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Universities Urged to Offer Climate Change Degrees

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Universities have been criticized for failing to prepare enough students to work in the hugely important field of climate change - but what more could they be doing?

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The criticism comes from Michael Gillenwater of Princeton University, one of the editors of a new journal, Greenhouse Gas Measurement and Management.

Gillenwater looked at courses in a wide range of universities and concluded that they are often hamstrung by the need to fit into existing university structures.

He says that teaching and research about the causes and effects of climate change around the world cannot be faulted. They are mainly done in existing science departments and are an extension of work they are used to doing.

The problem is that the world only needs a small number of top scientists to tell us about the problem of global warming. Doing something about it calls for more people with different skills.

The other sort of course that has expanded apace in response to climate change, says Gillenwater, is a raft of degrees in 'sustainability'. These, he says, have a broader remit, “focusing on climate as but one component of a much wider curriculum.”

He says that these qualifications do not produce the people the world is going to need. “Universities and other educational institutions have yet to undertake the necessary innovations and transformations that will be needed to prepare a future workforce on the scale necessary to address the challenge of greenhouse gas mitigation in a way that instils public and policy-maker confidence.

"It is clear that a transformative change in university, technical college and informal educational sectors is needed to meet what will be a large and growing demand for experts and professionals that can measure and manage greenhouse gas emissions and removals.”

Part of the problem, he says, is that climate change has not yet produced identifiable career pathways. People who take it seriously can either get PhDs and become researchers, or become activists.

There is no real profession for people wanting to be involved in the new jobs which climate change will generate.

On the other hand, he notes that the UN Clean Development Mechanism secretariat cannot find the people it needs to take on projects. A shortage of people is a worse problem for this body than any shortage of funds.

This means that there are opportunities for a new range of university courses in fields from project management and engineering to finance. But providing them will call for massive curriculum innovation.

In his global survey, Gillenwater found that 82% of respondents at 719 universities around the world thought that today’s higher education institutions are not giving people adequate skills in this area.

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Written by QS Staff Writer

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