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World’s First Climate Change University

Black Mountains College in Wales is currently recruiting students for its BA in Sustainable Futures due to launch in September 2023.

Brecon Beacons National Park
Brecon Beacons | Credit: Unsplash

“It’s very much an experiment,” says Ben Rawlence, co-founder of Black Mountains College. Other British universities have already taken a stab at their own climate change degrees but, according to Rawlence, it’s not something that can truly be taught in a classroom. At Black Mountains College, it won’t be.

Undergraduates at the world’s first climate change university will learn about “arts, ecology and systems change” mostly outside, with Black Mountains College proudly claiming the stunning Brecon Beacons National Park as its “campus”.

A small waterfall currently acts as the university gates, signposting the 120 acre site where 20 or so students have acted as guinea pigs over the past year, taking short courses in topics such as composting and coppicing. Dotted around the forests are remnants of last term’s experiments in tree planting and rainwater harvesting. And in an old barn, there are piles of sheep hurdles and brooms that students have made from the local wood.

Next year’s BA intake will learn the same practical skills for a warmer world, while combining “insights from arts and sciences, political economy and creative and professional practice”.

The university aims to unleash the childlike attitude to learning that “progressively gets forgotten as we move through the education system”, by retraining adults how to learn with their senses. Tutors will pick students up from their accommodation in the morning, pointing out things like “an abundance of moss” (a sign of increased carbon dioxide) as they walk through the fields. The university will have no dedicated sports facilities - but there won’t be much need. Students will average about 25,000 steps every day roaming around the campus as part of their degree.

“Coming to terms with climate change is not a one-off thing, it’s an everyday activity of pinching yourself and thinking: ‘Holy shit,’” says Rawlence. “You’ve got to be in nature to do that.”

“Changemakers” are encouraged to apply directly or via UCAS with personal statements in any medium, including videos, songs, poems or puppet shows. While the degree will be accredited by nearby Cardiff Metropolitan University, students will take no exams during their three-year course and will instead produce portfolios to be graded by teachers.

Black Mountains College will also operate as a car-free campus, with students encouraged to walk, cycle, or hail a lift to the local pub in the university’s electric minibus. By their third and final year, students will live off the land. In short, says Rawlence, Black Mountains College will practice what it preaches.



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