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Its spectacular location in Queensland means the University of the Sunshine Coast (UniSC) has a unique opportunity to support the environment it is surrounded by.
The state houses the only stretch of three continuous UNESCO Biosphere Reserves out of the five in Australia, explains Vice Chancellor and President Helen Bartlett, and all are UniSC campus locations.
“This means UniSC is the world’s only university operating within three interconnecting UNESCO Biosphere Reserves – the Great Sandy (Fraser Coast), Noosa and Sunshine Coast Biosphere Reserves – and the UNESCO world heritage listed K’gari [Fraser Island],” she tells The CEO Magazine.
“This provides a unique opportunity to help preserve the natural beauty of our surroundings and make an impact on the future.”
Bartlett explains that since its inception 27 years ago, UniSC has continued to embrace environmental sustainability in all it does.
“We introduced a sustainability operational policy in 2009 that commits to the creation of a sustainable future through our teaching, research, community engagement and operations, and through the provision of leadership at the local, national and international level,” she says.
“There are multiple ways in which we can demonstrate leadership in environmental sustainability through our curriculum, day-to-day operations, research, global rankings and strategic priorities.”
The university has also built an active program of sustainability initiatives that address both large-scale issues such as energy, waste, recycling and the campus environment, and targeted activities like the development and use of green cleaning practices.
“There are multiple ways in which we can demonstrate leadership in environmental sustainability through our curriculum, day-to-day operations, research, global rankings and strategic priorities,” Bartlett says.
“We have huge potential to engage our students to better understand the implications of climate change and produce graduates who are collaborators, critical thinkers, problem solvers, leaders and entrepreneurs capable of making an impact in jobs and careers that may look quite different in the future.”
When Bartlett first spoke to The CEO Magazine back in 2021, it was shortly after she had taken up the UniSC helm. Since then, the university has been working hard to adapt to – and drive change in – the post-COVID-19 world.
“UniSC has been gradually rebuilding its international student enrollments with a focus on South-East Asia, and adjusting to a more blended learning and teaching model, which has required enhanced online materials and teaching modalities,” she says.
The university has also established an industry engagement group to better identify and coordinate industry engagement opportunities, and it relaunched its Innovation Centre to strengthen its interface with businesses and industry groups across the region.
On top of that, the university is expanding its campus as well.
“We have also continued to develop our newest Moreton Bay campus at Petrie in North Brisbane, with three new buildings to be completed at the end of this year,” Bartlett says. “Now in its fourth year, the campus is successfully increasing the higher education participation rate in a region with one of the lowest rates in the country.”
Its expansion is aligned with its commitment to the environment, with all buildings on campus harnessing environmentally sustainable design practices to suit the subtropical climate of the Sunshine Coast.
UniSC has worked with several partners throughout its environmental sustainability journey, including the Sunshine Coast Regional Council, Noosa Council, Fraser Coast Regional Council, Moreton Bay City and Unitywater.
They have been instrumental across a range of projects including river wetlands, bushfire prevention, ecosystem mapping, turtle rehabilitation and koala chlamydia vaccine development.
“We will continue to focus on sustainability development through our new master plan.”
Another one of UniSC’s key partners is waste, water and energy management company Veolia. Since 2017, Veolia has supported the university in achieving its sustainability goals, including through the development of a global-first university water battery, which helps reduce energy consumption across the Sunshine Coast Campus.
“Veolia as an international partner can draw on an extensive network of expertise to bring the latest developments to our sustainability research and development agenda,” Bartlett says. “We also share common values of partnership, diversity and inclusion to ensure strong participation in these initiatives.”
The university will be implementing a new strategic plan over the next 12–18 months, which focuses on serving its communities and increasing higher education participation in under-represented groups.
“The new Moreton Bay Campus stage two buildings will be completed and provide even greater opportunities for local students to experience a university education,” Bartlett says.
“We will continue to focus on sustainability development through our new master plan, which is focused on better integrating our campuses with the surrounding communities and also continue to refine and implement our carbon management plan.”
This year, UniSC secured major achievements in sustainability. In the 2023 Times Higher Education (THE) Impact Rankings, UniSC was ranked in the top two percent globally for overall impact. The rankings relate to the university’s performance across the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDG).
Globally, it ranked third for the Clean Water and Sanitation SDG, equal 11th for the Life Below Water SDG and 23rd for the Life on Land SDG.
“We are very proud that our efforts to foster sustainable development in our teaching, research and general operations has been recognized globally,” Bartlett says.
“This is the only global performance ranking that assesses universities against the United Nations’ SDGs, which are a blueprint to ensure we can achieve a better and more sustainable future for all.
“A high global position benchmarks us as a rapidly growing university that is addressing emerging challenges to ensure we can all thrive and prosper.”
“My leadership approach for sustainability is to ensure we have a clear plan, measurable targets and reporting mechanisms.”
For Bartlett, the ranking also means the university’s researchers are finding solutions that are working, its students are learning to create global solutions and its campus is ensuring its policies align with the goals backed by the United Nations.
“It’s also a responsibility to continue this work and make sure we are having the greatest impact possible in our communities and further afield,” she adds.
Since the university first made it onto the THE Impact Rankings list in 2021, it has continued to develop innovations and research to make a positive impact on its communities.
“Careful selection of projects that make the greatest impact is important and has included an evaporation management device for farms, our water policies on campus, our international research into microbial activity in seawater, and citizen science programs to monitor our coastlines,” she says.
The list also helps gauge the progress of all the work the university has been doing in sustainability, Bartlett adds.
“My leadership approach for sustainability is to ensure we have a clear plan, measurable targets and reporting mechanisms to demonstrate progress toward achieving them,” she says.
“We are still on a journey, but the THE Impact ranking exercise has been a great barometer to measure our progress globally and identify where we need to put in more effort.”