UCL Research


Transforming Universities for a Changing Climate

A three year project focussed on the role of universities in Brazil, Fiji, Kenya and Mozambique to respond to the challenges of climate change.

PI: Professor Tristan McCowan
UCL Department: Institute of Education
Partner countries: Brazil, Fiji, Kenya and Mozambique
Funders: GCRF

Amboseli National Park, Kenya

Project description

Higher education has a crucial role to play in responding to the climate crisis through teaching, research, community engagement and increasing public awareness. This project aims to strengthen the contribution of universities in addressing the causes and impact of climate change in four lower-income countries - Brazil, Fiji, Kenya and Mozambique.

These four countries contain populations that are highly vulnerable to the impact of climate change. In Fiji, rising sea levels are the primary risk. Kenya and Mozambique are subject to extreme weather patterns and threats to agriculture and food security, while many Brazilians live in precarious housing at risk of flooding. All four countries contain substantial proportions of their populations living in poverty, without access to support that could help them adapt to these changes.

The project has the following central objectives:

  • To support local action on climate change in Brazil, Fiji, Kenya and Mozambique through the creation of participatory action research groups in universities
  • To assess existing coverage of climate change in the curricula, research and community engagement activities of universities in the four countries
  • To contribute to theory and understanding of the impact of higher education on climate change and sustainable development
  • To build and strengthen national, regional and global university networks and knowledge exchange on climate change.

Collaborations and partnerships in LMICs

Equitable partnerships have been embedded into the project structure and design from the start. Each of the four partner countries has a co-investigator who leads the country team, as well as facilitating one of the four work packages with one of the UCL co-investigators. The research design is co-produced through monthly meetings to collaborate and share ideas, with UCL taking on a coordinating and cross-cultural facilitation role.

At the heart of the study is the setting up of participatory action research groups. These groups are organised through a cascading structure of knowledge exchange, with one partner university in each country leading the process along with two additional participating universities in each country. The choice of focus of these participatory action research groups is locally generated, with flexible management of budget and choice of actions, enabling universities in LMICs to collaborate with the communities in which they are embedded. 

The benefits and impacts of the project activities to LMICs

A key benefit and impact of the activities of the study is the work to strengthen higher education institutions and systems. Through enabling the 12 participant universities to enhance their teaching and research quality, reform curricula and pedagogy, and build links with local communities and civil society. These positive influences on institutions will be expanded to national and international levels through an extensive programme of dissemination, knowledge exchange and network building.

At an international level, the Association of Commonwealth Universities, along with other agencies and NGOs such as the Association of Portuguese Language Universities and the United Nations University, will coordinate international events to engage policymakers and university leaders in transforming their institutions and systems, to help address the challenges of climate change.

Through a rolling series of knowledge exchange events there is also extensive work to support and train a cohort of in-country researchers through seminars, writing and analysis workshops, training in a range of research methods (including surveys, participatory action research, and qualitative methods), as well as reading groups engaging with theoretical and practical issues around climate change and higher education systems. These connections are both horizontal as well as vertical, allowing for knowledge exchange that does not privilege the systems and production from the Global North.