Incorporating sustainability in NextGen: HN qualifications — practitioner reflections

We asked practitioners preparing to deliver NextGen: HNC Agriculture, NextGen: HNC Agricultural Technology, and NextGen: HNC Horticulture about how they are planning to incorporate sustainability into their programmes. You can view the case study on their plans.

The expectation for all NextGen: HN learners is that they should develop and demonstrate knowledge and skills in sustainability through their learning. Specifically, they should be able to show:

We also approached the practitioners at the end of the pilot year, to hear their reflections on incorporating sustainability in their delivery.

Note that NextGen: HNC Agricultural Technology was not delivered in the 2023–24 session.

The following key messages emerged from the practitioner feedback.

Introducing sustainability into learning and teaching

One practitioner reported that they had focused on establishing subject basics before introducing sustainability terms and the SDGs. On reflection, they believe learners would have benefited from learning about sustainability and the SDGs much earlier, and in the context of the subject throughout the year.

Some practitioners reported that they were unsure how best to focus on sustainability and the SDGs while linking them to unit content. Both of the courses that were delivered last session have a strong environmental perspective, but some practitioners found that some aspects of unit content limited their scope to adequately consider the social and economic aspects of horticulture or agriculture. Practitioners also found that other course-related issues reduced the time available for this. It is hoped that NextGen: HND content will provide additional scope for developing a deeper insight into subject-specific sustainability issues and the potential for reducing their impact.

Overall, practitioners recognised that their delivery should focus on the underlying message of sustainability and the SDGs, but they didn’t want it to become repetitive. Consequently, some adapted their language when discussing sustainability, to keep it fresh and relatable for their learners. However, limited reference to sustainability terms and/or the SDGs could limit learners’ knowledge and understanding, as was evident in the first phase of Learner Engagement sessions — once the terms were explained, learners were able to contribute their own thoughts and experiences.

Many learners learn best through experiential learning, and practitioners recognised that it would be beneficial for learners to explore sustainability issues independently. One centre invited industry-specialists to provide learners with a real-world perspective, while another encouraged learners to talk about agricultural issues in a podcast. The students enjoyed producing the podcast — and will have developed transferable skills in the process — and there are plans to repeat it.

One of our guest speakers runs an organic, no-dig, market garden at the Black Isle Brewery, and shared with the class insights about how this works in practice, including the social and community, and economic aspects. Invited to speak with the class for one hour, his enthusiasm could have held their attention for much longer. The learners were fully engaged and asked lots of questions, with more questions later forwarded to the speaker. This link up with an industry specialist has led to arrangements for placements at his garden, and we plan to invite other specialists to speak with the class every couple of months.

Amber Crowley, HNC Horticulture, UHI

What might be done differently next year?

Practitioners felt that the SDGs provide an ideal framework for developing subject-specific delivery resources, and finding subject-specific examples could really encourage learner interest. On the other hand, it was recognised that not all SDGs naturally fit with unit content.

The delivery of the HNC has given us an opportunity to do more innovative things, and sustainability has fitted nicely with this. There have been some real positives this year, such as trying very different ways of working, and it’s been fun. The students have been enthusiastic about it.

We now need to sit and think about what worked well and what didn’t. For instance, I taught meta-skills in isolation this year and it was not the right way to go about it. I think linking these with the SDGs would be a way forward.

John Flannagan and Craig Davidson, HNC Agriculture, SRUC

Assessing sustainability

There was unanimous support for introducing a sustainability-related outcome, at both HNC and HND levels, as practitioners felt that learners engage better with content that is assessed. Although it was recognised that sustainability should be introduced throughout the course if possible (and where it fits naturally with unit content), its inclusion in a professional practice unit will help develop the required subject-specific sustainability skills and knowledge that will be further enhanced as learners progress onto the HND.


If you would like to explore opportunities to embed sustainability in your qualification, contact us.