Ruskin Modules and the UN Sustainable Development Goals

Guest posts

Category: Teaching and research

4 June 2021

Head shot of Victoria Tait, Education for Sustainability coordinator.

Ruskin Modules give our students the chance to discuss issues linked to health, wellbeing and sustainability. Lecturer Victoria Tait blogs about developing one of the modules, and some of the challenges students might tackle.

“Historically, pandemics have forced humans to break with the past and imagine their world anew. This one is no different. It is a portal, a gateway between one world and the next. We can choose to walk through it, dragging the carcasses of our prejudice and hatred, our avarice, our data banks and dead ideas, our dead rivers and smoky skies behind us. Or we can walk through lightly, with little luggage, ready to imagine another world. And ready to fight for it.”

This is a quote from Indian activist and author, Arundhati Roy. Roy’s writings have always inspired me, but this quote felt particularly relevant in the context of ARU's Ruskin Modules.

Ruskin Modules and sustainability

We are facing a series of interconnected and complex challenges, and our current focus on siloed thinking and competition has so far proved inadequate in tackling those challenges.

Instead, the creation of sustainable futures for all requires us to think in new ways, focusing on collaboration and systemic connections across and between disciplines. These principles are at the heart of our Ruskin Modules.

What role do the UN Sustainable Development Goals play?

Interdisciplinarity is central to the Ruskin Modules, but so too is the focus on real-world, authentic learning. This is where the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) come in.

The SDGs are 17 Goals that 193 countries around the world, including the UK, have pledged to achieve by 2030. The Goals represent the world’s biggest challenges and include issues such as Climate Action (SDG13) and Gender Equality (SDG5). Our Ruskin Modules are framed by the SDGs.

The Goals reflect the fact that we have more data and information about the world’s problems than at any point in human history. When ARU was developing the Ruskin Modules, I created a few mini ‘taster’ modules based on some of the global challenges we face. These supported colleagues to think about how their Ruskin Modules could be framed by the SDGs.

As an example: research shows that non-communicable diseases, such as diabetes, cancer, respiratory diseases, and heart disease, are the number one cause of death in the world. These diseases are influenced by lifestyle and environmental factors, including air pollution and obesity. In response to this, I created a taster module which takes as its starting point SDG 3 - Good Health and Wellbeing and asks, ‘Is prevention better than a cure?’.

Through participation in this hypothetical module:

  • students studying subjects such as public health, town planning and sports science could work together, drawing on their disciplinary expertise, to explore how we increase equality of access to the green and blue spaces that are crucial for our mental health and physical wellbeing (SDG 5, 9, 10, 11)
  • students studying subjects such as zoology and nursing could draw on their disciplinary knowledge to think about what we eat, where our food* comes from, and how we dispose of it (SDG 1, 2, 4, 12).

The types of solutions that students come up with are likely to also have an impact on carbon emissions and biodiversity loss (SDG 13, 14, 15) given that agriculture is the most wide-spread cause of land-use change in the world.

By bringing together students from a variety of disciplines, the Ruskin Modules offer a unique opportunity to conceptualise the world’s problems and their solutions in new and creative ways, while also meaningfully preparing our students for the world of work.

What are organisations doing to meet the SDGs?

ARU isn’t the only institution that is thinking about the SDGs. Companies and education providers around the world are already taking steps to integrate them into their practices.

One of the most prominent examples of this at a higher education level is the Times Higher Education Impact Rankings, which measures universities’ progress towards achieving the Goals. ARU entered the rankings for the first time in 2021 and our results reflect the amazing work happening across the institution, and particularly in relation to SDG 3 where we were ranked second out of all participating institutions in the UK, and 36th worldwide.

By Victoria Tait
Lecturer Practitioner, Education for Sustainability

Employability and career support for students

Ruskin Modules are incorporated into most of our undergraduate degrees, along with opportunities to work on live briefs with industry, and take a placement year. Read more about employability and career support at ARU.

*ARU’s Global Sustainability Institute have come up with five scenarios exploring what food systems of the future might look like, which you can watch on YouTube or read about on our website.


The views expressed here are those of the individual and do not necessarily represent the views of Anglia Ruskin University. If you've got any concerns please contact us.