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University of Leeds collaborates on good practice guide for community engaged learning 

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Four students present in front of a classroom. They are looking happy and excited.

The winners of Yorkshire Universities UPP's Eco Sprint challenge present at the Student Sustainability Research Conference

The University of Leeds has collaborated with Yorkshire Universities in a UPP Foundation (University Partnerships Programme) funded programme, to publish a good practice guide for community engaged learning. 

The guide highlights how universities across Yorkshire are working with community partners to create valuable ‘service learning’ and sustainability opportunities for their students. The guide showcases the regional strength in this area, including approaches adopted within the University of Leeds and initiatives we lead on in collaboration with other YU members. 

Sustainable Curriculum Programme Officer Clare Jackson spoke at the launch event for the best practice guide, and said: 

Co-design with students and community partners can achieve impactful results, and the opportunity to build this into multi university projects even more so. It’s really important to us that we’re embracing opportunities for our students to develop the passion and skills to address global challenges, and that we’re sharing what we’ve learnt with others.

Community engaged learning  

 Community-engaged learning, sometimes called ‘service learning’, is an approach to teaching that sees students collaborating with community partners to co-design solutions to real world challenges. This approach provides students with valuable practical experience and encourages the sharing of knowledge and creative solutions to problems. 

At the University of Leeds, community-engaged learning takes place across a range of programmes and initiatives including the Lifelong Learning Centre, Students into Schools programme, Volunteering and the Sustainability Service. Community-engaged learning is a valuable way to embed Education for Sustainable Development into the Leeds Curriculum. Through our Climate Plan commitments, and the Sustainable Curriculum principle within this, we want to give all students the opportunity to study sustainability and access sustainability opportunities, 

Over the academic year, Yorkshire Universities provided a series of small grants to their members – including Leeds - to run pilot projects exploring the potential for community engaged learning. The results of these projects and other community-engaged learning initiatives across the 12 member institutions of Yorkshire Universities have been summarised in the newly published guide. 

Pilot projects at the University of Leeds 

At the University of Leeds, UPP funding was used to lead a research project exploring students’ views and aspirations for community engaged learning, in a collaborative project between the Sustainable Curriculum principle and the university’s Community Engagement Network in Education, Research & Civic Engagement (CENTRE). Students highlighted the sustainability and employability skills such opportunities provided along with the need for opportunities to be embedded as credit-bearing elements within their programmes. This research is being shared across the CENTRE network to inform practice across the University. 

Six University of Leeds students also took part in the multi university challenge day facilitated by the Priestley Centre for Climate Futures. This involved a lively day of ideation, working in multi-university teams to shape solutions to sustainability challenges. Students Emily Barker and Tamanna were part of the winning team, who went on to present their ‘Eco Sprint’ project at the 2024 Student Sustainability Research Conference. 

Speaking about the day, student Harriet Adjabeng said:
The YU Multi University Challenge was a thrilling event, and I am grateful to have been a part of it. The collaborative part of the programme, in which we were all required to work in groups, develop each other's ideas, and agree on a final one, was the highlight for me. Learning to strengthen my team skills has been a priority for the last two years, and I am happy that opportunities like these exist for me to do so.

Accessing community-engaged learning and the best practice guide 

The best practice guide is available to download now.  

The Sustainable Curriculum principle, a Climate Plan and Education Strategy commitment, seeks to be transformative; growing and galvanising a community committed to Education for Sustainable Development (ESD).  This work includes the development of our Student Sustainability Research Conference (now a significant student-centred regional sustainability event), the expansion of our Leeds Living Labs and work to embed sustainability across our curriculum – all recognised as exemplar approaches within the guide. 

Staff at the University of Leeds interested in finding out more can explore the Climate Plan Sharepoint Hub (University login required) or join the Leeds University Network for Sustainability in Higher Education (LUNSHE), a community of practice group and knowledge sharing platform for academic and service staff interested in developing their own approach to embedding sustainability into their courses and student opportunities. 

United Nations Sustainable Development Goals

We use the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as a framework to guide our activity. Our work on Sustainable Curriculum is linked to all of the SDGs, including:

  • Goal 4: Quality Education
  • Goal 11: Sustainable Cities and Communities

Find out more about our impact on the SDGs.

United Nation Sustainable Development Goal 4: Quality education  United Nation Sustainable Development Goal 11: Sustainable cities and communities