Learning for Sustainability in Uzbekistan - a joint EAUC and NUS programme with the British Council

5th April 2017

A recent and vibrantly colourful book about Uzbekistan-called 10 Reasons to visit Uzbekistan-begins thus:

“A Trip to Uzbekistan is a trip to magnificent Samarkand, along the royal road to Bukhara, reliving the Silk Road...” Well, why not visit the largest country in Asia, with a history and legacy linked to Alexander the Great, Chingkhiz Khan, and Tamerlane?  So, in January at the invitation of the British Council, the EAUC (Steve Martin) and the NUS (Quinn Runkle) were invited to visit the capital, Tashkent to run a groundbreaking 3 day workshop for Rectors and senior executives of the 58 Universities there.

Why groundbreaking? Because it had never been done before and although many of the universities were teaching sound, rigorous environments subjects, they had yet to embrace the wider concept of learning for sustainability. And, anyone who has taught in the environmental sciences will know of the huge Soviet economic experiment involving the fourth largest inland sea- the Aral Sea. In the 1960s, the Soviet Union undertook a major water diversion project on the arid plains of Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, and Turkmenistan. The region’s two major rivers, fed by snowmelt and precipitation in faraway mountains, were used to transform the desert into farms for cotton and other crops. Although irrigation made the desert bloom, it devastated the Aral Sea; one of the most unsustainable decisions ever taken-with profound social, environmental and economic effects on this part of Asia.

The workshop design was framed by the following key principles and messages to underpin our understanding of sustainability:

Sustainable Development is of critical importance to all of us-as individuals, as organisations, as societies and as a species;
  • There are hard biophysical limits to the Earth’s supportive capacity;
  • Environmental problems are social problems. They begin with people and people are the victims. Social problems are inextricably linked to environmental problems; one begets the other;
  • Earth is a system, itself inherently sustainable;
  • A common language, or shared mental model, relating to how the earth’s sustainable processes work will help us integrate the activities of different social sectors-and indeed the different (disciplinary) parts of any organisation like a university.
And, in particular we focussed on the third principle.

The programme took participants through four stages:

The big picture: what does sustainability mean to you?
  • The role of universities: why universities have a critical role to play in developing a more sustainable future
  • Sharing good practice: what universities in Uzbekistan and elsewhere have done to become more sustainable and how they have embedded sustainability throughout the informal, formal, subliminal curricula
  • Next steps: what actions should/could universities in Uzbekistan undertake to advance their sustainability efforts through the campus, curriculum, and community
All in all, it turned out to be a successful facilitated meeting of the educational and environmental experts in Uzbekistan and the bespoke team from the EAUC and NUS.  And, to top it off we were interviewed at length on Uzbek Radio and TV-footage and links attached. Our thanks too to the British Council team who provided outstanding support throughout our visit!

So, we would offer a further reason to visit Uzbekistan-its great hospitality and commitment to being part of a learning for sustainability community of practice....
Quinn Runkle (Квин Ранкл) and Steve Martin (Стефен Мартин)
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