Universities can play a vital role in shaping change in societies. They produce knowledge through research, train future decision makers, and contribute to public awareness of issues.
But not all universities are rising to challenges like this. Studies have established that efforts to integrate sustainable development into African universities' curricula and their community engagement processes leave something to be desired. Teaching and research don't always reflect society's real problems.
Climate change is another area where universities should be identifying and providing solutions. It's a complex, politicised and global issue which needs informed leadership.
Kenya, for one country, has neglected the integration of climate change into the education system. None of the commissions that have looked into the education system over the years have dealt with this. In his research, Dr Charles Kariuki noted that Kenya's education policies treat climate change casually. Hardly any learning about it is taking place at any level.
A 2015 survey of two public universities in Kenya found that they were yet to incorporate climate-related issues into their programmes. This creates a big gap in the production and dissemination of knowledge on climate change. It also limits climate change mitigation and adaptation within the education sector.
There's very little in the literature generally on how climate change is represented in Kenyan universities' curricula, campus activities, institutional governance and community engagement work. Our working paper sought to fill the gap.
We reviewed the climate change policy environment in the country and the link between national policies and university policies, actions and practices. Our aim was to understand what Kenyan universities were doing to raise awareness and to create capacity to respond to climate change. Responses could include mitigation, adaptation, impact reduction and early warning.
Drawing on national and international policy documents, peer-reviewed journal articles and national climate change reports published between 1999 and 2020, we found a gap. Universities in Kenya aren't receiving enough guidance from the government in responding to the impacts of climate change. This means they're also not producing outputs, such as research, that could offer guidance to society more broadly.
From policy to practice
Kenya has an elaborate policy framework that addresses climate change matters in specific sectors. These include the National Climate Change Action Plan 2013-2017 and the Kenya National Adaptation Plan 2015-2030. The various policies draw from global declarations like the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and the Paris Agreement. They are anchored in the constitution and the Kenya's development vision 2030.
The country's National Climate Change Response Strategy proposes that schools and colleges include climate change information in their curricula and syllabuses. The adaptation plan 2015-2030 also emphasises the need to integrate climate change content into curricula at all levels.
It's clear therefore that national policies and strategies recognise the potential of university education to solve climate change issues through teaching, research and community service. But universities in Kenya still lag in coming up with or adopting policies to guide climate action at institutional levels. There's also inadequate teaching and learning in this area.
Kenyan universities have made some efforts in sustainable development. For instance, in 2014 they established the Kenya Green University Network. The aim was to promote greening approaches, such as the use of renewable and clean energy, at university campuses. But the results are few.
Our review showed that mostly, universities treat sustainability targets, such as carbon emissions reduction, as more of a government requirement than their own ambition. A number of studies we reviewed confirmed that climate change content was treated casually at all levels of the education system.
Even though there's an intricate climate change policy framework at the national level, our review found no evidence that policies are carried through to strategies in higher education. They're not showing up in curricula or in campus greening activities.
Universities in Kenya should be more sensitive to national policies aimed at addressing the effects of climate change. The national government needs to clarify the role universities should play in the governance of climate change affairs. And it should provide related research funding.
Increased financing, which is currently a barrier to research activities, will enable universities in Kenya to make climate change activities a central part of curricula, campus activities, institutional governance and community engagement work. The universities regulatory authority, the Commission for University Education, should also include climate action as a criterion in evaluating university programmes. This would motivate action.
Author: Jackline Nyerere - Senior Lecturer of Educational Leadership and Policy, Kenyatta University