UNU Regional Centre of Expertise on Education for Sustainable Development

by Betsan Martin

Our proposal to establish a UNU approved Regional Centre of Expertise on Education for Sustainable Development (RCE’s ) with the University of Waikato and collaborators is now in the establishment phase.


April 2014

Our proposal to establish a UNU approved Regional Centre of Expertise on Education for Sustainable Development (RCE’s ) with the University of Waikato and collaborators is now in the establishment phase. RCE’s are initiatives to implement the UN Decade on Education for Sustainable Development through UNESCO. The proposal for RCE Waikato received approval from the UNU just before Christmas 2013.

This is an outline of RCE Waikato, with some of the main steps taken towards establishment, and an indication of anticipated programmes.

Preparation of RCE Waikato Proposal to the UNU
Preparation for the Waikato proposal began late in 2012, with Dean Frank Scrimgeour and Associate Professor Maria Humphries from the Management School, and Dr Betsan Martin, Director of RESPONSE, as a committee leading the proposal for RCE Waikato.

RESPONSE is an independent organization working on ethics and responsibility, on integrated governance, kaitiakitanga (indigenous environmental responsibility) and sustainability, in association with the International Forum on Ethics and Responsibility.

An RCE proposal requires engaging with the University and mobilizing prospective collaborating organizations. These are asked to give a written undertaking of intention to collaborate in the RCE. The UNU does not provide funding for the RCE’s.

There are 120 RCE’s world-wide, including four in Australia. There are no others in Aotearoa New Zealand. RCE’s involve collaborations between the University, non-government organizations, schools, businesses and regional government to deliver projects to address challenges to sustainability. Project work includes research, transformative education and innovative programmes that bring a value added dimension by joining with collaborators to achieve sustainability outcomes through agreed projects. A priority of RCE Waikato is to work with Māori, and in accordance with the location of RCE Waikato to work in particular with Tainui, the tribe of the Waikato Tainui region. UNU approved Centres form an international network.

A unique feature of RCE’s is collaborator engagement in programmes to achieve integration across social, environmental, economic and cultural spheres – a cornerstone of the aspiration of sustainability. Accordingly the leadership team put emphasis on contacting potential collaborators, meeting them face-to face and providing information along with an invitation to contribute to shaping the RCE programme. We prepared a research paper on sustainability and ethics (Sustaining People and Planet 2013 Shand, Martin, Hoskins, Humphries)

Early discussions took place with Waikato Tainui College, with Tainui hapū, and the School for Mãori and Pacific Studies. Organizations with which we met include UNESCO, Enviroschools. Landcare Research, NZCER, Pure Advantage, Environment Waikato and local schools. In May 2013 a collaborator meeting was hosted at Waikato University with twenty five representatives of interested organizations, including UNESCO.

Preparations included embarking on University of Waikato institutional processes. Deputy Vice Chancellor Professor Alister Jones provided a letter of support for the proposal in recognition that the RCE aligns with the University Strategic Plan. For the University an optimum procedure is to form an interdisciplinary Centre between these involving Education, Law, Environmental Science, Mãori and Pacific Development and Management. Discussions with Deans of these faculties are in process.

During preparations Prof. Frank Scrimgeour and Dr. Betsan Martin visited RCE Greater Western Sydney, Australia. Visiting this up and running RCE gave the opportunity to see projects and find that the establishment of the RCE provides a platform for successful funding applications. Betsan Martin attended the annual Asia Pacific Regional meeting of RCE’s in Japan, and also the annual Global meeting of RCE’s in Nairobi, Kenya.

Establishment of RCE Waikato

Now that RCE Waikato is approved by the UNU we have the practicality of establishment before us. The first steps are with the University. These involve contributions to resources for establishment, including funds and office space.

Along with the University base, we need to re-engage with collaborators, develop a strategic plan and implement a programme. At the May 2013 collaborators meeting, primary programme areas were identified as:
• Professional development in education for sustainability for teachers
• Symposium on law, responsibility and climate negotiations, including special reference to indigenous knowledge.
• Research on collaborative governance
• Articulate an ethics of responsibility as a framework for sustainability
• Contribute to sustainability reporting with Regional Council & Landcare Research.

This overview of the procedures undertaken and success in RCE Waikato being approved by the UNU leads to the expectation of proceeding with collaborative work during this year. The first steps involve meetings with collaborators and refining projects with implementation plans, along with seeking establishment funds and facilities at the University. RESPONSE has secured funds to support work on ethics and for the symposium on law, responsibility and climate negotiations (this is to feed in to the UN Small Island Developing States Conference, Samoa, 2014; COP 20, Lima Peru; and preparations through the Collège de France for COP21).

International links and UNESCO

The 9th global RCE Conference in Okayama, Japan 4-7th Nov. 2014 will dovetail with the UNESCO End of the Decade on Education for Sustainable Development Conference in Yokohama Nov 9-10, 2014. It is anticipated that the RCE’s will be recommended as a model for education policy in UN member states.

Establishment Programme:

Symposium on Law and Responsibility

We are in the early stages of organizing a specialist symposium with leading jurists and international lawyers. We are concerned that much of the Constitutional and Environmental law is being developed through ‘Rights’. The symposium is to draw on creative expertise to advance law of responsibility and interdependence.

Professional Development for Teachers

The centre-piece of RCE’s is the education programme. Sustainability can be supported through the current curriculum with adequate teacher education and professional development of teachers. Yet, the philosophy and practice of education for sustainability is not central to mainstream education (Royal, 2003, pp. 24-53). The indigenous concept of a woven universe includes an appreciation of ancestral and inter-generational obligations, as well as conveying the integrative dynamics of healthy systems which are self-organizing, resilient and restorative. (Sterling 2001, p. 54)

Experiential learning is a hallmark of transformative education for sustainability is. An example can be taken from an observational walk up a river with a kaitiaki as a guide. The encouragement to observe the dynamics and ‘intelligence’ of the river reveals the responsiveness of a river to surrounding influences, such as the beneficial effects of shade and clear water and the degrading impacts of silt (from quarries) and from willow removal which may leave the river exposed to erosion, heating and algae blooms. First hand encounters of the effects of land use on the health of the river and making the links between fishing and agriculture and economic and community interests bring sustainability to life. They also support reflection on worldviews - Māori, Western and other cultural traditions and view points.

At a more systematic level, designing learning experiences involving students in business, farming and local government give opportunities to consider systems of production and consumption and to discern human and ecological impacts. Taking education outside the classroom to businesses and farms and neighbourhoods and homes (Clugston and Vilela, 2010) is a way to learn to ‘care for the fabric of life’ (Capra, 1996, cited in Gadotti, 2010).


Clugston, R. and Vilela, M. (Eds) (2010) Special Issue to Mark Ten Years of the Earth Charter. Journal of Education for Sustainable Development. Vol. 4. No. 2. London: Sage.

Gadotti, M. (2010) Reorienting Education Practices towards Sustainability. In Clugston, R. and Vilela, M. (Eds) Special Issue to Mark Ten Years of the Earth Charter. Pp 203 – 218. Journal of Education for Sustainable Development. Vol. 4. No. 2. London: Sage

Royal, Te Ahukaramu C. (Ed.) (2003) The Woven Universe. Edited Writings of Revd. Māori Marsden. New Zealand: Marsden Estate.

Sterling, S. (2001) Sustainable Education. Schumacher Briefing No. 6. Totnes, Devon: Green Books for the Schumacher Society.

Published on: 1 May 2014
Post a comment (2 reactions forum)
  • I do not know where this fits in your program, but I am a strong believer in establishing a vision, a mission statement, goals and objectives for any organization and project, for every society and country.

    Besides law and ethics I believe there should be a lot of work on these points. For example - what does this (or that) country stand for? What is its vision? What is its mission in life? Explore and develop economically? Provide dignified living conditions for its citizens? What is it?

    I believe the same types of questions should be formulated for the other points above. What are the goals an objectives for this (or that) country, this (or that) organization, for this or that society or community? Where do they want to be in 10 years, 20 years, 50, 100 years? What do they want it to be when they are old, yes, when they are old, and for their children and grandchildren?

    No country or government, that I know of is capable of answering any of these questions in a simple , well understood, sentence. Not a 50 page report, not a 3 hour "state of the country speech". No! In a simple sentence that every one can identify with.

    I am convinced that this is the fundamental reason why we, citizens of every country, are all drifting around in this world responding to every change in the wind, every new economic theory, every new invention, every new speech from the charismatic politician of the day.

    I hope this type of work will be included in your program. I really do hope so. No matter how hard it is.

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