16 April 2020

Thinking about sustainability in the time of coronavirus

Over the past couple of months, I have watched the seasons change outside my window and observed a series of unprecedented, monumental events hit Wales. Sat in my bubble, on top of a hill, I have seen flooding devastate some Welsh communities and then, if that wasn’t enough, the virus strikes with devastating impact.

Working in the policy and funding directorate in HEFCW and witnessing the unfolding situations, you come to realise the importance of the work that we all do. We do not work on the frontline or are classed as key workers. We do, however, contribute by providing funding, policy advice and a regulatory framework that enable higher education providers to contribute positively to the Well-being of Future Generations Act’s sustainable development principle for the social, cultural, economic and environmental well-being of Wales.

During my time working from home – since 17 February – we have provided funding to support student well-being, developed a HEFCW Environmental Plan and published our Strategic Equality Plan, all of which seek to make a positive impact on Wales and the pressing issues we face.

With countries across the world dealing with enforced governmental lockdowns we can see the delicate balance between all four pillars of the sustainable development principle in action. For the UK, there are negative impacts on the economy and restriction of movement and freedoms, but also positive changes with pollution levels dropping, communities coming together to support one another and the public and private sectors working together to innovate solutions.

What do I take from this? Well now, more than ever, I see how the decisions we make have the potential for considerable impact and change. And in making our decisions we need to continue to use and further develop our considered approach to policy and funding development.

I think colleagues in HEFCW and in the higher education sector can be pleased with their responses to these challenges, and should not forget about the impact our actions have on the resilience of universities to deliver for their students, staff and communities.

Ryan Stokes, Equalities and Sustainability Manager