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NUS granted £5,000,000 to invest in higher education sustainability

by Dannie Grufferty

The National Union of Students has a rich history of ethical and environmental work, but our £5 million Students’ Green Fund is undoubtedly our biggest achievement for the sustainability agenda yet, says Dannie Grufferty.

We have been awarded the funding by HEFCE (the Higher Education Funding Council for England) to distribute through students’ unions across England, enabling ambitious, impactful, student-led sustainability projects. It’s the most external funding that the NUS has ever received, and we’re incredibly proud to be using the money to help turn emerging graduates into agents of positive environmental change, and to build sustainability into the fabric of English higher education.

Over the coming months, the NUS will be helping students’ unions to craft their proposals, with a student-led panel deciding which projects will receive funding. The criteria are broad and flexible. So long as the project can demonstrate impact, engages students, promises legacy, and encourages partnership with the parent institution and wider community – the project can involve absolutely anything pertaining to sustainability.

With approximately twenty five students’ unions receiving around £300,000 across two years, Students’ Green Fund will offer the opportunity to develop projects which are truly far reaching, ambitious and innovative, putting higher education on the map for its green credentials. 

This isn’t the first time we’ve received external funding to champion sustainability. Last year, we received £300,000 from the Big Lottery fund to deliver Student Eats – a hugely successful programme which has established on-campus, low carbon growing sites at nearly twenty institutions, bringing together staff, students and members of the local community to work towards more sustainable practice.

Student Eats stands as an incredible testament to what the NUS can help students’ unions to achieve through external funding. But with so much more funding and fewer conditions for application, Students’ Green Fund has the potential to go far further. 

The fund could fit solar panels on the roofs of student accommodation, giving students free energy, creating a revolving green fund for students through the feed in tariffs, and educating tenants on renewables. The fund could finance ethical credit unions for students, who are often very vulnerable to exploitative financial systems. The fund could run a UK-wide conference for student leadership on sustainability – or even an international event.

Because the requirements for proposals don’t tie students’ unions to tackling carbon either specifically or directly, projects have the freedom to reach into new territories of sustainability in ground breaking ways. We’re looking for ideas which engage students and staff, encourage behaviour change, and seek to embed sustainability into the curriculum. We’ve compiled a huge bank of ideas for ways in which students’ unions might do this, but we’re equally excited to see what unions come up with themselves. 

Since NUS president Liam Burns and I launched the fund at this year’s National Conference, reaction to the news has been brilliant. The announcement became the top Tweet for the whole event and was met with extensive media coverage, while a follow up launch on the student day of the annual EAUC conference generated even more anticipation across the sector.

Now, we’re accepting initial submissions of interest from students’ unions – a simple side of A4 outlining the idea, which we’ll help unions develop into a full proposal before the final deadline in July. Then we look to September, to see the fund in execution, with sustainability projects flourishing within students’ unions across the country. 

It isn’t too late to get involved. Students’ unions still have until 5th June to register their interest. If you’re a student or from a parent institution with an amazing greening idea, make sure your union knows about it, and that you encourage them to apply. And if you’re a local community group of some kind – we’d still encourage you to reach out to your local students’ union, as partnership is one of the key themes of fund, and so a collaborative bid may be possible.

Already, we’re getting incredible responses from students, officers and staff from a huge number of students’ unions, and we can’t wait until September to see students’ unions continue their development as hubs of sustainability at the hearts of their wider communities. Students’ Green Fund will make a genuine impact on the environmental agenda, and we at NUS are extraordinarily proud to put students at the centre of that. 

www.nus.org.uk/sgf

@NUS_Greener 

NUS vice president of society and citizenship Dannie Grufferty


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