

However, there was some praise given to the Russell Group, of which the University of Glasgow is a member, with the league table’s coordinator Jack Ruane saying: “We are seeing much higher engagement from a broad range of universities, including the Russell Group, because universities recognise that students are increasingly demanding their institutions are run sustainably and ethically.”

The People and Planet league table can be viewed in full here.


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